President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld tried Thursday to tamp down the firestorm, which was ignited a day earlier when an Iraq-bound soldier publicly complained to Rumsfeld that the Army wasn't properly armoring vehicles for the campaign.
Traveling in India, Rumsfeld said he expects the Army to do its best to resolve the problem. In Washington, Mr. Bush said the soldier's concerns "are being addressed and that is — we expect our troops to have the best possible equipment."
Meanwhile, the company outfitting the Humvees with armor says it has been waiting since September for approval from the Pentagon to increase its monthly production.
In a rare public airing of grievances, disgruntled soldiers in Kuwait preparing to go into Iraq complained to Rumsfeld on Wednesday about long deployments and a lack of armored vehicles and other equipment.
"You go to war with the Army you have," Rumsfeld replied, "not the Army you might want or wish to have."
The guardsman who questioned Rumsfeld on the vehicle armor, Spc. Thomas Wilson, had consulted earlier with a Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter who is embedded with the 278th Regimental Combat Team.
The reporter, Edward Lee Pitts, said he had worked with guardsmen after being told reporters would not be allowed to ask Rumsfeld any questions, Pitts wrote in an e-mail to co-workers sent Wednesday.
"We had a story, front page last week, actually showing these soldiers cutting up steel that they had gone and found in trash heaps ... Nobody really paid much attention to it," said Tom Griscom, publisher and executive editor of the Times-Free Press.
"It's kind of interesting, the criticism that is coming, it comes from a political point of view," Griscom added.
Military officials said Thursday they were working hard to upgrade the armor on Army vehicles in Iraq, with nearly three-fourths of the Humvees in the theater now completed.
The reason the Pentagon has to play catch up in armoring its vehicles is simple, reports CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin: No one expected to have 150,000 troops in Iraq fighting a guerrilla war.
The war was meant to be fought at rapid speed by a limited-size force with international help to disarm Saddam Hussein of his weapons of mass destruction. Instead, no weapons were found, the international community largely refused to participate and officials have been forced to increase the size of the force there, now going up to 150,000 troops.
Of more than 9,100 heavy military haulers in Iraq, Afghanistan and nearby countries, just over 1,100 have received upgraded protection, according to figures provided by the House Armed Services Committee. Armor add-on kits are in production for many of the rest of these vehicles.
By comparison, the military has decided it needs almost 22,000 armored Humvees in the war area. It has 15,334; an additional 4,400 await armor add-ons and the rest have not been delivered to the region.
Those Humvees are being built at the rate of 450 a month. The company armoring them, Armor Holdings Inc., said Thursday it could increase production by 50 to 100 vehicles a month — if it gets the go-ahead.
Army officials admitted to the Boston Globe the Pentagon has not approved new purchase orders for the armored trucks, debating how many more are needed.
Close to three-quarters of the Humvees in the Iraq war theater now have upgraded armor protection, but many larger trucks and tractor-trailer rigs do not, according to congressional figures.
Military officials said armoring Humvees has been the top priority because they are used to patrol areas where attacks are likely. The heavy haulers, meanwhile, usually travel convoy routes that are more frequently swept for guerillas and bombs.
Critics questioned why the Pentagon has been unable to send enough armored equipment 21 months into the war. They said war planners had too rosy a picture of how the campaign would unfold and so didn't think so many troops and so much armor would be needed for so long.
"This is about faulty analysis and a failed strategy," said Rep. Ellen Tauscher, a California Democrat who sits on the House Armed Services Committee. "We've never had enough troops on the ground since the fall of Saddam Hussein's government to deal with the insurgency because we didn't expect one."
Loren Thompson, a defense industry analyst with the Lexington Institute think tank, agreed.
"We have pretty much miscalculated every step along the way — why we went, how we should do it, what we needed, what support we would have, how long it would last — we pretty much got it all wrong," he said.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Congress had given the Bush administration all of the defense spending it had requested. Why then, he asked in a letter to Rumsfeld, were soldiers combing landfills for scrap metal to protect themselves?
"This administration has received every dollar they have asked for from Congress," Durbin said in his Chicago office Thursday. "So, the money has been there."
Retired Maj. Gen. Nash, an analyst with the Council on Foreign Relations, agreed that the issue is part of a continuing theme.
"All of this fuss — whether it be (extended deployments) or having sufficient armor — all of this is a continuation of the issue of poor planning ... lack of understanding of the consequences of invading Iraq," he said.