U.S. commanders in Iraq have begun transporting more supplies to the country by aircraft in an effort to evade the roadside bomb attacks that have been killing or wounding about...
WASHINGTON U.S. commanders in Iraq have begun transporting more supplies to the country by aircraft in an effort to evade the roadside bomb attacks that have been killing or wounding about 100 American troops each month, the Air Force’s top officer said yesterday.
Scrambling for other ways to avoid the attacks, the military also is looking into the possibility of bottling and purifying water in Iraq rather than transporting it by truck from Kuwait. Water accounts for 30 percent of all U.S. cargo ferried across Iraq’s perilous roadways, officials said.
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U.S. forces have been sending about 3,000 vehicles in about 215 convoys in Iraq each day. The vulnerability of trucks, Humvees and other U.S. equipment to roadside bombs has become a major issue amid complaints by troops that the military has been slow to reinforce the vehicles with protective armor.
In the past month, the Air Force has offered extra air-freight capacity to take 180 American troops off the road each day, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper said. Air freighters now are carrying 450 tons of cargo previously carried in convoys, a 30 percent increase, with a goal of replacing up to 1,600 tons, Air Force officials said.
Jumper said the changes followed a recent visit to Iraq, where he concluded that Air Force and ground commanders had failed to cooperate effectively on ways to safeguard freight.
“I was not happy with the communication I saw between the air components and the land components about convoy operations,” Jumper said. “We have 64 airplanes and they’re staying busy. But the question is: Could they be busier? And is 64 enough?”
Roadside bombs pose the most lethal threat to American troops in Iraq. About 20 such explosives have erupted along the main highway from Baghdad international airport to the capital in the past month.
The dangers prompted 23 Army reservists on Oct. 13 to refuse to transport supplies from the Tallil air base near Nasiriya to Taji, north of Baghdad, saying their vehicles lacked armor and were in poor condition. Army officials opted not to court-martial the troops for refusing orders, and instead imposed minor penalties.
Many attacks could be avoided by using aircraft to avoid traveling Iraq’s most dangerous roads, Jumper said.
Pentagon officials say the number of landing sites probably will expand now. The Air Force has also begun airlifting newly armored Humvees from Kuwait to Baghdad to avoid the dangerous three- to four-day drive.
More cargo could be diverted from trucks with increased use of the Air Force’s aging C-130 cargo planes, which are capable of landing on many of the same roads that trucks use to deliver freight to troops, Jumper added.
Jumper acknowledged that increased air traffic has its own hazards, notably exposure to surface-to-air missiles.