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Humvee Armor

04/05/05 12:00AM By Barrie Dunsmore
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(HOST) There is virtually no one in America who would not say they "support the troops in Iraq." But, as commentator Barrie Dunsmore notes, for a number of the American military casualties of that war those may be empty words.


(DUNSMORE) Last December, Tennessee Army National Guard Specialist Thomas Wilson made headline news. Wilson was the solider who had the temerity to ask Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, during a public meeting in Kuwait, why the army didn't have enough armor-plated Humvees. The Humvee is the successor to the old World War Two Jeep. The response was typically Rumsfeld: "You go to war with the army you have. They're not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time."

However, USA Today has just published an investigative report on the issue of armor plating for these otherwise vulnerable vehicles. And the thrust of its story is this: there were not enough armored Humvees in Iraq because the Department of Defense initially decided they were not needed. And it then took nearly two years to remedy the problem. As a result, many Americans died and many more were seriously injured. Just how many is hard to pin down. But, according to USA Today, at least 275 troops died in Humvees in 2003 and '04. And most of those were killed by the insurgents' weapon of choice: homemade bombs that go off on the side of the road - bombs particularly effective against Humvees without armor.

It is clear from this report that the problem has nothing to do with going to war with the army you have. It has to do with the misjudgments made in the planning for the invasion which were based on the naive belief that U. S. troops would be welcomed by the Iraqis. And it's due to the even far greater mismanagement of the post invasion period, when senior American government officials, military and civilian, refused to recognize the intensity of the insurgency against America's presence there.

Those mistakes were products of the fundamental problem: Donald Rumsfeld's determination that Iraq was a war which could be fought on the cheap. Rumsfeld and his civilian assistants claimed Saddam Hussein could be overthrown with minimum cost in lives and money. Commanders in the field did not ask for additional troops for the occupation - or for more armored Humvees to cut down U. S. casualties - because they knew very well that their civilian masters in the Pentagon did not want to hear such requests.

By the way, Specialist Wilson comes out of this story looking pretty good. In spite of the dismissive response he got from Rumsfeld, and the criticism he received from far-right commentators for his insubordination, it seems he lit a fire at the Defense Department. Within two days of his question, the Pentagon had asked the company making factory-armored Humvees to boost their production by 20 percent. That has helped to raise the current level of armored Humvees in Iraq to about 22,000 - up from 235 when the war began.

This is Barrie Dunsmore.

Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.
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