Mean Streets

By Jason Sherman / December 30, 2008 at 5:00 AM

Roadside bombs, the bane of U.S. forces in Iraq, are now becoming “the primary threat to forces in Afghanistan,” the Wall Street Journal reported today.

A story filed from Kabul, Afghanistan, says attacks against U.S. forces involving improvised explosive devices -- and casualties caused by these roadside bombs -- are both 33 percent higher in 2008 than in 2007, citing figures complied by the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force.

"IEDs are the biggest threat we face," Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, the top U.S. commander in eastern Afghanistan, said in an interview. "They are the largest killer of ISAF troops."

The new data from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization paint a dire picture of Afghanistan's security situation.

Attacks against the Afghan security forces and government more than doubled, while the number of Afghan civilian deaths increased by at least 40%. The overall number of attacks in 2008 rose 31%, according to the statistics...

The increase in roadside bombs is forcing U.S. commanders here to rely more heavily on MRAPs, which can't reach many remote villages because it is difficult for them to traverse Afghanistan's narrow roads and harsh terrain.

The story doesn't note that the Defense Department in recent weeks has hammered together what Pentagon officials say will be at least a $3 billion acquisition to field a lighter, more maneuverable variant of the MRAP -- the M-ATV -- for commanders in Afghanistan. is following development of this so-called 'MRAP-lite' closely, including this Nov. 5 story:

The Pentagon is poised to reprise the unorthodox strategy used to procure Mine Resistant Ambush Protected trucks in a bid to rapidly provide troops in Afghanistan with a new vehicle that offers greater protection against roadside bombs than armored humvees, but one that is lighter than an MRAP, which commanders deem too cumbersome for roads in the Central Asian nation.

Like MRAP, the new program....would be set up to bypass the Pentagon's traditional procurement process in order to address an urgent request from Combined Joint Task Force 101 in Afghanistan and begin equipping units in as little as nine months, according to sources familiar with the current thinking.

Unlike MRAP, which last year mushroomed from a requirement for 1,100 vehicles for the Marine Corps to a $23 billion procurement effort -- the Pentagon’s No. 1 acquisition priority -- to rapidly deliver more than 15,838 armored trucks to Iraq, the ((M-ATV)) program is expected to involve the considerably smaller procurement of as many as 2,000 vehicles, according to sources.

Still, the fledgling project could be worth as much as $3 billion.

Because the total buy is relatively small, costs could run as high as $800,000 per vehicle, a price tag that could climb to nearly $1.5 million once government-furnished equipment is integrated, spare parts are purchased and the new vehicles are shipped to Afghanistan, according to sources familiar with estimates the Pentagon recently compiled.