Monday, February 05, 2007

Supporting the Troops, George W. Bush-Style

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What do you call soldiers who are shipped off to war before they know how to fire their rifles; with only four months to complete a year's worth of training, or with no training at all prior to deployment?

You call them cannon fodder. You call them Pres. Bush's Iraq troop surge:

Soldiers of the 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division had so little time between deployments to Iraq they had to cram more than a year's worth of training into four months.

Some had only a few days to learn how to fire their new rifles before they deployed to Iraq -- for the third time -- last month. They had no access to the heavily armored vehicles they will be using in Iraq, so they trained on a handful of old military trucks instead. And some soldiers were assigned to the brigade so late that they had no time to train in the United States at all. Instead of the yearlong training recommended prior to deployment, they prepared for war during the two weeks they spent in Kuwait, en route to Anbar, Iraq's deadliest province.

As the Pentagon prepares to boost troop levels in Iraq by 21,500 people, such logistical and training hurdles are emblematic of the struggles besieging a military strained by unexpectedly long and grueling commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It's happening just about to all the units now," said Lawrence Korb, who oversaw military manpower and logistics as assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. "No unit is completely combat ready."

Lawmakers consider the situation so serious that they plan to question Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about troop readiness on Wednesday, when the officials are scheduled to testify before the House Armed Services Committee, said a spokeswoman for one of its influential members, Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas.

The lack of overall preparedness, in terms of both training and key equipment, is underscored by a recent Pentagon survey, statements by military leaders and interviews with defense experts.

"A typical soldier shows up in Iraq without the knowledge of the language, without the knowledge of the people," said Loren Thompson, defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, a centrist think tank in Arlington, Va. "If he also isn't experienced with his unit or with his weapon, that maximizes the potential for disaster."

A survey conducted by the Defense Department Inspector General's Office last spring found that U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan lack sufficient armored vehicles, heavy weapons such as artillery or large machine guns, devices designed to jam signals used to detonate roadside bombs, and communications equipment. As a result, they are sometimes forced to put off operations while they wait for equipment, according to the classified report, a summary of which the Defense Department made public on Tuesday.

"They don't have enough humvees, they don't have enough (armored) trucks," Ortiz, who chairs the Readiness Subcommittee at the House Armed Services Committee, told The Chronicle. "It's getting to the point when they have to share the equipment."

Instead of the newer, better-protected humvees, for example, the 1st Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, based at Fort Stewart, Ga., will use the older version of heavily armored humvees left behind by the 1st Armor Division, said Lt. Col. Doug Crissman, commander of the brigade's 2-7 infantry battalion. Ortiz said such protracted use increases the wear and tear on the vehicles and makes them more likely to break down. More troubling, the armor on these older humvees is increasingly unable to withstand the blast of the ever-more powerful bombs employed by insurgents, say military experts. In December, roadside bombs caused about 60 percent of all U.S. casualties in Iraq, the Pentagon reported.

"We are fighting a thinking enemy who is trying very hard to kill us," Marine Brig. Gen. Randolph Alles, head of the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, told a congressional panel last month.

Upgrading humvee armor, which involves shipping the vehicles to the United States, "takes the better part of a year, and meanwhile, the threat has morphed," Thompson said. "We never get ahead of the threat."

But even the new, upgraded humvees are "still not suited for this kind of war," Thompson said.

For example, the flat bottoms of the humvees do not deflect the blasts from roadside bombs and instead direct them into the trucks in a way that maximizes the potential damage from the blast to the troops inside. The military is planning to buy thousands of new armored mine-protected vehicles, known as cougars and buffaloes, whose V-shaped hulls deflect blasts from beneath. Lt. Gen. Stephen Speakes, the Army's top supply officer, told the Baltimore Sun that military commanders in Iraq have asked for at least 6,465 such vehicles. But these vehicles would not reach Iraq until March 2008, military officials told the House Armed Services Committee last month.

The main reason for the equipment crunch is that the Pentagon had not expected the war in Iraq to last so long and was not financially prepared for such a grueling commitment, said Korb, who now is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a senior adviser to the Center for Defense Information.

There's more. Read it, and then ask the surge-supporting bloggers on the right why they want American men and women fighting in Iraq to be in as much danger as possible. Ask them why they want U.S. troops to die.

Thanks to Chief for alerting me to this article.

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