The incoming deputy leader of the Senate's Democrats demanded answers yesterday from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as to why US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan lack protective equipment for themselves and their vehicles.
"We can, and we should, armor every Humvee and every truck our troops use in Iraq and Afghanistan," Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said in his party's weekly radio address. "No more excuses, no more delays. We can save hundreds of lives and prevent thousands of serious injuries."
Congress has given the Bush administration all the defense spending it has requested, yet there are still 3,500 Humvees without protective armor and about 44,000 soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan without adequate body armor, Durbin said.
"The Pentagon says the lack of protective equipment is a matter of `logistics,'" Durbin said. "No, it's not. It's a matter of leadership."
Durbin said Rumsfeld ignored warnings from top military experts that success in Iraq would require far more troops and that they were likely to meet strong resistance.
"Those responsible for planning this war were not prepared for the reality on the ground, and many of our soldiers have paid the price," said Durbin, who will become the Senate's minority whip in the new Congress next month.
Durbin said the "most valuable gift" America's troops received this holiday season may be a soldier's question to Rumsfeld at a town-hall meeting in Kuwait this month about why American soldiers in Kuwait and Iraq scavenge in junk piles for steel plates to protect their Humvees and trucks.
"It's a question a lot of us have been asking for some time now," the senator said.
"Secretary Rumsfeld, we have the army we want. Now let's give them the equipment they need," he said.
An increasing number of Republicans have joined Democrats in criticizing the lack of armor and other aspects of Rumsfeld's conduct of the war. The secretary, however, drew support Friday from the Senate's top two Republican officials, Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and Whip Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
As Democratic whip, Durbin replaces Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, who was elevated to minority leader following Senator Tom Daschle's loss in the November election.