Wednesday, May 5, 2004
U.S. troops have the wrong tools
While the dramas in Fallujah and Najaf come to a conclusion, the Army's
Soldiers are still riding the roads of Iraq in inferior armored vehicles
while the better-protected armored personnel carriers are waiting for them
in Kuwait.
We're asking our troops to perform a job with the wrong tools, a mistake
rooted in the 1999 decision by President Clinton's Army Chief
of Staff Eric Shinseki to take the Army off tracks and put it on wheels.
When, in July 2003, acting Army Chief of Staff Gen. John Keane laid out the
overall Army plan to rotate the units stationed in Iraq since
the start of the war and replace them with fresh units from the United
States and Europe, his plan included a surprise development:
The new Fort Lewis Stryker Brigade would be part of the replacement
Under Keane's rotation plan, the Stryker Brigade would deploy to Iraq,
overlapping with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment for five or
six months, after which the cavalry unit would return to the United States.
Despite delays, the absence of its main offensive weapon and
the fact that it had yet to be certified as a combat unit, the Stryker
Brigade (3rd Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division) deployed
on a combat mission to Iraq last December.
Considered by the Army generals to be too "thin-skinned" to take part in
combat, the Stryker Brigade is stationed in the generally tame
extreme north of Iraq in Mosul in territory controlled by the Kurds. Reports
are that some Strykers have been moved south to provide
convoy protection but their protection for, or of, anything is questionable.
They lack firepower.
When the rotation plan began, the Army was in full panic mode, trying to add
armor to the light trucks (Humvees) that it purchased in the '80s. Our
Soldiers have been patrolling, convoying and dying in these unprotected
vehicles. The Army's knee-jerk reaction of "up-armoring" the Humvees with
added steel on the sides and thick window coverings is offset by the laws of
physics. To now add 2,500 to 3,000 pounds of armor, Plexiglas, sandbags on
the floor to guard against mines and still try to carry the 2,000 pounds of
cargo for which the truck was originally built has, predictably, placed many
of them in garages and junk yards years before their scheduled retirement
But we already had -- and still have -- 700 upgraded M113A2-3 armored
personnel carriers stored as "prepositioned stock" in Kuwait,
scarcely 20 miles south of the Iraqi border. Using these 700 truly armored
M113s and stripping our National Guard units for many of the
11,000 M113s we have stateside could have eliminated most of the deaths
inflicted in the past 13 months by Improvised Explosive
The M113 could be hit by an Improvised Explosive Device but should have the
same advantages as the Humvees of superior armor and heavier weight to help
it hold the road and not crash. So, the enemy is fixed in Fallujah and
Najaf. What are the commanders supposed to use to spearhead an attack
against his fortifications? It certainly cannot be the wheeled vehicles that
are Shinseki's legacy.
The unnecessary deaths of our Soldiers due to a lack of armored convoy and
patrol vehicles are a command blunder that should result
in some general officers, at the very least, being sacked and possibly tried
for manslaughter -- because they have apparently kept
secret safer vehicles available to the troops in Iraq from the command
authority of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers.
Lonnie Shoultz served in combat in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division
and 5th Special Forces Group, where he received the Purple
Heart medal on several occasions. He is a military analyst who lives on the
Alabama Gulf Coast;