By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 5, 2010 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today pledged surplus mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles along with expanded access to classified information to U.S. allies to help in combating the threat of improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan. "The United States will now do whatever we can within the limits of U.S. law, and as soon as we can, to provide as many surplus MRAPs as possible to allies, especially to those operating in high-risk areas," Gates said at a news conference here after meeting with the defense ministers of 44 International Security Assistance Force partner nations.
Gates promised to sell, loan or donate surplus U.S. bomb-detecting equipment, including the MRAPs, along with route-clearing robots and ground-penetrating radars.
Gates credited the MRAP vehicles with already saving "thousands of lives" in Afghanistan.
The MRAPs that are likely to make their way to allied forces are those that are coming from Iraq. Gates said the drawdown there has given U.S. forces a surplus of the vehicles. Law dictates that the needs of U.S. troops must be met first before any such equipment can be sold or loaned to other countries.
The MRAPs in Iraq are the older versions more suited for on-road travel, as opposed to the newer all-terrain vehicles known as M-ATVs now being fielded in Afghanistan. Still, Gates said, they are better protection against the killer bombs than what the allies are using now.
A U.S. official speaking after the announcement said some countries have expressed interest in buying the newer M-ATVs, and that sales of those vehicles will be expedited when possible.
The United States currently has loaned about 50 MRAPs to Polish forces fighting in Afghanistan. They are the only other country's forces to use the vehicles.
About 8,500 MRAPs are in Iraq, and more than 4,100 are in Afghanistan. About 2,200 more are in Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain. The United States has fielded about 800 M-ATVs in Afghanistan.
Gates traveled here yesterday to meet with NATO and ISAF partners partly to lobby for more trainers and mentors needed to bolster the efforts in Afghanistan. NATO has committed to sending about 9,000 extra troops.
Nearly all of the 40,000 combat troops requested by Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of the International Security Assistance Force and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, have been committed, but about 4,000 more trainers and mentors are needed.
Another meeting is planned for the end of this month in which commitments will have to be made. The two-day conference here is the start of the efforts to persuade the partners -- many of whom already had planned to reduce the number of their forces in Afghanistan -- to deliver more troops.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said today that Gates' promise of more counter-IED support will help to bolster that commitment from ISAF partners. In fact, Rasmussen said, NATO has outlined its priorities, with fighting the IED threat at the top of the list.
Gates called on NATO to provide more trainers, saying they are "needed immediately," and that "this is a critical moment in Afghanistan."
The secretary said that the newly implemented U.S. strategy, alongside fresh NATO and ISAF resources, will pave the way for success in Afghanistan.
"I believe the pieces are being put in place to make real and measurable progress," Gates said. "I'm confident that we can achieve our objectives, but only if the coalition can muster the resolve for this difficult and dangerous mission."