The Defense Department plans to bolster the Iraqi National Security Forces for the fight against ISIS with MRAPs, the heavily-armored vehicles that Defense Secretary-designate Ashton Carter steered through a rapid acquisition process to counter roadside bombs.
The Pentagon is expected to send about 250 of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles to Iraq early next year, Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said at a news briefing.
The Iraqis likely will not have to pay for the vehicles. Other Pentagon officials said that the transfer of the MRAPs would probably be done as “Excess Defense Articles,” which would allow the Defense Department to give them to the Iraqis with State Department approval.
Currently, there are about 1,500 MRAPs in Kuwait with U.S. forces there, and the 250 for the Iraqis would likely come from that lot, the officials said.
U.S. forces left behind MRAPs for the Iraqis when combat forces were withdrawn in 2011, but ISIS stole most of them earlier this years as Iraqi forces fled and left behind their equipment. U.S. Central Command has since reported destroying several MRAPs in airstrikes.
The agreement for the Iraqis to take the MRAPs followed discussions earlier this week in Baghdad between outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Iraqi officials on the needs of the Iraqis for more equipment and heavy weapons for ground forces.
“No specific list was submitted” by the Iraqis to Hagel but “airstrikes are not the panacea” in uprooting the fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from entrenched positions in major cities, Kirby said. “Everybody realizes that.”
As the former undersecretary for acquisitions and deputy secretary at the Pentagon, Carter made the fielding of the MRAP his top priority as casualties among U.S. troops mounted in Iraq and Afghanistan from the improvised explosive devices that took a heavy toll on Humvees and other lightly-armored vehicles.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates made Carter the head of an MRAP task force to geet the vehicles to the field quickly. Gates later wrote that Carter and his team “implemented the largest defense procurement program to go from decision to full industrial production in less than a year since World War II.”
Eventually, nearly 28,000 MRAPs were produced at a cost of about $45 billion, and more than 24,000 were sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon.
President Obama noted Carter’s work on the MRAP as he nominated Carter to succeed Hagel earlier this month. “When our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan were struggling to defend against roadside bombs, he moved heaven and earth to rush new body armor and vehicles” to the combat zones, Obama said.