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ARLINGTON, Va. — Troops in northern Iraq are “anxiously awaiting” new Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles to deal with the constant threat of roadside bombs, the commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division said Friday.

“That equipment is a phenomenal piece of gear that saves soldiers’ lives,” Col. Stephen Twitty said in a news conference from Mosul.

About 352 MRAPs — which have V-shaped hulls and withstand blasts from roadside bombs better than up-armored Humvees — have been sent to the U.S. Central Command theater of operations since November 2006, according to the Defense Department. Officials hope to ship 1,500 MRAPs in Iraq by the end of the year.

Twitty said he knows commanders are working to get MRAPs to troops as quickly as possible, but there is an urgent need for the vehicles already.

In August, U.S. Transportation Command flew 120 MRAPS to Iraq, command spokesman Col. Scott Hanson said.

The Defense Department hopes to begin shipping MRAPs to Iraq by air and sea beginning in October, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said last month. And TRANSCOM has a proposal to make three daily flights to Iraq to airlift up to 12 MRAPs per day this fall, but first it needs a consistent flow of vehicles, Hanson said.

Right now, the delivery of MRAPs hasn’t reached a steady rate, and he could not estimate a specific time frame for when that will occur. Representatives from companies that make MRAPs have told Stars and Stripes they expect to greatly increase vehicle production later this year.

Defense officials and manufacturers are working to ensure a steady flow of vehicles by shifting to weekly deliveries of MRAPs to the government instead of at the end of the month, said Defense Department spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin.

TRANSCOM’s proposal involves using a military plane and two commercial aircraft per day to ferry MRAPs to Iraq, Hanson said. The commercial planes are Russian-made AN-124 Condors, which can hold up to five or six MRAPs per flight.

Hanson said use of commercial aircraft does not necessarily show that the military’s airlift capability is strained. Those non-miltiary planes are needed, he said, because TRANSCOM is already operating at a “surge level,” curtailing training to spend more time shipping passengers and cargo.

But U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J., said the MRAP airlift situation shows the military might not have enough of an airlift capability, especially with the retiring of 270 C-141 Starlifters over the past decade.

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