WASHINGTON -- Iraqi insurgents are growing more effective and it will take time to get US troops the $4 billion in armor they need for protection, defense officials said yesterday. ''This is not
Officials rejected growing criticism that armor shortages in Iraq reflect poor war planning, and they said they've been working as fast as possible to give troops what they need.
At a Pentagon news conference, Army officials declined to say how much has already been spent armoring vehicles for the campaign. But they said that by the end of the next six to eight months, they will have spent $4.1 billion to try to make sure vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan have full armor -- either manufactured that way or with armor added.
They said they expect 98 percent of Army Humvees in the theater to have proper armor by March and the rest of the fleet, such as fuel trucks, by summer.
''This is not Wal-Mart . . . this is a very detailed process in terms of trying to get this capability," said Brigadier General Jeffrey Sorenson, adding that it takes time to study, develop, test, and produce equipment needed against what commanders say is a sophisticated and ever-adapting enemy.
Asked at a separate news conference on Iraq operations whether he was concerned about still lacking protection, Lieutenant General Lance Smith said officials are concerned that insurgents have changed their tactics -- attacking troops in the rear area after realizing they could not win in direct combat.
''Yes, we're concerned that he has changed his tactics, and it's required us to armor vehicles that we might otherwise not armor," he said of attacks on logistics convoys.
''I don't know that we'll ever find a silver bullet" against the insurgents' homemade bombs, said Smith, deputy commander of Central Command, which is responsible for US military operations throughout the Middle East.
He said insurgents may use doorbell mechanisms today and remote controls from toys tomorrow to detonate the bombs that have become the major source of US casualties in Iraq. ''As we adapt, they adapt," he said.
Smith and Sorenson spoke to Pentagon reporters in two separate news conferences yesterday, a week after a soldier's question to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld ignited a firestorm over why troops lack proper armor 21 months into the Iraq campaign.
Critics of Bush administration policies in Iraq blame what they say was a rosy picture the administration held before the war. There was too little advanced body armor and too few armored vehicles to deal with what the Pentagon has since acknowledged is a far stronger and more enduring insurgency than expected, theysay. Smith said all troops now have the body vests.