Thursday, August 04, 2005

George W. Bush, Meet Sun Tzu

The Cleveland Plain-Dealer reports that the 14 Marines who were killed yesterday by a roadside bomb were put at risk by riding in amphibious assault vehicles that are less well protected than tanks, and that were not intended for urban combat.

Until now, the Marine Amphibious Assault Vehicle, normally launched from ships and moved ashore protected by tanks and artillery, was considered safe for operations in Iraq. Protected with an inch of aluminum armor - less than that carried by the Army's Bradley Fighting Vehicle or Abrams tank - they hold up to 25 combat-loaded Marines and a crew of three.

AAVs in Iraq have additional armor designed to protect them from the blast of a 155 mm artillery shell at a distance of 25 meters, about 80 feet, said Doug Coffey, a senior official at BAE Systems, the London- based international defense and aerospace company that de signed and manufactured the vehicle in the early 1970s.

Even so, Coffey said, the AAV "is a lightweight amphibious personnel carrier not intended to be a fighting vehicle or anything like a tank. It's one of the more vulnerable vehicles on the battlefield."

That assessment, from Coffey and others, was echoed by Army Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, deputy director for regional operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has held senior combat command in Iraq. "Clearly the AAV does not offer the same protection as a tank," Ham told reporters at the Pentagon.

This is especially true given the situation in Iraq, where insurgents with easy access to explosives and ammunition clearly have studied how to find and exploit vulnerabilities in U.S. armored vehicles.

That last paragraph is the crux of the problem, according to an article by Knight-Ridder's Drew Brown. We all know that this war was done on the cheap, and that the troops in Iraq have never been given the resources they needed. But what's going on now is larger than that. The insurgents in Iraq are targeting the weaknesses in U.S. military equipment and using ever more powerful explosives to get around whatever protections the military tries to build in.

Insurgents in Iraq are adjusting their tactics and using bigger and more powerful explosives to target the vulnerable undersides of armored Humvees and other military vehicles, according to a Pentagon group assigned to find ways to counter roadside bombs.

Since July 24, at least 17 U.S. soldiers and Marines have been killed by such attacks, according to Defense Department press releases and on-the-scene media reports.

"The terrorists are now using larger, more powerful IEDs, and they are attacking the undercarriages of our vehicles now, where the armor is not as thick as on the sides," said Richard Bridges, a spokesman for the Joint IED Defeat Task Force, the Pentagon group charged with analyzing the attacks and creating ways to counter the bombs. "They are also, in some instances, using home-engineered shaped charges that are more effective at penetrating armor."

IED is an acronym for "improvised explosive device," which the military uses to describe various bomb attacks, but which is used most frequently to describe the roadside explosions. A "shaped charge" makes a blast more powerful by directing the force of the explosion toward the target.

In other words, the insurgents have been rapidly adapting to changing combat conditions; and Americans have not -- or at least have not been doing so swifly or efficiently enough. And is that such a surprise? The nature of guerrilla warfare is flexibility, mobility, and a skillful use of the unexpected. Figuring out the enemy's weaknesses and how best to exploit those weaknesses is the whole point when you're fighting a military force much bigger and more powerful than yours.

And that, of course, is what Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, and George W. Bush did not think about, anticipate, expect, or plan for before they started this war. They were too busy drumming up fraudulent intelligence to convince Americans of a nonexistent danger from Iraq to actually consider the kind of conflict they were getting us all into and what the consequences would be.

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