Pentagon ignored danger of roadside bombs, report finds

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 9, 2008 

WASHINGTON — The military ignored steps before the invasion of Iraq that could have prevented the staggering number of casualties from roadside bombs, the Pentagon's acting inspector general charged Tuesday.

The IG's report says that the military knew years before the war that mines and homemade bombs, which the military calls "improvised explosive devices," would be a "threat . . . in low-intensity conflicts" and that "mine-resistant vehicles" were available.

"Yet the military did not develop requirements for, fund or acquire" safer vehicles, the report says. The military invaded Iraq in 2003 "without having taken available steps to acquire technology to mitigate the known mine and IED risk to soldiers and Marines."

Even after the war was under way, as the devices began taking a deadly toll and field commanders pressed for vehicles that were better protected from roadside bombs, the Pentagon was slow to act, the report says.

The IG's office is headed by Acting Inspector General Gordon Heddell.

Explosive devices, including roadside bombs and mines, have caused nearly 25,000 deaths and injuries, according to the Pentagon, the top cause of death for U.S. service members in Iraq.

"It appears that some bureaucrats at the Pentagon have much to explain to the families of American troops who were killed or maimed when a lifesaving solution was within reach," said Sen. Kit Bond, a Missouri Republican.

Bond and Democratic Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware — the vice president-elect — have been critical of the Pentagon over the vehicles, known as MRAPS. Pronounced em-wraps, it stands for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected.

For two years the senators have pushed to uncover why efforts to obtain safer vehicles and other protective equipment for combat troops have been ignored or delayed. USA Today first reported about the problems getting MRAPS into combat last year.

The acting inspector general's study dealt specifically with the Marines' use of MRAPS. The report says that the inspector general also will look into how other military branches — presumably the Army — countered the threat of IEDS.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Tuesday that "great quantities" of MRAPs weren't available at the early stages of the war.

"As the threat has evolved, so have our force-protection measures," he said. "Have we done so with the rapidity and the efficiency that we would have liked at all times? No, we haven't. But to suggest that there was any sort of neglect, or people were sitting on their hands ignoring the urgent request of commanders in the field, is just not accurate."

MRAPS are bigger and heavier than the Humvees that troops have used for patrols in Iraq. They're higher off the ground and designed to deflect an explosion.

The IG report says that the military "stopped processing" a 2005 request for 1,169 MRAPS from commanders in the field. Another request came a year later, according to a letter from Bond and Biden to Gen. James Conway, the Marine commandant.

Marine officials thought then that adding armor to Humvees was the "best available, most survivable" option, according to the IG report.

MRAPS also didn't fit in with the Marines' push to become a leaner, quick-reaction force, according to a study last January by Franz Gayl, a civilian Marine science adviser and whistleblower championed by Bond and Biden.

His study showed how efforts to outfit Marines in Iraq with the safer vehicles went awry.

Gayl, a former Marine, said that "gross mismanagement" delayed the use of MRAPS in combat. Otherwise, he concluded, "hundreds of deaths and injuries could have been prevented."

In a 2007 memo from Conway to Gen. Peter Pace, who was then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation's top Marine said that MRAPS could cut IED casualties by 80 percent, according to Gayl.

New to the job in 2007, Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered more MRAPS. Morrell said that nearly 12,000 were now employed in Iraq and Afghanistan, with several thousand more on the way. The cost is $22 billion.

(e-mail: dgoldstein(at)mcclatchydc.com)

12-09-08

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McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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