Is this how we support the troops?

Gates warned that delays in the delivery of armored vehicles would kill "scores" of U.S. soldiers, but the Pentagon concedes that more delays are coming.

Published August 22, 2007 7:59PM (EDT)

George W. Bush got a big round of applause from the VFW today when he equated calls to pull troops out of Iraq with a desire to deny them the equipment that they need to fight there.

"Our troops are seeing this progress that is being made on the ground," Bush said. "And as they take the initiative from the enemy, they have a question: Will their elected leaders in Washington pull the rug out from under them just as they're gaining momentum and changing the dynamic on the ground in Iraq? Here's my answer is clear: We'll support our troops, we'll support our commanders, and we will give them everything they need to succeed."

Well, at it turns out, not.

Back in June, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said U.S. troops desperately needed more mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPS. The MRAPs have V-shaped hulls that help protect the troops inside from roadside bombs and other improvised explosive devices. "For every month we delay" getting MRAPs into the field, Gates said, "scores of young Americans are going to die."

In July, John Young, the man Gates appointed to run a task force on the MRAP issue, told reporters that the Pentagon expected to have about 3,500 of the vehicles "in theater" by the end of 2007. "I can assure you, Secretary Gates is laser focused on it to get the vehicles from the manufacturing facility to the Space and Naval Warfare Center in Charleston, where radios and jammers and other equipment are installed," Young said then. "We're working to reduce that time every day, and every time I meet with him, he asks me how long it's taking."

Maybe he should ask again. As Stars and Stripes reports today, the Pentagon is now saying that it will have at most 1,500 of the MRAPs in Iraq by year's end. What happened to the 3,500 that Gates' man had promised? Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell tells the Associated Press that that was an "ambitious goal" that's no longer realistic. An unidentified Defense Department official tells Stars and Stripes: "Mr. Young's projections were based on the desire by the task force to try to increase production by bringing more vendors to the table. But the fact is that it looks like the vendor base will stay pretty much the same through the next few months."

Defense contractors say they can't afford to ramp up production of the MRAPs until the Pentagon tells them how many of the vehicles it's going to need in the short-term future. But Morrell -- the Pentagon's spokesman -- says the problem isn't with the production of the vehicles but rather with the Pentagon's slow work of outfitting and shipping them. It currently takes the Pentagon approximately 50 days to install radios and radar equipment in a MRAP and ship it to Iraq.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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Iraq War Robert Gates War Room