Friday, September 7, 2007

Pentagon foot dragging demands investigation

Astonishing as it seems, the Pentagon's procurement of military materiel for GIs in Iraq has been conducted at a leisurely peacetime pace that some critics fear has cost lives of American troops.

This military foot dragging isn't hearsay or partisan political gossip. It's a matter of record, and the military brass surely will someday regret who has meticulously documented its slow response to the needs of combat troops—members of Congress.

After months of investigation, the newspaper USA Today has compiled a telling history of communications between Democrats and Republicans and the military. It reveals that lawmakers had to drag the Pentagon into heeding the appeals of desperate troops for advanced new equipment it had previously rejected and into speeding up delivery of equipment already on order.

Call it what you will—dereliction, incompetence or bureaucratic indifference—this Pentagon performance over four years of war in Iraq demands a congressional investigation on the level of hearings held after America's worst military loss, Japan's 1941 surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

One example tells a lot about the Pentagon stupor. California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, now a presidential candidate and father of an Army officer in Iraq, was so fed up with slow delivery of armor for Humvee vehicles and the Pentagon's aloofness to the problem that he intervened with the manufacturer and labor unions and implored them to speed delivery. Armor was then delivered seven months earlier than the Pentagon schedule.

After GIs revealed the perils of riding in lightly armored Humvees, Congress added $5.2 billion more than President Bush requested for more armor, and forced the military to buy radio-frequency jammers to foil homemade bombs.

So, too, was the Pentagon slow in accepting the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle that offers more protection for soldiers than Humvees.

As Sen. Joseph Biden observed, congressional pressure on the Pentagon is "essentially preventing the death toll and casualty numbers from getting worse."

The Pentagon has picked up some speed since the arrival of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. In an early act, Gates ordered 8,000 MRAPs, which his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, did not embrace. Rumsfeld believed that the war would be over quickly and so troops did not need equipment for a drawn-out fight.

The foot dragging is not only a national disgrace, but also a tragedy for families who lost loved ones who could have lived if only they'd had the right equipment.

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