Rumsfeld challenged on troop safety

US troops who are about to be deployed in Iraq have put the Pentagon on the defensive, challenging Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over their safety.

    Rumsfeld: Equipment problem essentially a matter of physics

    As Rumsfeld spoke to 1800 of 10,000 troops stationed at Camp Buehring in the Kuwaiti desert on Thursday, a soldier was loudly cheered as he highlighted the need for basic equipment.


    "Our vehicles are not armoured. We are digging up pieces of rusting scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass that has already been shot up, dropped, busted, picking the best for our vehicles to take into combat," he complained.


    Rumsfeld replied that he had discussed security for US convoys on the way to the camp and that every available armoured vehicle from around the globe was being sent to Iraq.


    "It is essentially a matter of physics, it is not a matter of money, it is not a matter - on the part of the army - of desire," he said. "It is a matter of production and capability of doing it."


    He added that Iraqis will have to take over their own security to allow foreign troops to leave after the 30 January elections.


    Second round


    A few minutes later, a soldier from the Idaho National Guard's 116th Armor Cavalry Brigade asked Rumsfeld what he and the army were doing to address shortages and antiquated equipment.


    "It [equipment shortage] is essentially a matter of physics, it is not a matter of money, it is not a matter - on the part of the army - of desire. It is a matter of production and capability of doing it"


    Donald Rumsfeld,
    US Secretary for Defence

    Rumsfeld seemed taken aback by the question, and a murmur began spreading through the ranks before he silenced it.


    "Now, settle down, settle down," he said. "Hell, I'm an old man, it's early in the morning, and I'm gathering my thoughts here."


    He then added that more armour to trucks and battle equipment did not make them impervious. "If you think about it, you can have all the armour in the world on a tank, and a tank can be blown up," he said.




    Rumsfeld's comments sparked
    criticism from Republicans

    Rumsfeld's responses provoked a wave of criticism from congressional Democrats, the Washington Post reported.


    Republican Ted Strickland of Ohio called Rumsfeld's remarks callous. Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey said they were contemptuous, while Senator Christopher Dodd settled for stunning.


    "When I visit Iraq, I ride around in an armored vehicle, and I am sure the secretary does as well," Republican Gene Taylor said. "If it is good enough for the big shots, it is good enough for every American soldier."


    Civilian death inquiry


    Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Tony Blair was similarly pressured by 46 influential figures, including politicians and diplomats, on Wednesday when they urged him to agree to an inquiry into Iraqi civilian deaths.


    Their appeal was prompted by a study published in Britain's The Lancet medical journal which estimated the toll in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion at around 100,000.


    But Blair rejected a call for an independent inquiry into the civilian deaths, telling the British parliament "terrorists and insurgents" were to blame for fatalities in the run-up to 30 January elections.


    He indicated that he put his faith in data from the Iraqi

    health ministry, and that no parliamentary inquiry was therefore necessary.



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