- The Washington Times - Friday, August 12, 2005

The U.S. general in charge of supplying more than 300,000 American and Iraqi forces said yesterday that insurgents have more than doubled the number of bomb attacks on his truck convoys, but improved armor protection has resulted in fewer casualties.

Army Brig. Gen. Yves J. Fontaine, who commands the 1st Corps Support Command at a sprawling logistics base north of Baghdad, said he also has been able to reduce battle deaths and injuries by moving more supplies by air, eliminating more than 40 convoys per month.

Gen. Fontaine told a Pentagon press conference via a video hookup from Iraq that his truck convoys are experiencing about 30 improvised explosive device (IED) attacks a week, compared with 15 a week a year ago. He sends out 150 convoys per day carrying everything from bottled water and fuel to meals ready-to-eat (MREs) rations and spare parts.

Such convoys are a main target for foreign terrorists and Iraqi insurgents, who litter Iraq’s relatively few highways with remotely detonated IEDs in hopes of disrupting supplies and reducing troop morale.

“Because we’ve up-armored our vehicles [casualties have] decreased significantly, even though the IED attack has increased significantly,” Gen. Fontaine said. “So now our soldiers are safe in their Humvees and their trucks, and they walk out of the incidents when the incident occurs.”

The general provided no casualty statistics. Most attacks, he said, occur on routes in Baghdad and within the Sunni Triangle north and west of the capital.

The adage that an army moves on its stomach was never truer than in Iraq, where commanders have worked to keep morale up by setting up air-conditioned chow halls serving hot meals. Early in the war, soldiers complained of lousy food and few air-conditioned facilities. Those complaints have waned in the past year.

“Our soldiers’ conditions are constantly improving, and they have everything they require to execute the mission,” Gen. Fontaine said. “Their morale is high, their health and welfare strong. Housing, recreation, food, mail and communication are available and soldiers are able to call, e-mail or write their families regularly, which is a tremendous advantage in today’s deployments.”

A key hurdle for setting conditions for a U.S. withdrawal remains the creation of Iraqi units that can independently sustain their combat battalions.

Gen. Fontaine said his command is now embedded with three Iraqi motorized transportation regiments to prepare them for that role. Ultimately, the goal is 10 such regiments.

“The purpose is to partner with their units to refine the Iraqi logistics operation as they become capable of sustaining the Iraqi army,” he said.

In Iraq yesterday, the military reported a series of bombings near Ramadi, west of Baghdad, and in northern Iraq. An American soldier was killed by a roadside IED while on patrol in Tikrit.

Iraqis near Ramadi contended that a U.S. Marine armored vehicle fired on a mosque, killing three children, the Associated Press reported. A Marine spokesman disputed the account, saying two IEDs exploded near a U.S. convoy.

In Baghdad, Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds continued work on meeting Monday’s deadline for Iraq’s first post-Saddam Hussein constitution.

In a demand that could stall the process, minority Sunni Arabs oppose any type of federalism that gives a large amount of autonomy to the Kurdish north and Shi’ite south.

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