Sat, Dec 11, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Bush critics pile on US soldier's complaint

INCOMPETENCEAfter a soldier's public complaint to Rumsfeld about a lack of armoring for vehicles in Iraq, observers said the Bush team's approach was flawed

AP , WASHINGTON

Critics of the war in Iraq seized on charges that US troops there don't have enough armored vehicles as another example of poor planning by the Pentagon.

US President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tried Thursday to tamp down the firestorm, which was ignited a day earlier when an Iraq-bound soldier publicly complained to Rumsfeld that the Army wasn't properly armoring vehicles for the campaign.

Traveling in India, Rumsfeld said he expects the Army to do its best to resolve the problem. In Washington, Bush said the soldier's concerns "are being addressed and that is -- we expect our troops to have the best possible equipment."

Close to three-quarters of the Humvees in the Iraq war theater now have upgraded armor protection, but many larger trucks and tractor-trailer rigs do not, according to congressional figures.

Military officials said armoring Humvees has been the top priority because they are used to patrol areas where attacks are likely. The heavy haulers, meanwhile, usually travel convoy routes that are more frequently swept for guerillas and bombs.

Critics questioned why the Pentagon has been unable to send enough armored equipment 21 months into the war. They said war planners had too rosy a picture of how the campaign would unfold and so didn't think so many troops and so much armor would be needed for so long.

"This is about faulty analysis and a failed strategy," said Rep. Ellen Tauscher, a California Democrat who sits on the House Armed Services Committee. "We've never had enough troops on the ground since the fall of Saddam Hussein's government to deal with the insurgency because we didn't expect one."

Loren Thompson, a defense industry analyst with the Lexington Institute think tank, agreed.

"We have pretty much miscalculated every step along the way -- why we went, how we should do it, what we needed, what support we would have, how long it would last -- we pretty much got it all wrong," he said.

The war 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, now going up to 150,000 troops.

There was far 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. Officials say more is being manufactured as fast as possible.

Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said Congress had given the Bush administration all of the defense spending it had requested. Why then, he asked in a letter to Rumsfeld, were soldiers combing landfills for scrap metal to protect themselves?

Retired Major General Nash, an analyst with the Council on Foreign Relations, agreed that the issue is part of a continuing theme.

"All of this fuss ... is a continuation of the issue of poor planning [and a] lack of understanding of the consequences of invading Iraq," he said.

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