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WASHINGTON — Democratic lawmakers on Thursday criticized military planners for taking too long to replace Humvees in Iraq with better-protected trucks, saying the delay could be jeopardizing troops’ safety.

In a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep Gene Taylor, D-Miss., called the lengthy timeline in fielding mine resistant ambush protected vehicles another misstep for the military, similar to previous delays in getting proper body armor and radio jammers into Iraq.

“This is another verse to the same stupid song,” he told members of the Pentagon’s MRAP task force. “We have troops traveling around Iraq in vehicles that expose them to death. If this is a matter of money, let’s just fix it already.”

Defense officials said they expect to field about 3,500 vehicles in Iraq by the end of this year, and hope to be producing about 1,600 of the V-bottomed trucks a month by December.

But despite a high-priority schedule, government contractors fell a dozen trucks short of their target to build 82 in June. Marine Lt. Gen. John Castellaw, deputy commandant for programs and resources, said planners are slowly working out those problems in the production pipeline.

Several committee members complained that despite their willingness to find funding for the project, military leaders have seemed confused on what to ask for, revising production goals and total costs multiple times since Congress set aside $4.1 billion earlier this year. Lawmakers said they’ve heard estimates for the total MRAP goal in Iraq that range from 4,000 to 23,000 in the last few months.

“It does little good to blame Congress for micromanaging the war if you can’t even get us the basic information we need to help you with these decisions,” said Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii. “I hope you are getting better information on the status of this than we’re getting.”

Pentagon officials this week asked Congress to shift about $1.2 billion from other military programs to help fund the MRAP orders, and noted on Thursday they plan on coming back with a larger, more comprehensive bill in September once they see how the trucks fare in Iraq.

The lawmakers said they are willing to back that funding, but only if the services can assure them the vehicles are being fielded as quickly as possible.

“This is an issue of lives, not budget overruns,” Abercrombie said.


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