U.S. offers armored vehicle to allies in Afghanistan


POSTED: Saturday, February 06, 2010

ISTANBUL—Defense Secretary Robert Gates pledged Friday that the United States would help protect foreign troops in Afghanistan by offering them armored transport vehicles, surveillance systems and electronic equipment to guard against roadside bombs. Such bombs have claimed more lives than any other weapon in the war.

The new generation of American mine-resistant, ambush-protected troop carriers, called MRAPs, will be sold, lent or donated to allied units in the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan, according to NATO officials.

A growing number of the vehicles, with their distinctive V-shaped hull, have been freed up by U.S. combat reductions in Iraq, where the transports “;have saved thousands of limbs and lives,”; Gates said.

The expanding U.S. support to other nations' troops in the battle against roadside bombs includes “;more intelligence, training and equipment, including jammers, route-clearance robots, surveillance systems and ground-penetrating radars,”; Gates said.

The NATO secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, welcomed the pledge, and acknowledged that offers of assistance to protect foreign forces in Afghanistan may be a useful lever in the alliance's effort to increase allied troop contributions by member countries.

Asked whether having American hardware, technology and intelligence to counter the roadside bombs, called IEDs for improvised explosive devices, might soften some countries' opposition to increasing troop contributions, Rasmussen replied: “;I think so. I hope so.

“;We owe it to our people in the field that we do our utmost to prevent the use of IEDs and counter the use of IEDs in the most efficient manner,”; Rasmussen said. The American offer, he said, was “;a very important step.”;

Gates, speaking at the conclusion of the first NATO defense ministers' meeting held since President Barack Obama ordered 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, said he had made a particular push to get other nations to supply 4,000 more troops to train and then operate with Afghan army and police units.

The push has shown only halting progress ahead of a Feb. 23 NATO force-generation conference in Belgium. Officials acknowledge that much of the reluctance is rooted in fear of casualties and the political pain that can ensue.

Germany said in late January that it would send 850 more soldiers and that its forces would increasingly focus on training. France—which Gates is to visit before returning to Washington—is expected to offer no more than 80 additional trainers.

The details of sharing the highly classified U.S. intelligence have not yet been worked out, nor have the specifics of which jammers and mine-detection equipment would be offered, Pentagon officials said. Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said the number of surplus MRAPs for allies could be in the hundreds.

In principle, laws that limit the transfer of military hardware to other countries could present a challenge to the U.S. plan. But Gates said that he doubted that the proposal would meet significant political opposition because the MRAPs being freed up in Iraq are typically early models.

Pentagon officials said there now were about 8,500 such MRAPs in Iraq and about 4,200 in Afghanistan. An additional 2,200 are moving out of Iraq through Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain.

Meanwhile, a more mobile transport designed with Afghanistan's rugged terrain in mind is flowing into that war zone to support Obama's troop increase. About 400 of the all-terrain version of the MRAP have been deployed as of this week, officials said, with another 400 on the way in final stages of preparation before going into service.