By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
July 9, 2009 - The military is sending thousands of mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles to Afghanistan, even while a new version is being built, to protect troops against their biggest threat: improvised explosive devices. Because IEDs pose the biggest threat to troops in Afghanistan, the nation's top military officer said yesterday, the military will keep the MRAPs flowing there until new versions built specifically for the Afghan terrain are ready for shipment.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told a National Press Club audience that IEDs have become "more and more sophisticated over time." Combined with increasingly sophisticated Taliban attacks, they pose an increasing threat to deployed troops, he said.
Mullen offered his comments just before traveling to Dover Air Force Base, Del., as the remains of seven servicemembers -- six of them killed by roadside bombs -- were returned home from Afghanistan.
While predicting casualties will continue to spike during tough fighting in the months ahead, Mullen said the Defense Department is flowing thousands of MRAPs into Afghanistan to protect forces there.
So far, 3,020 MRAPs have been shipped to Afghanistan, reported Cynthia Bauer, a U.S. Transportation Command spokeswoman. That brings to more than 15,000 the number of MRAPs that Transcom has delivered to the theater, she said.
About half of the Afghanistan deliveries were by airlift and half by "multi-modal" delivery, a combination of airlift and sealift.
"From an equipment standpoint, there's no higher priority than to get these vehicles in theater as rapidly as we can," Mullen said yesterday.
Meanwhile, Transcom is gearing up work with the MRAP Joint Program Office
and Centcom to get the M-ATVs to Afghanistan as quickly as it got MRAPs to
Iraq. "We will build on that success to field additional life-saving MRAPs
as they come on line," said Air Force Col. Greg Schwartz, chief of the East
Division at USTRANSCOM's Deployment Operations Center.
The M-ATVs are expected to be fielded later this year, with all deliveries completed by spring.
"We're working hard to get the right vehicle in the right place at the right time," Mullen said. "But in the meantime, we're flowing thousands ... to Afghanistan to meet the needs that are there right now," he said.
Oshkosh Corp., winner of the $1.06 billion contract, has moved into overdrive to meet the accelerated delivery schedule, company officials said. The first vehicles are expected to be delivered this month.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said after visiting Afghanistan in early May that he was impressed to hear firsthand "the real impact" that MRAPs are having in Afghanistan.
"It really was brought home to me when they showed me an MRAP that had been attacked," Gates told reporters traveling with him. "Two of the soldiers that had been inside of it were standing beside the MRAP, completely unscathed," he said. The other two soldiers had non-life-threatening injuries.
Gates was the power behind the effort to move more MRAPs into Iraq to protect troops against underbelly explosions. As security conditions began heating up in Afghanistan, he ordered more there, too.