U.S. increases air supply missions to replace truckers in Iraq

Friday, December 17, 2004

The U.S. military has increased air supply missions in Iraq in an effort to avoid Sunni ambushes on truck convoys.

Officials said the U.S. Air Force has expanded its role in transporting supplies to troops in Iraq, Middle East Newsline reported. They said the air force launched the effort in September amid the withdrawal of Kuwaiti and Turkish transport companies whose truckers were abducted and sometimes executed by Sunni insurgents in Iraq.

"They give the ground forces the opportunity to reduce the traffic on the most dangerous routes," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper said.

"I am totally disinterested in the cost. It will be paid for. We will do what it takes."

By November, officials said, the U.S. Air Force organized a fleet of C-130s and C-17s for daily transports to Iraq from such countries as Jordan, Kuwait and Turkey. The air force has 64 C-130s for the Iraqi campaign.

"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?"

Officials said that so far the air force was transporting 450 tons of cargo a day throughout Iraq, most of it combat vehicles, ammunition and spare parts. This marked a 30 percent increase since September, they said.

The U.S. military hauls about 25,000 tons of supplies throughout Iraq.

Officials said the air force mission envisions the transport of 1,600 tons a day by mid-2005.

A key mission of the C-130s has been the transport of armored Humvees for U.S. troops in Iraq. Until now, the armored Humvees were driven from production facilities in Kuwait to Baghdad in a trip that took about four days and exposed military convoys to attacks from both insurgents as well as criminal gangs.

The U.S. Army plans to spend $4.1 billion by mid-2005 to accelerate production and delivery of armored vehicles for U.S. troops in Iraq.

Officials said 60 percent of U.S. military vehicles in Iraq have received some form of armor.

Each day, about 3,000 military vehicles move in 215 convoys throughout Iraq. The convoys have come under increasing attack from improvised explosive devices planted along the routes and officials reported about 100 casualties per month.

Most of the military heavy trucks in these convoys travel without armor, which has sparked complaints throughout army reserve units. In October, 23 army reservists, citing the lack of armor on their vehicles, refused to transport supplies from the Talil air base to Taji, north of Baghdad.

"Rather than run, you know, thousands of trucks up and down the main supply routes, if you could put it in by air, that would decrease those number of convoys that go up and down," Brig. Gen. David Rodriguez, deputy director for regional operations of the Joint Staff Operations Directorate, said. "So that's been an alternative that they've looked at and have been able to expand that as the ability to fly into different places throughout Iraq has opened itself up over time."

So far, the C-130s would not be used for the supply of food and water to U.S. troops in Iraq. Officials said the military was examining the feasibility of purifying and bottling water in Iraq, which accounts for 30 percent of U.S. cargo from Kuwait.

Officials acknowledged that air transports could come under Iraqi surface-to-air missile attacks. But they said the C-130s have been armed with counter-measure systems and would coordinate with army forces.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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