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ARLINGTON, Va. — Poor communication between the Army and Marines, combined with Corps commanders’ decision to up-armor only a limited number of trucks at a time, put Marines in Iraq at increased risk from roadside bombs, a Government Accoubtability Office report found.

Defense Department officials acknowledged the delay but disputed that Marines were exposed to any unnecessary danger.

The report, released this week, said the Marine Corps did not recognize that truck armor provided insufficient protection against roadside bombs until January 2004, two months after the Army had started looking for better truck armor to protect soldiers.

“Had the Marine Corps began seeking armor solutions in November 2003, it might have been able to acquire the preferred type of steel in time for its March 2004 deployment to Iraq,” the report said.

Instead, it took the Marines eight months to fully upgrade the armor on its trucks in Iraq. In the meantime, the Marines used interim armor that still did not provide the protection needed against roadside bombs, GAO researchers found.

“As a result, the fielding of add-on armor and integrated armor was stretched out over a longer period, placing troops at greater risk as they conducted wartime operations in vehicles without the preferred level of protection,” the report said.

The report blames the delays on a lack of coordination between the Marine Corps and Army and the fact that the Marines could only up-armor a limited number of trucks at one time to continue conducting operations.

In a written response to the GAO report, the Defense Department said it was inaccurate to conclude that Marines were put at greater risk simply because of delays in up-armoring trucks.

“If the Operational Commanders place a large preponderance of vehicles out of service at one time, it would leave the remaining forces engaged in combat operations without a significant proportion of their combat assets, which represents an inherent high risk,” the response said.

The response also disputed that the interim armor put on Marine trucks did not provide the needed protection against roadside bombs, saying U.S. troops in Iraq faced an evolving threat in late 2003.

“When a vehicle armor solution was developed and fielded, the enemy changed tactics, techniques and procedures to mitigate the protection just fielded. We are in an environment in which we have to continually validate and redefine requirements,” the response said.

The Defense Department did partially agree with the report’s assertion that a lack of coordination between the Army and Marine Corps delayed the up-armoring process, but it also said “multiple layers of communication” already exist between the two services.

The GAO report acknowledged that both the Marine Corps and Defense Department have taken steps to speed the process of getting troops the equipment they need but added, “It is unclear whether this process applies to urgent wartime needs such as armor because it excludes the development of new technology solutions.”


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