The Obama administration has banned the U.S. military from using anti-personnel landmines in a unilateral decision that goes against warnings from top military leaders and many in Congress.
The administration stated in a series of announcements this week that landmines will no longer be used and that the Defense Department would begin destroying stockpiles of the devices, which have historically been used to protect U.S. forces from enemies in warzones.
The controversial executive decision, which comes as America steps up strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), has been in the works for some time despite protests from top U.S. military leaders, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"The United States will not use anti-personnel landmines," President Obama announced this week in New York City.
"So we will begin destroying our stockpiles not required for the defense of South Korea," a military zone that the administration says poses unique challenges, according to Obama. "And we’re going to continue to work to find ways that would allow us to ultimately comply fully and accede to the Ottawa Convention," a treaty banning landmines that the United States has not actually signed.
Obama’s announcement was criticized by leading lawmakers, who warned that the decision is not backed by U.S. military commanders who view the use of landmines as a key tool in the protection of American forces.
"It’s disappointing to see that, once again, the White House has overruled the advice of our military commanders," Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (R., Calif.), chair of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), said in a statement.
"With the security situation around the world deteriorating, the last thing we should be doing is a unilateral jettisoning of sound defensive options," McKeon said. "We’re all in this together, and we all share the risk when the best advice of our best military experts is ignored."
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has advised the administration against the decision and referred to these landmines as "an important tool."
"I have rendered my military advice that I consider land mines, especially the ones that we have … to be an important tool in the arsenal of the Armed Forces of the United States," Dempsey told Congress earlier this year.
Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of United Nations Command and U.S. Forces Korea, also explained the need for landmines when asked by Congress earlier this year.
"I have provided my best military advice on the issue as well. And it is my assessment that landmines are a critical element in the defense of the Republic of Korea and our interest there," Scaparrotti said. "And they are a critical element of our contingency plans, as well."
While the United States will continue to employ the devices in the Korean Peninsula, "where our actions are governed by the unique situation there," the Defense Department "will no longer produce or acquire anti-personnel landmines," State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said in a statement this week.
The "announcement also means that we will not assist, encourage, or induce others to use, stockpile, produce, or transfer anti-personnel landmines outside of the Korean Peninsula," Psaki said. "And we will diligently undertake to destroy stockpiles of these landmines that are not required for the defense of the Republic of Korea."
The administration first announced in June, again against the advice of military leaders, that it would not longer procure landmines in an effort to accede to the Ottawa Convention, despite not being a signatory of the treaty.
A White House National Security Council (NSC) official told the Washington Free Beacon at the time that the situation in Korea "presents unique challenges."
"We are diligently pursuing other solutions which would be compliant with the convention and that would ultimately allow us to accede to the convention," the official explained in June. "Any changes to our landmine policy with respect to the Korean Peninsula would be made only after close consultation with our South Korean ally. The United States remains unwavering in our commitment to the defense of South Korea."
When asked about comments from some military leaders opposing the landmine ban, the NSC official maintained that the "president’s senior national security team, including DOD’s civilian and military leadership, have been and continue to be deeply involved in this process and fully support the step to ban future production and acquisition of" these devices.
The Defense Department confirmed that it will now "undertake steps to begin the destruction of APLs not required for the defense of South Korea," according to Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby.