Dec. 9, 2008 -- WASHINGTON — Military leaders knew the dangers posed by roadside bombs before the start of the Iraq war but did little to develop vehicles that were known to better protect forces from what proved to be the conflict's deadliest weapon, a report by the Pentagon inspector general says.
The Pentagon "was aware of the threat posed by mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) … and of the availability of mine resistant vehicles years before insurgent actions began in Iraq in 2003," says the 72-page report, which was reviewed by USA TODAY.
The report is to be made public today.
Marine Corps leaders "stopped processing" an urgent request in February 2005 for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles from combat commanders in Iraq's Anbar province after declaring that a more heavily armored version of existing Humvee vehicles was the "best available" option for protecting troops, the report says.
Marine officials "did not develop a course of action for the (request), attempt to obtain funding for it or present it to the Marine Corps Requirements Oversight Council for a decision on acquiring" MRAPs, the report says.
The military continued relying mainly on Humvees until May 2007, when then-incoming Defense secretary Robert Gates called procurement of the MRAPs his top priority. Since then, the Pentagon has spent more than $22 billion to buy more than 15,000 of the vehicles.
When field commanders first began requesting MRAPs, military officials saw the armored Humvees as a more immediate option to countering IEDs, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said. "The threat has evolved and our force protection measures have evolved with it," he said.
The Marines requested the inspector general's investigation in February after an internal report accused the Corps of "gross mismanagement" of the urgent request for MRAPs. Hundreds of Marines died unnecessarily because of delays in fielding the vehicles, said the Jan. 22 study by Franz Gayl, a retired Marine officer and civilian science adviser.
Two U.S. senators — Democrat Joe Biden of Delaware, now the vice president-elect, and Republican Kit Bond of Missouri — demanded an investigation after details of Gayl's study were published.
"The Pentagon was aware of the threat IEDs posed to our troops prior to our intervention in Iraq and still failed to take the steps to acquire the technology needed to reduce the risk," Bond said after reviewing the report. "Some bureaucrats at the Pentagon have much to explain."
USA TODAY detailed the Pentagon's failure to move quickly on MRAP development in a series of stories last year. Gates credited one of those stories with sparking his interest in the vehicles.
Marine commanders in Iraq's then-volatile Anbar province sought 1,169 MRAPs in the February 2005 urgent request. "There is an immediate need for an MRAP vehicle capability to increase survivability and mobility of Marines operating in a hazardous fire area," it said.
The inspector general's report says that Marine officials advised Marine Corps commandant Michael Hagee at the time that armored Humvees were the "best available, most survivable" vehicles to meet the request.
MRAPs are far more resistant to IEDs and landmines than armored Humvees because they're higher off the ground and rest on a V-shaped hull, which deflects blasts from the vehicle's underside.