WASHINGTON The Pentagon is preparing to use anti-personnel land mines
in a war with Iraq, despite U.S. policy that calls for the military to stop using
the mines everywhere in the world except Korea by 2003.
To prepare for a possible war with Baghdad, the Pentagon has stockpiled land
mines at U.S. bases in countries ringing Iraq, according to Pentagon records.
The decision to make the mines available comes despite a recent report by the
General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative arm, concluding that their
use in the 1991 Gulf War impeded U.S. forces while doing nothing to impair Iraqi
Using the mines would stoke the international debate over the merits and morality
of using land mines, which can remain deadly long after fighting ends.
From 15,000 to 20,000 people are killed or maimed worldwide each year by land
mines, according to the United Nations. Of those, 80% are civilians and one-third
Military experts say land mines can save soldiers' lives. They play a "vital
and essential role" in battle by restricting where the enemy can move and protecting
U.S. troops, said a Pentagon spokesman.
Officially, the Pentagon will say only that it "retains the right to use" land
mines wherever it chooses, and that commanders can get approval to use them under
rules designed to minimize risk to non-combatants.
But critics say the risks to soldiers and civilians aren't worth it.
"It would be a terrible mistake for us to use land mines in Iraq," said Sen.
Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., a prominent critic of land mines. "They are outmoded, indiscriminate
weapons that have been banned by every other NATO member except Turkey, and they
should be banned by the United States. We have other far more effective and precise
weapons to do the job."
In advance of a possible war, Pentagon records show, the U.S. military has
stored land mines in Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and on Diego Garcia,
a British-owned island in the Indian Ocean where U.S. forces have a base.
In 1997, international negotiations produced a treaty to ban the use of land
mines; 146 countries are parties to it. The United States has not signed the treaty,
but in 1998 President Clinton directed U.S. armed forces to phase out use of land
mines by 2003, except in Korea.
The Bush administration has been reviewing that policy. The Defense and the
State departments have clashed over it, but for now the Clinton directive remains
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