lilie Posted February 4, 2007 Share Posted February 4, 2007 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. "They thought they'd be down to 30,000 troops by the end of (2006), so they didn't start accelerating equipment purchases," Korb said. Not only did the deployment last much longer than the military leaders had expected, but the cost of equipment and training has also skyrocketed. As the conflict continued, the cost of basic equipment -- helmets, rifles and body armor -- more than tripled, from $7,000 in 1999 to $25,000 last year, the Wall Street Journal reported in December. The cost of a humvee, once unarmored, has grown seven-fold, to about $225,000 from $32,000 in 2001. As a result of rising costs, the purchases of basic equipment lagged. After the Cold War, U.S. military policy -- pushed hard by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's policy of "transformation" -- relied too much on cutting-edge technology and air power and too little on boots on the ground, and further undercut spending on equipment that would protect large ground forces, critics charge. Although this approach worked in Afghanistan -- where two months of U.S. aerial bombardment overwhelmed the ruling Taliban militia -- and helped topple the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, it hinders the U.S. ability to fight the protracted counterinsurgency campaigns that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have since become, some analysts say. "We had the Air Force moving forward with all the procurement, we had the Navy investing and modernizing every piece," said Carl Conetta, co-director of the Project on Defense Alternatives based in Cambridge, Mass. "You didn't have anything like that in the Army. Nobody foresaw that we would be sitting in the desert for such a long period of time fighting an insurgency." To compensate for the dearth of equipment and to meet "immediate wartime needs," the military has been borrowing gear from units stationed in the United States, depleting their ability to respond in case of other military threats around the world, Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker told the House Armed Services Committee last month. "This practice, which we are continuing today, increases risk for our next-to-deploy units and limits our ability to respond to emerging strategic contingencies," Schoomaker said. It also leaves the troops in the United States to train on equipment that is often completely different from the gear they will be using in Iraq. For example, the 2-7 battalion had to train on obsolete models of humvees that are no longer used in Iraq, said Crissman, the battalion commander. "We trained with a smaller set of equipment, and I will admit that presented some challenges," Crissman told The Chronicle before his unit left for Iraq. The 2-7 also had no time to train at Fort Irwin in California's Mojave Desert, where Arabic-speaking role players and trainers simulate conditions of battling Iraqi insurgents. Instead, they conducted a three-week exercise in the forest of towering pines and oaks hung with Spanish moss outside the division's base at Fort Stewart, Ga. Such deficiencies decrease the level of troop readiness, said Korb. "There's gonna be more killed and wounded," he said, "because they are just not ready." http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?...MNG9ONUKVT1.DTL Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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