Senator Leahy takes Obama to task over landmines
With President Barack Obama poised to order more U.S. troops into Afghanistan, a senior U.S. senator hammered the administration Tuesday for not joining an international treaty banning landmines.
“I think the Obama administration has made a dramatic mistake in this area,” Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, said in remarks on the Senate floor. “This is not what we expected from this administration.”
The Vermont senator, a longtime supporter of the 10-year-old international Mine Ban Treaty, said one argument the Pentagon made for opposing the accord was that it wanted to preserve its option to use landmines in Afghanistan.
“Yet we have seen how civilian casualties in Afghanistan have become one of the most urgent and pressing concerns of our military commanders, where bombs that missed their targets and other mistakes have turned the populace against us,” he said.
“Can anyone imagine the United States using landmines in Afghanistan, a country where more civilians have been killed or horribly injured from mines than any other in history, a country which, like our coalition partners, is itself a party to the treaty?” he asked.
“Landmines cannot distinguish between an enemy combatant, a U.S. soldier, a young child or a woman out hunting firewood for her family. They do not belong in the arsenal of any modern military.”
Leahy’s remarks came as a 10-year review conference on the popular Mine Ban Treaty got under way in Cartagena, Colombia.
Later Tuesday, Obama will unveil his new Afghanistan war strategy, which is expected to include the deployment of 30,000 additional troops.
Some 260 square miles of Afghan territory are contaminated by landmines, according to the 2009 Landmine Monitor, a report of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which shared the Nobel Peace Prize for its work to outlaw the weapons.
Up to 60,000 Afghans are thought to be survivors of landmine explosions.
Leahy noted the United States has not used or manufactured landmines since the 1990s.
“The United States is the most powerful nation on earth,” Leahy said. “We do not need these indiscriminate weapons any more than our allies who have abandoned them.”
Photo credit: Reuters/Joshua Roberts (Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, at a panel hearing earlier this year); Reuters/Jerry Lampen (Afghan deminer works to clear mines in Afghanistan in November)