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Pace Says Armor is Improving
Military.com  |  January 05, 2006
BAGHDAD, Iraq - The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff knows the armor protecting troops and their vehicles in Iraq isn't perfect, but he says it's getting better as the military learns to adapt to a clever insurgency.

"The fact of the matter is that you can protect people to a certain extent, but you always come up with a bigger bomb," Gen. Peter Pace told The Associated Press in an interview. "We just need to continually hone our skills ... so that we don't set a pattern that the enemy can exploit."

Pace said he has confidence in efforts to provide U.S. forces with the best possible body armor and armored vehicles, amid criticism the Americans don't have sufficient protection.

"Our government has spent large sums of money to get the industrial base capable of producing and it has. And it has been delivered to the troops," Pace said, wrapping up a seven-nation troop visit - his first since becoming the top U.S. military official three months ago.

Speaking Tuesday on board a military plane en route to the United States, Pace said: U.S. forces need to "constantly respond to the way that they (the insurgents) operate ... so that our forces not only have physical protection but also the protection of good tactics, techniques and procedures to minimize the risk to them."

Pace's comments followed a weeklong trip to U.S. bases in the Middle East, Afghanistan and eastern Africa in which he mingled with troops, sharing meals, shaking hands, posing for photos and even joining in a conga line during a USO concert.

The 60-year-old Vietnam veteran, the first Marine to serve in the post and the first to have a senior enlisted adviser, Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, made clear at each stop the troops' well-being would be one of his top priorities.

"Your sacrifice is making a difference," he told the sailors, pilots and others on the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. "You should have enormous pride."

Pace, a rifle platoon leader and assistant operations officer in Vietnam in 1968-1969, said he hoped to convince the troops he was on their side.

"I think it's important to them to know that the leadership that is speaking for them in Washington gets it," he told a small group of reporters before celebrating New Year's Eve in one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces in Baghdad.

In the interview, Pace said the military has been working hard to provide equipment and technology to keep the troops safe, with about 38,000 armored vehicles in Iraq compared to about 200 in 2004.

"It is certainly 100 percent of all the vehicles going off the base and it's gotta be 95 percent of all the vehicles in the country that are armored," the general said, citing an order in February.

But he conceded it's hard to keep pace as insurgents develop increasingly sophisticated bombs, including a new type triggered when a vehicle crosses an infrared beam and is blasted by armor-piercing projectiles.

The deadly munitions mark a steady improvement in the roadside bombs that debuted in 2003 in Iraq, often as simple as a single artillery shell wrapped with detonator cord linked to a battery.

"We continue to improve on the body armor, but you're never going to have body armor that's going to protect you against the largest caliber weapons," he said. "The message you want to have is that every single service member is important and we are providing to each and every one of them the best equipment that we have and are developing better equipment."

Pace also said the number of troops injured per roadside bombing was down due to advances in equipment and medical treatment.

Brookings Institution foreign policy analyst Michael E. O'Hanlon, said insurgent tactics were "becoming more powerful and lethal every bit as fast as we're protecting ourselves."

Pace, who was traveling with his wife, Lynne, and a group of entertainers, leads a U.S. military that is stretched thin by conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq and facing the possibility of being asked to take an expanded role in natural disasters in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

His trip - which also included stops in Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Djibouti and Germany - followed troop visits by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney as the Bush administration faces mounting pressure to wind down the war in Iraq.

Rumsfeld announced last month that President Bush has authorized the reduction of U.S. combat troops in Iraq to below the 138,000 level that prevailed for most of 2005. He did not reveal the exact size of the troop cut, but senior Pentagon officials have said the number of American troops in Iraq could drop to about 100,000 by fall.

Pace said the troops he spoke to said they were prepared to stay until the mission was accomplished and the Iraqis can assume responsibility for security.

"Our troops' morale is sky high ... and they are properly proud of what they accomplished here in Iraq and Afghanistan and Djibouti and elsewhere," he told the AP. "I think the challenge here is just going to be to keep doing what we're doing to help the Iraqi and the Afghan people take on their own responsibilities."

He also indicated a desire to improve the Bush administration's relationship with the media and stressed the need to be "open and honest" amid an ongoing investigation into a Pentagon propaganda program that pays to plant favorable articles in the Iraqi media.

"My fundamental belief there is that we need to be careful as we do our business to ensure that we respect the principles of democracy, which include being open and honest with the press," Pace said

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