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WASHINGTON — The military's new armored Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles in Afghanistan are significantly reducing troop deaths in roadside attacks at a time when insurgent bombings are at record levels, according to statistics provided to USA TODAY.
Deaths of U.S. and allied troops fell from 76 in July 2009 to 57 in July of this year, according to the military command in Afghanistan.
Nearly 80 percent of roadside bomb attacks on Humvees from January 2009 through the end of July 2010 killed occupants, according to Air Force Maj. Michael Johnson, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force, the top command in Afghanistan. That figure dropped to 15 percent for attacks on MRAP vehicles, and an all-terrain MRAP model tailor-made for Afghanistan's rugged terrain. The trucks are designed to shield people from roadside bomb blasts.
The military estimates that MRAPs have reduced deaths and injuries by 30 percent over that time. That amounts to dozens of lives saved each month.
More than $40 billion will have been spent by the end of September to build, ship and maintain MRAPs.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates made the armored truck the Pentagon's top priority during the most intense fighting of the war in Iraq in mid 2007. Humvees, the one-time workhorse vehicle of the military, have been mostly confined to bases in Afghanistan in recent months.
The trucks' performance in Afghanistan, where IEDs have become the insurgents' weapon of choice, has prompted Gates to continue to push for more of them, said Geoff Morrell, Pentagon press secretary. There are about 12,000 MRAPs in Afghanistan and about 100,000 U.S. troops.
"This is precisely why the secretary has been so adamant that we get as many MRAPs as possible to Afghanistan," Morrell said. "In the counterinsurgency fight, one of the best ways to protect our troops has been the MRAP."
The MRAP's ability to reduce casualties is important, said Andrew Krepinevich, president of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. But other factors are also considered in determining its usefulness.
"Ultimately it will be judged more on whether it helped U.S. troops accomplish their mission in Afghanistan than on its ability to reduce casualties," Krepinevich said in an e-mail. "Right now the war's outcome is still in doubt. If we succeed, the MRAPs, despite their high cost, will be seen as worth it. If we fail, some people will likely question whether we could have succeeded by adopting a different strategy and employing our resources differently."
Meanwhile, IEDs remain deadly in Afghanistan. Last week, seven troops from the U.S.-led coalition were killed by roadside bombs.
Military officials rarely release data regarding attacks on vehicles, citing concerns about providing information of use to insurgents.
Johnson, the military spokesman in Afghanistan, said there has been a drop in deaths and injuries from IEDs in the last 12 weeks compared with the same period in 2009. "This period covers what is historically the enemy's last offensive push before retreating for the winter," Johnson said in an e-mail.