Almost a quarter of the coalition combat deaths in Iraq could have been prevented -- if the Pentagon had bothered to invest in fully armoring its vehicles. That's the damning conclusion of a story in Monday's Newsweek.
As Iraq's liberation has turned into a daily grind of low-intensity combat and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld grudgingly raises troop levels many soldiers who are there say the Pentagon is failing to protect them with the best technology America has to offer...A breakdown of the casualty figures suggests that many U.S. deaths and wounds in Iraq simply did not need to occur. According to an unofficial study by a defense consultant that is now circulating through the Army, of a total of 789 Coalition deaths as of April 15 (686 of them Americans), 142 were killed by land mines or improvised explosive devices, while 48 others died in rocket-propelled-grenade attacks. Almost all those soldiers were killed while in unprotected vehicles, which means that perhaps one in four of those killed in combat in Iraq might be alive if they had had stronger armor around them, the study suggested. Thousands more who were unprotected have suffered grievous wounds, such as the loss of limbs.The military is 1,800 armored Humvees short of its own stated requirement for Iraq. Despite desperate attempts to supply bolt-on armor, many soldiers still ride around in light-skinned Humvees. This is a latter-day jeep that, as Brig. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, assistant division commander of the 1st Armored Division, conceded in an interview, "was never designed to do this ... It was never anticipated that we would have things like roadside bombs in the vast number that we've had here." One newly arrived officer, Lt. Col. Timothy Meredith, says his battalion had just undergone months of training to rid itself of "tank habits" and get used to the Humvees. "We arrived here expecting to do a lot of civil works," says Meredith.According to internal Pentagon e-mails, the Humvee situation is so bad that the head of the U.S. Army Forces Command, Gen. Larry Ellis, has urged that more of the new Stryker combat vehicles be put into the field. Sources say that the Army brass back in Washington have not yet concurred with that. The problem: the rubber-tire Strykers are thin-skinned and don't maneuver through dangerous streets as well as the fast-pivoting, treaded Bradley. According to a well-placed Defense Department source, the Army is so worried about the Stryker's vulnerability that most of the 300-vehicle brigade currently in Iraq has been deployed up in the safer Kurdish region around Mosul. "Any further south, and the Army was afraid the Arabs would light them up," he said.THERE'S MORE: Phil Carter has a dynamite story in Slate on how impossibly far the American military is being stretched. Key point:
Even if the order [to send an extra 30,000 soldiers to Iraq] were cut right now, fresh divisions of troops would take months to get to overseas, meaning today's stretched force will have to put down the Iraqi revolt, restore security, and conduct the June 30 power handover without reinforcements. The U.S. military remains the most lethal fighting force ever fielded, but one year in Iraq has chewed it up, creating global shortages of manpower, equipment, and spare parts that are not easily relieved. (all emphases mine)AND MORE: Gen. Ellis' memo, asking for more Strykers to be hurried into Iraq and Afghanistan is here. "Commanders in the field are reporting to me that the Up-Armored [Humvee] is not providing the solution the Army hoped to achieve," he says.