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A hole in the roof of a tent lights smoke moments after an apparent insurgent mortar attack at Forward Operating Base Marez near Mosul, Iraq, Dec. 21, 2004. AP/Richmond Times Dispatch

CBS News Consultant Col. (Ret.) Mitch Mitchell provides commentary on military matters for CBSNews.com.
In the Vietnam War, it was axiomatic that, when a combat unit moved into a new base of operations, everyone would dig in and work non-stop until they had built overhead protection (Cover that could withstand a direct hit from a rocket or mortar round).

It was exhausting work, but it saved countless lives.

In Iraq, we build dining facilities to accommodate hundreds of people at a time, and we do very little to protect them. Why isn't force protection a major issue in an area that is clearly at risk of artillery, rocket and mortar attack?

Our most valuable and precious asset is the lives of our troops, the Iraqis who support them and the contractors who risk their lives to make Iraq a better place. On Tuesday, near Mosul, more than 20 were needlessly killed and more than 60 wounded.

Once again, we forgot or ignored the lessons of the past and paid in blood for another leadership failure. If we consider Iraq to be a combat zone, we owe it to our troops and those who support them to make them as safe as possible. Those commanders who decided to construct unprotected dining facilities the size of football fields in areas that had been under frequent attack should be relieved of command immediately and replaced by those who understand force protection. Protecting bases from rocket and mortar attacks is neither difficult nor costly in comparison to the other costs of war.

The incident at Mosul is a simply a continuation of a long string of failures to provide the best possible force protection for our forces in Iraq. The armor plating issue with Secretary Rumsfeld only underscored the problem. Our leaders at the highest levels must take responsibility for these failures and become proactive, not reactive in protecting our forces.

The best force protection against the enemy is to attack him to keep him off balance and unable to mount his own attack. We do that well, but in Iraq we also have base camps from which operations are launched. Without proper protection, they become inviting targets. The insurgents can achieve great gains for little effort. That is exactly what happened near Mosul.

President Bush has warned us that we can expect increased violence as we approach the January 30th elections in Iraq. We should never be resigned to such a possibility. Instead, we should mount all-out offensives to prevent such occurrences. The problem with that idea is that we do not have sufficient forces in Iraq to do that. We do, however, have enough to do something. Let's hope our leaders make the right decisions.
  • Dan Collins

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