Thursday, December 9, 2004

CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait — In a rare public airing of grievances, angry soldiers complained to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday about long deployments and a lack of armored vehicles and other equipment.

“You go to war with the Army you have,” Mr. Rumsfeld replied, “not the Army you might want or wish to have.”

Spc. Thomas Wilson had asked the defense secretary, “Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?”

Shouts of approval and applause arose from the estimated 2,300 soldiers who had assembled to see Mr. Rumsfeld.

The defense secretary hesitated and asked Spc. Wilson to repeat his question.

Spc. Wilson, whose unit, the 278th Regimental Combat Team of the Tennessee Army National Guard, is about to drive north into Iraq for a one-year tour of duty, put his finger on a problem that has bedeviled the Pentagon for more than a year. Rarely, is it put so bluntly in a public forum.

Soldiers from the National Guard often complain that they are often shortchanged on armor and other equipment at the expense of regular military units.

Mr. Rumsfeld said the Army was sparing no expense or effort to acquire as many Humvees and other vehicles with extra armor as it can. What’s more, he said, armor is not the savior that some think it is.

“You can have all the armor in the world on a tank, and a tank can [still] be blown up,” he said.

Asked later about Spc. Wilson’s complaint, the deputy commanding general of U.S. forces in Kuwait, Maj. Gen. Gary Speer, said that as far as he knows, every vehicle deploying to Iraq from Kuwait has at least “Level 3” armor protection. That means it has locally fabricated armor for its side panels, but not bulletproof windows or reinforced floorboards.

U.S. soldiers and Marines in Iraq are killed or maimed by roadside bombs almost daily. Adding armor protection to Humvees and other vehicles that normally are not used in direct combat has been a priority for the Army, but manufacturers have not been able to keep up with the demand.

Mr. Rumsfeld dropped in to Camp Buehring — named for Lt. Col. Chris Buehring, who was killed in a rocket attack on a Baghdad hotel in November 2003 — to thank the troops for their service.

In Iraq, insurgents launched assaults around the city of Samarra yesterday, trading gunfire with U.S. forces, attacking a convoy and blowing up a police station after looting its armory.

The Pentagon said two Americans died — one in a vehicle accident; the other in combat — raising the number of U.S. combat deaths to 1,001.

The violence in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, killed four Iraqis, including a child, and wounded several others. The city’s police chief, Maj. Gen. Talib Shamel al-Samarrai, later announced that he was resigning because his house had been attacked earlier in the day and his family had asked him to quit.

Meanwhile, Japan was expected today to announce an extension of its mission in Iraq, despite public opposition to the country’s most dangerous deployment since World War II.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, a close ally of President Bush, was scheduled to meet with his Cabinet and his coalition ally, the Buddhist-oriented New Komeito party.

“We are still in the process of making the final decision. After the Cabinet decision, Prime Minister Koizumi will explain it to the Japanese people,” said chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda.

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