US troops in Iraq to get fortified battle gear by year's end: Pentagon
WASHINGTON (AFP) Nov 19, 2003
As attacks on US forces in Iraq increase in intensity and frequency, the Pentagon has stepped up its efforts to equip US troops with reinforced body armour and other protective battlefield equipment, military officials told a Senate defense panel Wednesday.

Senator John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, took military planners to task for not having made reinforced protective gear available to all troops before the start of the war.

"These reports of a shortage of body armor, these reports of ill-equipped ground vehicles and air vehicles, in terms of the armor, are just totally unacceptable," Warner said.

"It's an error made in planning to send those troops to forward-deployed regions -- and the conflict in Iraq particularly -- without the adequate numbers of body armor and vehicles," the Virginia Republican said.

Les Brownlee, Acting Secretary of the US Army, told the Senate panel that production glitches led to shortages in the reinforced equipment.

"Our intention initially was to ensure that all of our combat troops -- those infantry troops that would be most closely engaged in the fight that we could anticipate -- were the first priority in equipping them with this body armor," he said.

"We simply did not have enough at that time to equip everyone," he said.

Brownlee said that with those problems ironed out, he expected all US troops in Iraq to be outfitted with body armour by year's end.

"We have taken steps to increase the production of these things," he said.

"At the current rate of production we should have all the soldiers in Iraq ... equipped with this kind of body armor by the end of December."

Reinforced Humvee vehicles, however, will probably not be available to all US ground forces in Iraq for several more months, he said.

"With the up-armored Humvee ... it could be as late as the summer of '05 before we would have them all," Brownlee said.