Unprotected in Iraq

Posted in Iraq | 02-May-05 | Source: International Herald Tribune

A US soldier and Iraqi police inspect the damage to a US military Humvee hit in a suicide car bomb explosion aimed at a US military convoy in Baghdad's upscale Mansur neighbourhood.

More than two years after the invasion of Iraq, American soldiers are still needlessly dying or suffering grievous injuries because of the Pentagon's inexcusable slowness in protecting their Humvees and trucks with adequate armor. It's a problem that the troops in the field have been vocally complaining about for a long time, and one that briefly made headlines when a National Guard soldier confronted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in Kuwait last December. Yet, despite accelerated efforts since that time, it is far from solved.

Perhaps the Pentagon needs to divert some money and effort from those exotic weapons systems for the future that defense contractors prefer, and save the lives and limbs of the troops it sends into battle today.

There was understandable shock and anger last week when we learned some of the details of these preventable deaths in a searing investigation by New York Times reporter Michael Moss, who interviewed members of a recently returned Marine Corps company. The army is having even bigger problems than the Marines in getting its much larger number of Humvees and trucks adequately armored. And lengthy delays in providing both services with enough body armor have cost additional lives. Public outrage would doubtless be even greater if the Pentagon offered more candid information to relatives about those who died as a direct result of these shortages, instead of merely reporting them killed in action. Those details are painful, but might serve as a quicker, sharper spur to corrective action.

The roots of this problem lie in the Bush administration's stubborn self-delusion about the reception American troops were likely to face in Iraq. Then it took the Pentagon many months to acknowledge that it was facing a determined long-term insurgency. Insurgents' tactics keep growing more sophisticated and their firepower more intense. As a result, American units in the field have discovered that even their armored Humvees must now be refitted with stronger armor to protect against the increasingly lethal improvised explosive devices that have become this war's signature weapon.

A crash program now under way should deliver enough of these reinforced Humvees to equip all Marine Corps units in Iraq by the end of this year. For some marines, that won't be soon enough.