(by Randy Hall, CybercastNewsService.com) – Among the many charges leveled against the Bush administration over its handling of the war in Iraq is the one involving the Pentagon’s allegedly intentional delay in shipping body armor to soldiers and Marines fighting on the ground in Iraq. In congressional testimony on Feb. 2, top officers denied that there were any intentional delays in getting the armor to the troops, but high-profile critics like U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton are unconvinced.
Clinton, the New York Democrat who many people believe will run for president in 2008, last month called the Bush administration “incompetent” when it came to protecting the troops in combat and called the lack of adequate body armor for soldiers “unforgivable.”
In a Jan. 9 letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Clinton wrote: “Since the beginning of our engagement in Iraq, I, along with my colleagues, have repeatedly expressed concern about delays in equipping our troops serving overseas, including adequate body armor.
“With United States troops risking their lives daily in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, we owe it to them to make sure they have the best equipment possible,” she added, noting that she believed “the Pentagon is failing that responsibility.”
Clinton’s criticism grew out of a Pentagon study of 93 Marines who had been killed in Iraq from wounds to the upper body even though they wore ceramic armor plates that protected most of the chest and back.
“Either a larger plate or superior protection around the plate would have had the potential to alter the final outcome,” the study concluded.
However, Bush administration officials have consistently said that they are providing U.S. troops with the best equipment available and as quickly as possible.
Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, the Army’s deputy chief for acquisition, told the House Armed Services Committee on Feb. 2 that “we are looking at everything today that is possible or available.”
During a Pentagon news briefing on Jan. 18, Army Secretary Francis Harvey told reporters that protecting soldiers is “very important to the Army in general and me personally. We have continuously improved the armor that we provide for the soldiers.”
Harvey explained that the Interceptor Multi-Threat Body Armor System contains an Outer Tactical Vest (OTV), which protects the wearer from the dangers posed by 9mm bullets and equivalent shrapnel fragments. A collar and units to protect the throat, shoulders and groin can be attached to the OTV to increase its effectiveness.
In addition, Small Arms Protective Inserts (SAPIs) — ceramic plates covered by layers of durable fabric — can be placed in pockets on the front and back of the OTV to protect soldiers from greater threats, such as rifle bullets.
“We’re trying to anticipate and adapt to the enemy, and we’re trying to prevent injuries to the soldiers,” Harvey noted.
Steve Newsome, Marine Corps National Fellow at the Center for Security Policy (CSP), told Cybercast News Service that the decision to use body armor in combat is not as simple as it might appear.
One major factor concerns the weight of body armor components, Newsome said. “The vest itself is about 16 pounds, and when you add the heaviness of ceramic plates, then put your ammo and other equipment on, you begin to understand how tough it can be to carry all that around.”
Such an effort is especially difficult for troops in Iraq, who often have to fight in temperatures above 100 degrees and in urban settings, where they must also be agile enough to jump through windows or climb over walls, he added.
“I think you always have an obligation to do the best you can to protect your people. But, how far can you go before you end up sending each person out in his or her own individual tank?” Newsome asked. “That’s just not practical.”
Frederick Kagan, resident scholar for defense and foreign policy studies with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), noted that the type of action in the field also has an impact on body armor use.
“Body armor is infinitely less important for the sort of conventional fighting we did when invading Iraq in March and April of 2003,” Kagan told Cybercast News Service, because the rules of engagement were different at that point than when battling an insurgency.
During an invasion, “soldiers spend a lot of their time in their vehicles,” he said, and. “when the enemy starts shooting at them, they call in the artillery. You can’t do that in a counterinsurgency because you risk alienating the population. You can’t just blow up houses or even city blocks because you think a sniper might be there.”
‘Not a good way to fight a war’
Sen. Clinton’s recent accusations aren’t the first such claims made by President Bush’s political opponents. During a “pre-buttal” to the president’s 2004 State of the Union Address, U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) charged that the administration “did not plan for all our soldiers to have life-saving body armor to survive Iraqi guerilla attacks.”
The issue also surfaced during the 2004 presidential campaign, when Democratic candidate John Kerry said he would have handled Iraq “very differently” than Bush. As commander in chief, Kerry said he would have given soldiers “the body armor and equipment they needed.”
Kagan from AEI told Cybercast News Service that he believes both critics and supporters have made valid points in the debate over combat in Iraq.
“It seems clear that we did not initially have adequate stocks of the right kind of body armor for this kind of conflict,” he said. “When we launched the Iraq war, the Pentagon did not anticipate being drawn into a protracted insurgency. Certainly, they did not prepare for this contingency, and that was clearly a mistake.”
In addition, Kagan had general criticism about the way the war is being handled.
“Most of the government does not behave as though it is at war,” he said, “so when we get into emergencies, we still have a lot of bean counters running around, making sure that everybody is dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s on all the traditional contract instruments for making these kinds of things happen.
“That’s not a good way to fight a war,” Kagan noted.
Nevertheless, the usefulness of body armor was demonstrated on Jan. 29, when “World News Tonight” co-anchor Bob Woodruff and ABC News cameraman Doug Vogt were seriously injured by a roadside bomb while riding in an Iraqi armored vehicle north of Baghdad.
Col. Bryan Gamble, commander of the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany — where the men were taken for treatment — said that if Woodruff hadn’t been wearing body armor, he probably would have been killed.
That incident led Newsome of the Center for Security Policy to state that the effectiveness of soldiers’ body armor has been largely overlooked.
“There are no documented facts on the number of lives saved by having that body armor in there as opposed to where the military was just a few years ago,” Newsome told Cybercast News Service. “I’m not advocating resting on your laurels, but I think our body armor needs to be praised as a success for the enhanced protection it has given.”
The Army has announced that it is purchasing 230,000 sets of side armor inserts that will be distributed to soldiers by the end of the year. The Marine Corps has already delivered 9,000 sets to Iraq, a number that will rise to about 30,000 by April.
The side plates will add extra weight to the armor, but Army Secretary Harvey said he believes it’s in the best interest of the soldiers to add them.
“Our goal is to continue providing the American soldier with the best, most protective body armor in the world,” said Army spokesman Paul Boyce. “We are working with soldiers, commanders, the medical community and industry to continue these improvements while ensuring the safety of our soldiers.”
Reprinted here with permission from Cybercast News Service. Visit the website at CNSNews.com.
1. What concern has Senator Hillary Clinton expressed in a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee? On whom does she place the blame for the problem as she sees it? On what study does Senator Clinton base her criticism?
2. How does Army Secretary Francis Harvey describe the Outer Tactical Vest (OTV)? (For a detailed description of the Interceptor Multi-Threat Body Armor System, click here.)
3. What problems do soldiers encounter when wearing body armor (especially in Iraq), according to Steve Newsome, Marine Corps Fellow at the Center for Security Policy?
4. Why weren’t troops equipped with the right kind of body armor for Iraq?
5. What is the Army doing to improve the situation for our soldiers?
6. Once it was determined that troops needed a better type of body armor, do you think that the Pentagon did its best to equip soldiers quickly with the most superior equipment possible? Explain your answer.
(For information critical of the Interceptor Body Armor, click here.)
(For an article from the Department of Defense website in support of current Body Armor, click here.)
7. The one group not quoted in this article are soldiers doing the actual fighting. Do you know anyone who has been to, or is in, Iraq or Afghanistan? Ask for their opinion on the pros and cons of the body armor with which they are supplied. Email answers to firstname.lastname@example.org for posting on this site.
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