Milley Says Ukrainians Using Land Mines 'Effectively,' Reopening Debate About Controversial Weapons

Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the fiscal 2023 defense budget request, Washington, D.C. April 5, 2022. (DoD Photo by U.S. Air Force TSgt. Jack Sanders)

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley argued Thursday that land mines have been critical for Ukrainian forces' success against Russian armored vehicles.

Milley's comments at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing come as the Biden administration is reviewing the U.S. land mine policy after former President Donald Trump expanded the U.S. military's use of the controversial weapons in 2020.

"Land mines are being effectively used by the Ukrainian forces to shape the avenues of approach by Russian armored forces, which puts them into engagement areas and makes them vulnerable to the 60,000 anti-tank weapons systems that we're providing to the Ukrainians," Milley said. "That's one of the reasons why you see column after column of Russian vehicles that are destroyed."

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U.S. forces have fallen victim to land mines in the past, including those made in the United States. About 90% of the mines and booby traps used against U.S. troops in the Vietnam War were U.S.-made or built by enemy forces using captured American parts, according to Army research reported on by The New York Times.

More than 160 countries have signed onto a 1997 treaty banning the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel land mines. The United States is not one of them, nor is Russia.

Land mines have long been decried by human rights organizations because they are often left behind after a conflict, indiscriminately killing and maiming civilians who stumble upon them long after a war has ended.

A watchdog organization called Landmine Monitor estimates at least 7,073 people were killed or injured by land mines in 2020 alone.

Russia has also been accused of employing land mines in its attacks against civilians during the Ukraine war, including its newly developed POM-3 that uses sensors to detect when someone walks nearby rather than the traditional way to trip a land mine of stepping on it.

In 2014, then-President Barack Obama issued an executive order intended to reduce civilian harm that prohibited the U.S. military from using land mines anywhere other than the Korean peninsula. That particular use -- protecting South Korea from an invasion by the north -- has long been the top reason cited by military planners for their objection to signing on to a land mine ban.

But in January 2020, Trump rescinded Obama's order, arguing the restriction could place service members at "a severe disadvantage during a conflict against our adversaries."

During the presidential campaign, then-candidate Joe Biden vowed to "promptly" reverse Trump's move. But more than a year into his presidency, Biden's administration is still reviewing the policy.

In his comments Thursday, Milley called land mines an "important" weapon to help "shape enemy operations."

But he also nodded to the concerns about their harm to civilians, saying the United States is working to develop land mines that could deactivate themselves at the end of a war.

"The reason we're developing a newer one is so they time out and they don't present harm after the conclusion of hostilities," Milley said. "And they would self-detonate or self-destroy or become inert at the end of hostilities."

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

Related: Trump Reverses Obama-Era Restrictions on Military Use of Land Mines

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