U.S. Military Did Not Use Landmines in Iraq War

IWade Boese

In ousting Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, the U.S. military employed many weapons systems but not landmines. Nearly 150 countries have forsworn anti-personnel landmines (APLs) through the Ottawa Convention, but the United States had reserved the right to use them. (See ACT, April 2003.)

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Public Affairs reported June 5 that U.S. forces did not use or deploy any APLs in Iraq. CENTCOM later added that U.S. forces also chose not to use anti-vehicle mines or mixed systems, which have both anti-vehicle and anti-personnel components. When it led a coalition to evict Iraqi forces from Kuwait a dozen years ago, the U.S. military used approximately 118,000 landmines.

No treaty barred any country from using landmines in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. In 1997, however, some 90 countries negotiated the Ottawa Convention, which bans the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of anti-personnel landmines and certain mixed systems.

Although the United States refused to sign the accord, many of its key allies, including the United Kingdom and Australia, became states-parties. These two countries made it clear before their participation in this year’s invasion of Iraq that their militaries would not use APLs.

CENTCOM did not offer any reason for why landmines were not used. One explanation might have been a desire not to constrain U.S. and allied mobility on the fast-moving Iraqi battlefield.

According to CENTCOM, U.S. forces did suffer some casualties from Iraqi landmines. Like the United States, Iraq was not bound by the Ottawa Convention.

The Bush administration is currently conducting a review of U.S. landmine policy. President Bill Clinton pledged in May 1998 that the United States would end the use of APLs outside Korea by 2003 and sign the Ottawa Convention by 2006. Clinton tied the latter to the Pentagon successfully developing and fielding alternatives to APLs and mixed systems by that time.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), a longtime landmine critic, said in an April 10 speech that the fact that U.S. forces defeated the Iraqi military in a few weeks, apparently without using landmines, is more proof that “landmines without a man-in-the-loop should have no future in U.S. war fighting plans.” Landmines with a man-in-the-loop system, which are permitted by the Ottawa Convention, require somebody to detonate them deliberately as opposed to ones that explode just by the contact or proximity of a person.