updated 12/8/2008 9:19:45 PM ET 2008-12-09T02:19:45

The Marine Corps left troops in Iraq vulnerable to deadly roadside bombs by failing to answer an urgent request from battlefield commanders for blast-resistant vehicles, according to an internal Pentagon investigation obtained by The Associated Press.

Marine acquisition officials shelved the request in February 2005 for the "MRAPs" after deciding armored versions of the Humvee were the best answer to the improvised explosive devices that became the signature weapon of the Iraq war. However, the beefier Humvees proved incapable of withstanding the increasingly powerful roadside bombs.

The Associated Press obtained portions of the inspector general's report. It was expected to be released publicly on Tuesday.

The Marine Corps and the other military branches were aware of the threat from mines and roadside bombs and of the commercial availability of MRAPs well before U.S. troops invaded Iraq in 2003, the report said. Yet nothing was done to acquire the vehicles.

"As a result, the department entered into operations in Iraq without having taken available steps to acquire technology to mitigate the known mine and IED risk to soldiers and Marines," the report said.

'Gross mismanagement'
The nine-month inquiry by the department's inspector general was the result of complaints by Franz Gayl, a civilian defense official and whistle-blower who had accused the Marine Corps of "gross mismanagement" that led to a nearly two-year delay in shipping the MRAPs to Iraq.

Had the MRAPs been built and sent after commanders first asked for them in early 2005, hundreds of deaths and injuries could have been prevented, Gayl charged in a study that was first reported in February by The Associated Press.

The report Pentagon IG report found no evidence of criminal negligence in the failure to provide the MRAPs when the vehicles were first requested.

In a statement, the Marine Corps said it would be inappropriate to comment on the report until it is officially released. However, the Marine Corps noted that it requested the inquiry and worked closely with investigators. It also said the service has greatly improved its system for responding to requests from troops for badly needed gear.

MRAPs have a V-shaped hull and weigh as much as 40 tons. Thousands of the vehicles have been sent to Iraq since May 2007 after Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared MRAPs the Pentagon's No. 1 acquisition priority. The heavy trucks have been very effective at protecting American forces from IEDs.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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