A couple months ago I helped break the news that the Marine Corps had denied urgently needed nonlethal weapons to the troops in Iraq. Last week we learned from Noah and Sharon at Danger Room that the Corps also turned down requests for life-saving blast-proof trucks — until the political pressure got to be too much. There’s a third chapter to the story. For more than a year, Marines in Iraq have begged the weapons bureaucracy in Quantico, Virginia, for more aerial drones to prevent attacks on remote outposts. But Quantico said no. In January, one Army surgeon attached to a Marine unit got fed up and went right over the bureaucrats’ heads, as I explain in a new story at Wired News:
Maj. John Rumbaugh’s job was hard enough without all the mortar attacks. An Army surgeon attached to a Marine force in Iraq’s lawless Al Anbar province, the Maryland resident saw a constant stream of casualties from roadside bombings, gunfights and checkpoint shootings. Meanwhile insurgents, exploiting gaps in patrols in the region, would periodically rush the base, fire a handful of mortars at the Marine hospital, then disappear.
Almost every day for a year the insurgents repeated the deadly trick with seeming impunity. With just 20,000 Marines and a few hundred soldiers to cover thousands of square miles, there simply weren’t enough troops to secure the base. Rumbaugh understood that. What he didn’t understand was why the Marines’ weapons-buying bureaucracy had refused repeated, urgent requests for [Scan Eagle] aerial drones that could watch over the base instead.
… In January 2007, through a family member, he appealed to his representatives back home, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland).
Van Hollen passed the request (.pdf) on to the Army; Mikulski went a step further, contacting Secretary of Defense Robert Gates directly. “I ask that you look into this situation,” the senator wrote (.pdf), “and take whatever steps you deem appropriate to ensure the safety of these forces.”
With all the gripes piling up against Quantico, it’s a wonder there haven’t been Congressional hearings.