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U.S. Strykers take beating in Iraq
A string of heavy losses from powerful roadside bombs has raised new questions about the vulnera- bility of the Stryker, the U.S. Army’s troop-carrying vehic- le hailed by supporters as the key to a leaner, more mobile force.
Since the Strykers went into action in Diyala province north of Baghdad two months ago, losses of the vehicles have been rising, U.S. officials say.
A single infantry company in Diyala lost five Strykers last month in less than a week, said soldiers familiar with the losses who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to issue such information. The overall number of Strykers lost recently is classified.
In one of the bloodiest incidents, six American soldiers and a journalist were killed when a bomb exploded beneath their Stryker on May 6. It was the largest one-day loss for the battalion in more than two years.
“We went for several months with no losses and were very proud of that,” a senior Army official said in Washington, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to comment publicly. “Since then, there have been quite a few Stryker losses.”
“They are learning how to defeat them,” the official said of Iraqi insurgents.
The Army introduced the $11 billion, eight-wheel Stryker in 1999 as the cornerstone of a ground force of the future, hoping to create faster, more agile armored units than those relying on tanks, but with more firepower and protection than light-infantry vehicles.
But the Army and the Marines are looking for something different that can survive big roadside bombs — the main threat to soldiers in Iraq — meaning the Stryker’s high-profile status as the Army’s “next generation” vehicle may be short-lived.
“It is indeed an open question if the Stryker is right for this type of warfare,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a senior analyst with the Brookings Institution. “I am inclined to think that the concept works better for peacekeeping. But based on data the Army has made available to date, it’s hard to be sure.”
Supporters of the Strykers, which have been used in Iraq since late 2003, say the vehicles that carry two crew members and 11 infantrymen offer mobility, firepower and comfort.
Lighter and faster than tracked vehicles like tanks, each Stryker can rush soldiers quickly to a fight, enabling commanders to maintain security over a wide area with relatively fewer troops. Humvees can carry only four soldiers and are more vulnerable to bombs even when their armor is upgraded.
“I love Strykers,” said Spc. Christopher Hagen, based in Baqouba. “With Strykers, you’re mobile, you’re fast. You can get anywhere any time. They bring a lot of troops to the fight.”
But some analysts have long questioned the wisdom of moving away from more heavily armored tracked vehicles like tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles to wheeled transports, such as the Stryker.
They say that is especially true in Iraq, where powerful bombs — not rocket-propelled grenades or small-arms fire — are the main threat.
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