Washington, DC - On the day President Bush addressed the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and Senator Jack Reed wrote to the president to call on him to address reports that soldiers in Iraq still do not have needed body armor. Senator Reid released the following statement with the letter:
“It is outrageous that while the president addressed the prestigious Veterans of Foreign Wars he not only used our troops as a shield against legitimate criticism of his Iraq war policy but also refused to address a Defense Department report that he and his administration failed to adequately protect our troops. Nearly three years after this conflict began, our soldiers still do not have the appropriate body armor and they continue to pay the price with their lives for this failure of leadership.
“Patriotic Americans will continue to ask the tough questions because our brave men and women in Iraq, their families and the American people deserve to know that their leaders are being held accountable. President Bush should join us in this open debate and dialogue to ensure that 2006 is a year of significant transition in Iraq so more of our brave troops can come home to their families.”
The text of the letter follows below:
January 10, 2006
President George W. Bush
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We were deeply disturbed to learn that Pentagon analysts recently concluded that inadequate body armor may have cost the lives of hundreds of U.S. troops serving in Iraq and that many troops deployed there today may still lack appropriate body armor nearly three years after the start of this conflict.
These findings, contained in a classified report that unfortunately has not yet been provided to the Congress, are the latest indicators that your Administration has failed to appropriately protect our troops in Iraq.
As you should be aware, since the start of the Iraq war your Administration has experienced significant problems in providing our troops there with adequate body armor and armored military vehicles. Scores of American troops have been forced to purchase their own body armor, and rig their vehicles with armor plates cannibalized from other sources. Despite the fact that Administration officials have repeatedly assured the American public and Congress that these issues have been resolved, the Pentagon’s latest report demonstrates this disturbing problem persists.
According to press reports, the latest Pentagon study concluded that extra body armor available since 2003 could have saved the lives of 80 percent of the U.S. Marines killed by upper body wounds in Iraq, but the Pentagon declined to supply it. It was not until last September that the Marine Corps decided to place an order for additional body armor side plates. Consequently, as of last month, only 2,200 of the more than 28,000 sets of body armor plates needed for our Marines in Iraq had been delivered. While we understand that extra armor can reduce freedom of movement, we believe that the extra armor should be available for those who need and wish to wear it.
We are concerned that many of the current force protection problems in Iraq stem from the early miscalculations made over troop strength and the failure to properly plan for and anticipate the insurgency. According to Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, the former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, your Administration “really didn’t see the insurgency coming”, and “there was very little attention paid to what kind of an insurgency would come afterwards.” “We’ve got too many people looking for WMD, and not enough looking for terrorists,” he apparently told you over two years ago. Regrettably, the new DOD study on body armor appears to lay out some of the costs of the Administration’s failure to properly plan for post-Saddam Iraq.
Given the importance of this issue and its consequences for the safety of our troops, we respectfully request that you urge the Defense Department to immediately make available to the Congress its body armor study and that the authors of the report and the relevant Administration officials appear before the relevant congressional committees to discuss their findings.
Our troops not only deserve the best equipment available, but they have a right to receive this equipment in a timely manner. Your Administration has failed to meet this basic obligation. Given that the Iraqi insurgency continues to pose a grave threat to our troops with insurgent attacks up sharply over the past year, continuing delays in producing and fielding the best available armor are inexcusable. After nearly three years of failing to address this problem, your leadership and personal intervention are needed now more than ever to ensure that your Administration finally provides our troops the equipment they deserve.
HARRY REID – Democratic Leader
JACK REED – U.S. Senator