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Shortage of Vehicle Armor Becomes Issue for US Soldiers in Iraq

Bush administration officials continue to react to a complaint from an American soldier headed for Iraq that U.S. forces deployed for battle there are not getting the vehicle armor they need to protect themselves from attacks. The issue came up during a visit to the troops in Kuwait by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Wednesday and continues to reverberate around Washington.

A U.S. military commander in Kuwait says soldiers headed for Iraq still do not have all the armor they need to protect their vehicles from explosives and mortar shells being fired at them by Iraqi insurgents on a daily basis.

A day after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was questioned about the shortages by a soldier who will soon be deployed to Iraq, Army Lieutenant General Steve Whitcomb told reporters about 2,000 more fully armored Humvees are still needed. "Our goal and what we're working towards is that no wheeled vehicle that leaves Kuwait going into Iraq is driven by a solder that does not have some level of armored protection on it," he said.

The Kuwait-based general took questions from reporters at the Pentagon following Wednesday's pointed exchange between Secretary Rumsfeld and Specialist Thomas Wilson, one of several thousand soldiers headed for battle. "Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-arm our vehicles and why don't we have those resources readily available to us?"

The question drew cheers and applause from fellow soldiers and criticism, including from lawmakers on Capitol Hill, over the way Secretary Rumsfeld responded. "It's a matter of production and capability of doing it. As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time," he said.

Secretary Rumsfeld said he expects the army to do its best to provide the badly needed armor to protect against the insurgency, the strength of which he admits was underestimated.

At the White House President Bush told reporters the concerns of soldiers heading into battle are being addressed. "We expect our troops to have the best possible equipment. And if I were a soldier overseas wanting to defend my country, I would want to ask the Secretary of Defense the same question," he said.

But critics of the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war see the shortage of armored vehicles as an indication that the Pentagon failed to plan adequately for the aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein.