At the Third Review Conference of States Parties to the Ottawa Convention (also known as the Ottawa Convention or the UN’s ban on landmine treaty) on June 27th US Ambassador Griffiths stated the US promised not to produce or buy anti-personnel landmines. September 23rd the administration announced the US would destroy US anti-personnel mines not needed for the defense of Korea and not use AP mines outside Korea in the future. 160 countries to include our NATO allies have signed the Ottawa convention.
Common knowledge and sentiment is this is a great idea. “Look how humanitarian we are eliminating anonymous mine warfare!” There is little to no thought on the impact this PC decision will have on those that fight our wars. Such is the strength of common knowledge and sentiment in evaluating the tools we should maintain to equip our troops.
Mines are primarily a weapon of choice for the weak. Insurgents in Iraq used improvised mines called IED’s as their version of artillery. They have been the number one casualty producer in both the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters (almost 70% of casualties in Iraq and over 60% of those in Afghanistan). History is replete with the use of mines by insurgents, rebels and those who may be losing a war at the moment. This primary use by the “weak” side in conflict builds a false sense that we don’t need the weapon because we are “strong”.
Mines are also an economy of force weapon. Economy of force operations allow oneself to be weak in one place because one doesn’t have the resources to defend everywhere. Sometimes a side uses mines to reinforce a weak sector so it can engage in the offense elsewhere. Other times, a side uses mines to buy time to create a stronger force or attrit the enemy.
The emotional argument against mine warfare relies on the pictures of dismembered innocents. The overwhelming majority of innocents are hurt or killed by the indiscriminate use of mines typically by third world countries or those equipped by or fighting the forces of China and Russia. It is the argument of the anti-gun zealots that think taking away guns from the law abiding will eliminate violence. What actually happens is those that don’t respect the law will break it anyway or find other weapons to use to hurt their fellow humans. Mines are no different and China and Russia are not signatories of the Ottawa Convention.
There is an absolute utility to anti-personnel mines. Prohibiting our troops from using them will only cause more casualties in the unique situations where our troops will need them. Think about it. If mines are so bad why is even the current administration stating we reserve the right to use them in Korea?
Anti-personnel mines are a critical tool in Korea where our troops are heavily outnumbered. Unfortunately most of our military history since Vietnam has been of the US on the offense but that was not always the case. Unfortunate because the average American doesn’t have even a grade school’s worth of military history education. Numerous battles in WWII and Korea could have been lost without the US use of mines. The defensive battles of Anzio, the Battle if the Bulge, Pusan Perimeter and withdrawal from the Yalu and later trench war phase of Korea were characterized by the extensive use of minefields. A little known fact is the Chinese use of human wave attacks was the impetus for the development the Army’s M18 Claymore mine.
Most Americans have little to no idea on why or how the Army and Marines employ mines on the battlefield buying the narrative that unsupervised US troops sow minefields with little regard.
Here’s a crash course on US minefield doctrine paraphrased from COL Marin’s paper “Antipersonnel Landmines – Do Their Costs Outweigh Their Benefits?”
Antipersonnel mines have four primary uses.
- inflict enemy casualties
- deter enemy troops from clearing antitank mines
- deny enemy access to terrain
- provide local security to unit defensive perimeters
Tactical minefields consisting of antitank and antipersonnel mines block, turn, disrupt, or fix the enemy force.
A blocking minefield is the densest kind and stops the enemy allowing direct and indirect fires to kill him. This is much more effective than trying to engage a moving enemy force. A fixing minefield provides one the opportunity to engage the enemy but the plan doesn’t necessarily require the enemy to be stopped trhere to succeed unlike the blocking minefield.
The terrain where one plans to stop the enemy is called an “engagement area.” The engagement area, (also referred to as a kill sack in old Soviet doctrine which has made its way into our lexicon) is typically placed at around 60% of the units direct fire weapons. This is especially critical when engaging a force that numerically outnumbers you so you can inflict enough casualties so he will be not be able to overcome you if he gets to your position.
Turning minefields or obstacles turn the enemy into an engagement area or deny him favorable terrain.
Disrupting minefields slow the enemy and make him deploy early allowing select engagement of hey targets like command and control or mine clearing assets so the enemy will be stripped of those assets where he might need them later in the battle. If possible fires are used to defeat the enemy.
Based on my experience, US practice also typically requires the consent of a commander two levels above the commander emplacing the minefield. Minefields are recorded, reported to higher and the minefield paperwork must be passed to units that replace the unit overwatching the minefield. It is against US doctrine to put a minefield where troops can’t see it. The purpose of the minefield is to slow the enemy so he may be engaged with direct and indirect fires. It is only in the most extreme (and needed) situations that US mines are not employed in this manner.
This is far from the way mines were employed in the top ten countries with the most mines but the narrative and argument lumps our employment of mines with the way they were employed in Egypt, Iran or Angola. Some think the large set piece battles of WWII and Korea as isolated to the past and the US will never fight a defensive battle. Accepting the one in a trillion chance they are correct, there are numerous scenarios where US troops may find themselves outnumbered and in a defensive position.
Any future airfield seizure, amphibious landing or deployment of US troops as a tripwire to deter an enemy nation’s invasion of an ally would be greatly enabled with access to anti-personnel mines should they become engaged in hostilities with a superior force. Even relatively recent and well known battles like Wanat and COP Keating may have had fewer casualties had US troops been equipped and authorized to emplace protective minefields consisting of antipersonnel mines. Instead we suffered 75% casualties at Wanat, 45% at COP Keating and a total of 17 KIA.
So on some future battlefield like in the Baltics or Poland, or attempt to secure an airfield or beachhead be it in Bagdad or Taiwan our troops will bathe in the righteousness of not being part of some Chinese or Russian mine blowing the leg off a kid. It’ll be their last thought as they are overrun by an enemy that didn’t have to worry about US antipersonnel mines. This is the future monument to PC thinking and the general American ambivalence to this administration forcing our military to abide by a treaty it cannot get through the Congress as constitutionally mandated.