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Marine units found to lack equipment

Corps estimates of needs in Iraq are called faulty

WASHINGTON -- Marine Corps units fighting in some of the most dangerous terrain in Iraq don't have enough weapons, communications gear, or properly outfitted vehicles, according to an investigation by the Marine Corps' inspector general provided to Congress yesterday.

The report, obtained by the Globe, says the estimated 30,000 Marines in Iraq need twice as many heavy machine guns, more fully protected armored vehicles, and more communications equipment to operate in a region the size of Utah.

The Marine Corps leadership has ''understated" the amount and types of ground equipment it needs, according to the investigation, concluding that all of its fighting units in Iraq ''require ground equipment that exceeds" their current supplies, ''particularly in mobility, engineering, communications, and heavy weapons."

Complaints of equipment shortages in Iraq, including lack of adequate vehicle armor, have plagued the Pentagon for months, but most of the reported shortages have been found in the Army, which makes up the bulk of the American occupation force.

The analysis of the Marines' battle readiness, however, shows that the Corps is lacking key equipment needed to stabilize Al Anbar province in western Iraq. The province is where some of the bloodiest fighting has occurred in recent months between American-led coalition forces and Iraqi insurgents aided by foreign fighters who have slipped across the border.

Marine Corps forces and newly trained Iraqi soldiers battled insurgents in Al Anbar province for the fourth straight day yesterday as part of Operation Spear, launched last week along the Syrian border.

The Marine Corps' mission, among the most difficult of the 140,000 American troops in Iraq, is to help stabilize a huge swath of Iraq where popular support for the insurgency is highest and where more sophisticated enemy tactics have been introduced, including larger and more effective improvised explosive devices, the roadside bombs that are the single biggest killer of American troops in Iraq.

But the report says that about a quarter of the Second Marine Expeditionary Force's Humvees lack sufficient armor to protect troops against roadside bombings, including 1,000 vehicles that have yet to be fitted with armor plates to protect the undercarriage.

The report also says that if the current demands in Iraq continue, the Corps will need another 650 Humvees, which have been logging an average of 480 miles a month, mostly over rough terrain. And despite an agreement with the Army to repair broken vehicles at a maintenance facility in Kuwait, the Marine Corps had not scheduled any repairs as of last month.

Meanwhile, those Humvees that have received full armor -- which the report says have significantly improved the safety of troops -- are suffering excessive wear and tear because they were never designed to carry the additional weight.

The report also found that Abrams tanks and other combat vehicles are being so overused that replacements are needed quickly. It found that all of the Marines' battle tanks in Iraq have passed the normal criteria for replacing them.

Meanwhile, units need at least twice as many of the .50-caliber machine guns that are mounted atop vehicles and designed to protect an entire unit from enemy fire, the report said.

The units also need more M240G machine guns, a heavy gun used in battle, and more of the lighter MK19 machine guns, used at checkpoints to thwart insurgent attacks.

''Most infantry, logistics, and security battalions require approximately twice the number of .50-caliber machine guns and more M240G and MK19 machine guns than they would normally possess," according to the 40-page report, entitled ''Marine Corps Ground Equipment in Iraq."

Communications gear, too, is lacking. The Marine Expeditionary Force headquarters, known as Multinational Forces-West, ''has command responsibilities that far exceed any level contemplated by organizational and equipment planners," the report said. Radio and satellite tracking systems are ''in critical demand and constant use."

After interviewing commanders, staff members, and unit leaders, the inspector general's office concluded that the Marine Corps' current strategy to meet its communications needs in Iraq ''is not sufficient to meet the current and future needs of the force."

The inspector general also determined that even with recommended changes, including replacing damaged armaments, the war will continue to take a toll on the Marine Corps' equipment, from having nearly all of its fighting gear ready for combat this year to having less than two-thirds of it in battle shape by the middle of 2008.

The Marine Corps' equipment shortages are expected to be the focus of a House Armed Services Committee hearing today, where lawmakers will hear testimony from General William Nyland, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps and Major General William Catto, commander of the Marine Corps Systems Command.

Officials at Marine Corps headquarters and the Systems Command declined to comment on the inspector general's report, saying they were not yet familiar enough with its findings to respond to questions.

Bryan Bender can be reached at bender@globe.com.

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