President Donald Trump on Friday relaxed Obama-era restrictions on the U.S. military’s use of land mines, arguing that the previous policy put American troops at a “severe disadvantage.”
The move has been criticized by arms control proponents and underscores the administration’s willingness to upend policies set by Trump’s Democratic predecessor, in the face of concerns about the dangers such weaponry poses to civilians long after conflicts end.
President Barack Obama’s administration said in 2014 that it would no longer produce or otherwise acquire antipersonnel land mines, including to replace existing U.S. stockpiles, which can age to the point where the munitions can longer be used.
The United States had also prohibited the use of the weapons outside of the Korean Peninsula.
In a statement, the White House said that the Pentagon had determined that the restrictions had put troops at a disadvantage.
“This policy will authorize Combatant Commanders, in exceptional circumstances, to employ advanced, non-persistent landmines specifically designed to reduce unintended harm to civilians and partner forces,” the White House said.
Earlier on Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that land mines were an important tool that American forces needed.
“Land mines are an important tool that our forces need to have available to them in order to ensure mission success and in order to reduce risk to forces,” Esper said during a news conference with his Italian counterpart.
“That said, in everything we do we also want to make sure that these instruments, in this case land mines, also take into account both the safety of employment and the safety to civilians and others after a conflict,” Esper added.
The United States is not a signatory to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which took effect in 1999 and broadly prohibits the development, use and acquisition of antipersonnel land mines.
Washington had abided by many provisions of the treaty, which had been endorsed by more than 160 countries.