CAMP NAVISTAR, Kuwait—Facing a deadly surge in attacks on military convoys in Iraq, commanders have ordered that Humvee gun trucks be battle-hardened with steel doors.
Humvees, the versatile workhorses of the U.S. Army, are the prime security escorts for vital convoys that help feed and supply 100,000 troops in Kuwait and Iraq. Most Humvees on convoy escort missions have canvas doors, making them easy prey for improvised bombs or gunfire from snipers.
In the last two weeks, attacks on convoys have risen steeply, commanders say. At least three supply routes in Iraq have been abandoned temporarily because of frequent attacks.
"It is a stagnant battlefield and we're the only ones moving on it," said Capt. Jason Bisby of the 459 Transportation Co., based in Springfield, Mo. Bisby's soldiers guard convoys out of Camp Navistar, a major supply and fueling depot on the Kuwait-Iraq border.
Three of his soldiers were injured, one critically, on March 11 in Fallujah, Iraq, when a bomb exploded under their Humvee. It was the only vehicle in the convoy without armor.
The massive rotation of U.S. forces—about 100,000 soldiers are moving into Iraq to replace those who have occupied the country since Operation Iraqi Freedom was launched a year ago—is believed to be a major factor in the surge of attacks.
Insurgents are testing the fresh troops, military leaders say.
Equipping the Humvees with steel doors will give the soldiers on escort duty a hardened shell to protect them from small-arms fire, improvised bombs and mortar fire.
Even the appearance of the steel doors deters attackers, says Lt. Col. Thomas Sisinyak of the Charlotte, N.C.-based 812 Transportation Battalion. The battalion is responsible for convoy operations that run about 500 miles from Kuwait to Baghdad.
"If we look bad, they're not going to mess with us," said Sisinyak of Huntersville, N.C. "We want to look bad so they leave us alone."
Up to 200 Humvees on convoy duty are expected to get the hardened doors in coming weeks, said Col. Cory Youmans, commander of the 375th Transportation Group, based in Mobile, Ala.
Officials with U.S. Central Command ordered the armor kits added to Humvees after the death toll from roadside explosives began to rise sharply last fall.
By early March, almost 1,200 of the extra armor kits had been installed, said Maj. Linda Haseloff, a spokeswoman for U.S. Central Command. Eventually, the military plans to install the kits on 8,400 Humvees in Iraq, she said.
In addition, Central Command plans to replace about 4,400 Humvees in Iraq with models equipped with heavy armor in the doors, floorboards and other vulnerable areas, Haseloff said. About half of those models have been delivered to Iraq, and the rest are expected by December.
Overall, the Army plans to spend $650 million by the end of fiscal year 2004 on the extra armor kits.
Unlike high-riding trucks, Humvees are particularly vulnerable to improvised roadside bombs because of the Humvees' low-slung design, which puts the passenger compartment close to the bombs.
Until the current retrofit, the only change in defending the vehicles against roadway bombs was to place sandbags on the floorboards to dissipate the effects of an explosion.
(Drew Brown in Washington contributed to this report.)
(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.