Looking at Armored Troop Transports in Iraq
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Today in Los Angeles, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld paid tribute to 21 Marines killed in Iraq over the past few days.
Secretary DONALD RUMSFELD (Defense Department): Our nation needed them, our nation called on them in battle and we mourn them now in death. Our country will honor them by completing the mission which--for which they fought so hard and so nobly.
BLOCK: Fourteen of those Marines were killed yesterday by a massive roadside bomb near the city of Hadithah in western Iraq. The Marines were traveling in an amphibious assault vehicle. Michael Moss writes about military transportation for The New York Times, and he says those vehicles were designed in the late 1960s and never intended for use in anything like the war in Iraq.
Mr. MICHAEL MOSS (The New York Times): It's a slightly armored vehicle. It holds 25 people, it's 25 tons. And it's a landing craft, so it's designed to bring Marines from the ship onto the beach and go inland maybe a mile or two.
BLOCK: How is this vehicle now being used by the Marines in Iraq?
Mr. MOSS: They have 99 of these vehicles in Iraq now and they're basically using them to transport troops from post to post, which is not what its original design was for.
I mean, one of the problems for the Marines in Iraq is that they're doing a job for which they--you know, they didn't train or properly equip themselves. They're basically helping the Army in sort of a sustained conflict there. So they've been scrambling ever since they've gone to Iraq to find, you know, and jury rig in any kind of equipment they can. In this case, yes, they're using this amphibious assault vehicle merely to transport a large number of troops from one post to another.
BLOCK: At the military briefing in Baghdad today, they said that they thought this vehicle had what's called a level-two armor. What does that mean?
Mr. MOSS: That's a reference to sort of the size and the amount of the armor that's put on, but also when. Level one, in Pentagon parlance, is when the vehicle was armored in the factory. Level two is when it's had armor added on after the fact. So level one would be the best armoring, made in the factory; level two is added on after the fact.
BLOCK: I'm wondering, though, with a bomb apparently this big, big enough to flip over a 25-ton vehicle, is armor even relevant to this discussion for a bomb that strong?
Mr. MOSS: Well, it is and it isn't. I mean, military experts will say that the size of this bomb probably would have knocked over a Bradley tank, anything short of an Abrams, for example. So in some sense, this is an example of the incredible frustration that the Pentagon's been facing in Iraq, which is that they're facing an ever-stronger, clever enemy with which they're unable to sort of meet defenses that will safeguard the American troops.
BLOCK: Do you think there's a lesson here? Such a huge death toll from this one bomb attack on this amphibious vehicle, if the Pentagon's looking at that, does this raise machinery questions? Does it raise tactical questions? Where do they take this?
Mr. MOSS: You know, I think it's probably going to raise all of these, as well as a public relations problem for them. But it is; it's partly tactics. I mean, they are struggling to deal with IEDs and their defenses against IEDs. One question analysts still have is, you know: What was this convoy carrying in the way of anti-IED devices? In fact, did it have any, and were those on and were those functioning properly? What sort of intelligence did that convoy have in going down that particular stretch of Iraq? And then, lastly, too, you know, was, in this case--and, obviously, in hindsight, they can look at it--but was, in this case, their analysis that that vehicle was appropriate for that--their expectation of the threat level on that given day?
BLOCK: Michael Moss, thanks very much for talking with us.
Mr. MOSS: Oh, you bet. Thank you.
BLOCK: Michael Moss is a reporter with The New York Times.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.