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Friday, January 06, 2006

Supporting The Troops

A conservative friend of mine accused Democrats of playing political games when they started calling for our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq to be better-armored. But as we now know, the timing of this war was entirely discretionary -- it could have waited six months or a year if the President chose -- and our troops could have had adequate body armor before deployment if that had been important to the Administration. And, even after they were deployed, they could have been up-armored faster, especially when the growing insurgency -- which military experts had predicted but the Administration refused to acknowledge until it was well under way -- forced us to deploy more National Guard troops with older gear.

Has the quality of armor made a difference? According to the Pentagon, yes. Thanks to the New York Times (via Atrios), a secret Pentagon study has been made public. It finds:

A secret Pentagon study has found that at least 80 percent of the marines who have been killed in Iraq from wounds to their upper body could have survived if they had extra body armor. That armor has been available since 2003 but until recently the Pentagon has largely declined to supply it to troops despite calls from the field for additional protection, according to military officials.

The ceramic plates in vests currently worn by the majority of military personnel in Iraq cover only some of the chest and back. In at least 74 of the 93 fatal wounds that were analyzed in the Pentagon study of marines from March 2003 through June 2005, bullets and shrapnel struck the marines' shoulders, sides or areas of the torso where the plates do not reach.

Thirty-one of the deadly wounds struck the chest or back so close to the plates that simply enlarging the existing shields "would have had the potential to alter the fatal outcome," according to the study, which was obtained by The New York Times.

For the first time, the study by the military's medical examiner shows the cost in lost lives from inadequate armor, even as the Pentagon continues to publicly defend its protection of the troops. Officials have said they are shipping the best armor to Iraq as quickly as possible. *** [But the] vulnerability of the military's body armor has been known since the start of the war, and is part of a series of problems that have surrounded the protection of American troops. Still, the Marine Corps did not begin buying additional plates to cover the sides of their troops until this September, when it ordered 28,800 sets, Marine Corps officials acknowledge.

The Army, which has the largest force in Iraq, is still deciding what to purchase....

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