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Seven of the long-awaited M-ATVs are on their way to Afghanistan.

Officially known as MRAP All-Terrain Vehicles, they are supposed to be lighter and more agile, allowing them to go off-road and into mountainous areas that are off-limits for the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles troops have now.

The first seven of the vehicles are expected to arrive in theater this week, Defense Department spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin said.

"These new vehicles are urgently needed because improvised explosive devices are claiming the lives of more U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan than ever before," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Wednesday. "The hope is that the M-ATVs will have the same impact in Afghanistan as the MRAPs did in Iraq."

As of Sept. 11, DOD has authorized 6,644 vehicles, an increase of 1,400 over the original requirement, Irwin said. All of the vehicles are expected to arrive in theater by next fall.

The effort to give U.S. troops in Afghanistan a lighter and more agile armored vehicle mirrors the Defense Department’s original push to give troops in Iraq MRAPs.

Between May 2007 and July 2008, the Defense Department shipped 10,000 MRAPs to the U.S. Central Command theater of operations, most of which went to Iraq.

While MRAPs have done well in Iraq, they have proven to be too big and heavy to operate well in parts of Afghanistan, which does not have Iraq’s well-developed road network.

"You can’t take an MRAP the same places you can take a Humvee," Maj. Nick Sternberg, spokesman for the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Germany, told Stars and Stripes earlier last month. "On a hairpin-turn road in a valley you are not going to take an MRAP. Predominantly in Afghanistan where most of our [the 173rd Airborne Brigade’s] forces were, they were on foot."

But Capt. Benjamin Nagy, assistant operations officer for the 173rd, said MRAPs are doing pretty well in Afghanistan.

Nagy said MRAPs can climb steep inclines — sometimes better than Humvees due to their large engines — but going downhill can be difficult.

"It comes down to the skill of the driver and the amount of weight that you are pushing around," said Nagy, who spent 13 months in Zabul province as an embedded trainer.

As for MRAPs getting stuck in Afghanistan, Nagy said the same is true of any heavy vehicle.

"That’s always a concern: Getting stuck, rollovers, anytime you are operating a piece of equipment, it can happen," he said.

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