The headline in Wednesday’s USA Today is a shameful indictment: “Pentagon ignored Humvee warnings: ‘94 report: Combat vehicle a ‘deathtrap.’”
We’re then told that U.S. Army and Marine Corps officials knew nearly a decade before the invasion of Iraq that the workhorse Humvee vehicle was a major hazard to troops even with armor added to protect it against roadside bombs.
This disgraceful evaluation comes from an inspector general’s report. Data distributed throughout the Army and Marine Corps after the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and the Somalia venture in 1994 urged the development of armored vehicles to avoid the devastation of roadside bombs and land mines. However, according to the report, the Pentagon failed to act.
How many lives were lost or how many combatants suffered crippling injuries because of this glaring ignorance of valid data?
Desperate U.S. troops added makeshift armor to their Humvees, and the Pentagon reportedly took action to retrofit the vehicles with better protection after the threat of roadside bombs escalated in 2003 and 2004. Yet the retrofitted Humvees remained vulnerable to various explosive devices because of the vehicles’ “flat bottom, low weight, low ground clearance and aluminum body,” the inspector general reported.
In 1994, valid reports showed that the Pentagon chose to bypass data saying that Humvees “even with a mine-protection retrofit kit developed for Somalia remained a deathtrap in the event of an anti-tank mine detonation.”
We’re told that the Pentagon deemed it impractical to develop the needed fleet. The military had spent hundreds of millions on Humvees, and drawn-out ground wars, which is precisely what was encountered in Iraq, were seen as a thing of the past. Adaptability was a joke.
Even now, with better equipment, troops suffer four times more casualties from roadside bombs while riding in Humvees instead of the mine-resistant vehicles they really need. Now we’re told the Pentagon plans to field an all-terrain armored vehicle to provide off-road maneuverability and enough armor to deflect the growing threat of roadside bombs in Afghanistan. Yet even these vehicles do not negate the great risk to the people we send into action, since 722 Americans were wounded and 161 killed in 2008 missions.
It is tragic enough that even our best and latest equipment is not as effective as it needs to be in combating bombings and mine impact. Consider how many have suffered needlessly because the Pentagon was so cavalier in those days when better equipment was badly needed.
This is a disgrace and there should be deep shame over this gross mismanagement. Decision-makers need to be brought to the forefront and held accountable.