The Army says it is spending more than $4 billion to make sure vehicles used in Iraq have the armor to protect troops against insurgents’ bombs.
Officials rejected criticism that shortages reflect poor war planning and said they’ve been working as fast as possible to give troops what they need.
“This is not Wal-Mart,” said Brig. Gen. Jeffery Sorenson, asserting that it takes time to study, develop and produce equipment needed against what commanders say is a sophisticated and ever-adapting enemy.
Defense officials declined to say how much has already been spent. But they said that in the next six to eight months, they will have spent $4.1 billion to try to make sure that vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan are those already manufactured with full armor or have had armor added to them. The vast majority are in Iraq.
No ‘silver bullet’ against bombs
“I don’t know that we’ll ever find a silver bullet” against the insurgents’ homemade bombs, said Lt. Gen. Lance Smith, deputy commander of Central Command, which is responsible for U.S. military operations throughout the Middle East.
Smith said insurgents may use doorbell mechanisms today and remote controls from toys tomorrow to detonate the bombs that have become the major source of U.S. casualties in Iraq.
“As we adapt, they adapt,” he said.
Smith and Sorenson spoke to Pentagon reporters in two separate press conferences Wednesday, a week after a soldier’s question to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ignited a firestorm over why troops lack proper armor 21 months into the Iraq campaign.
Critics of Bush administration policies in Iraq blame what they say was a rosy picture the administration held before the war. The campaign was meant to be fought at rapid speed by a limited-size force with international help to disarm Saddam Hussein of his weapons of mass destruction. Instead, no weapons were found, the international community largely refused to participate and officials have been forced to increase the size of the force there to 150,000 troops as scheduled Iraqi elections draw near.
There was too little advanced body armor and were too few armored vehicles to deal with what the Pentagon has since acknowledged is a far stronger and longer insurgency than expected, critics say. Smith said all troops now have the body vests, but that only 60 percent of vehicles there have needed armor.
Insurgents sophisticated and adaptable
Defense officials say it wasn’t a matter of planning but that insurgents have proven very smart, sophisticated and adaptable.
Officials say troops also have changed tactics — changing the way they patrol, driving faster in convoy and so on.
“Its not just armor ... but a holistic approach” to the threat, Sorenson said.
Officials also said this week that the Air Force has started making more cargo flights over Iraq to keep Army transport trucks off the country’s dangerous roads when possible.
During the last month, the Air Force reorganized the operations of its cargo lifters and is now flying about 450 tons of cargo around Iraq daily, said Lt. Col. Mike Caldwell, an Air Force spokesman. That’s an increase of about 100 tons a day over its previous average, Caldwell said.