Pentagon Pledges to Destroy All Landmines Outside Korea

U.S. soldiers watch as a mine sweeper looks for weapons in a hole they dug during a raid on a farm just outside Tikrit, Iraq, on Oct. 9, 2003. (AP)

The U.S. has pledged to destroy its estimated 10 million anti-personnel landmines with the exception of those along Korea’s De-Militarized Zone, the White House and Pentagon said Tuesday.

The announcements stopped short of committing the U.S. to sign the 15-year-old treaty, known as the Ottawa Convention, banning the use or stockpiling of landmines that has been endorsed by 161 nations.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel backed the White House decision to "undertake steps to begin the destruction of APLs (anti-personnel landmines) not required for the defense of South Korea," Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement.

By destroying landmine stockpiles outside Korea, the U.S. was "aligning its APL policy outside the Korean peninsula with the key requirements of the Ottawa Convention," Caitlin Hayden, White House National Security Council spokeswoman, said in a statement.

"These measures build on our June 2014 announcement that the U.S. will not produce or otherwise acquire any anti-personnel munitions that are not compliant with the Ottawa Convention, including  to replace such munitions as they expire," Hayden said.

However, "the unique circumstances on the Korean peninsula and our commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea preclude us from changing our anti-personnel landmine police there at this time," Hayden said.

In June, the U.S. pledged at a conference in Mozambique not to produce or buy anti-personnel landmines. At the time, Douglas M. Griffiths, the U.S. Ambassador to Mozambique, said that the U.S. pledges "signal our clear aspirations to accede to the Ottawa Convention."

Stephen Goose, executive director of the Human Rights Watch advocacy group, said in June that the U.S. had laid groundwork for signing the Ottawa Convention but "no final decision has been made on whether to join the treaty."

Landmines have been used effectively by the Islamic State in defense of its gains in Iraq.

The Iraqi National Security Forces have said that IS landmines were factors in their failure last month to retake Tikrit, the hometown of the late dictator Saddam Hussein, according to Iraqi officials.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@monster.com

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