By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, June 28, 2009
BAGHDAD, June 27 -- The U.S. military said Saturday that its soldiers will not be barred from using mine-resistant armored vehicles during the daytime in Iraqi cities after Wednesday, a departure from guidance that officers and squad leaders said they received in writing in recent days.
The reported rule banning the use of the hulking vehicles in urban areas starting Wednesday raised safety concerns among soldiers.
A Washington Post report Friday said soldiers were worried that using the smaller, less-armored Humvees would leave them more vulnerable to armor-piercing roadside bombs and grenades.
Lt. Col. Brian Maka, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said in an e-mail Saturday that the information provided by the officers about a ban on Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, or MRAPs, during daylight hours was "absolutely wrong."
He said the military would "not exclude using the appropriate force protection measures when conducting our operations."
Gen. Ray Odierno, the top commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, has issued a notice to all troops stressing that there will be no blanket restrictions on use of MRAPs, said Brig. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, the chief military spokesman.
Four Army officers in Baghdad said they received the directive in writing in recent days. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing force protection issues.
Two of them said Saturday morning that they had not been informed about a change in policy.
The Friday report quoted a lieutenant in Baghdad whose platoon lost two MRAPs last week in powerful roadside bombings. The lieutenant said he feared the attacks would have killed soldiers if they had been in Humvees.
The Pentagon has spent billions of dollars on MRAPs since 2007. The vehicles are widely credited with helping reduce the number of U.S. casualties in Iraq.
The officers said the MRAP ban was one of several efforts by the military to assume a lower profile after Tuesday, the first deadline in a security pact between Iraq and the United States that charts out the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
According to the agreement, U.S. troops must withdraw from urban areas by Tuesday. Many will continue to carry out missions in restive cities such as Baghdad and Mosul, in northern Iraq, but only under the auspices of, and at the request of, Iraqi commanders.