Across the Pentagon’s entire training complex, there are no more than a few of the new Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, known as MRAPs, that are being rushed to Iraq as the latest response to the IED threat.
Marine Corps Lt. Gen. James Mattis, selected in September to head the U.S. Joint Forces Command, told Congress in confirmation testimony that all troops are prepared when they reach combat.
But Mattis acknowledged that “units are challenged in their readiness by equipment needs … and (lack of) time to train.” Many don’t get to practice with the equipment they’ll use in combat because there’s only enough to supply troops already in the theater, he said, and they don’t reach a combat-ready state until “just in time” for their deployment.
If they don’t have the equipment they are going to use in Iraq to train on, how could anyone say the troops are "prepared" when they reach Iraq. One also has to ask the question why this hasn’t been going on since the first encounters with IEDs:
In recent years, that training has evolved and improved dramatically, but “it hasn’t been quick enough,” says Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, commander of the 1st Army, which trains all National Guard and reserve troops in the mainland USA. “It’s gotten better and better, but we’re still a long way from perfect.”
The lag in IED training mirrored the reluctance of top Pentagon officials to acknowledge the potency of the insurgency — and the persistence of IEDs.
“We had a period there where the Pentagon wouldn’t even acknowledge that there was an insurgency,” says Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., who chairs the House Armed Services subcommittee on military oversight. “So we were behind every step of the way — on training, equipment, technology.”
These days, with far more robust instructional programs in place, there still isn’t enough time and money to make sure that all war fighters get all the best possible IED training.
There are some rays of hope:
The bigger goal is to make training at Fort Irwin — with its mock Iraqi villages and 110-degree heat — even more realistic. Native Arabic speakers are hired by the Army to play roles as insurgents, as Iraqi troops and as bystanders during training exercises. They interact with soldiers training to interrogate troublemakers or to search Iraqi homes for IED components.
“This is the best training in the world,” says Col. Steven Salazar, who heads operations at the training center. The emphasis on IEDs, he adds, “is huge.”
But once again the lack of proper planning or any planning at all, for that matter, by the Bush Administration on the war means in yet another area the military is playing catch up. And playing catching up is costing American soldiers their lives.