Son of Kong

A message flashed on the “Inside the Headquarters” hotline. The caller’s news? Defense officials planned to send hundreds of Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles (love ‘em or hate ’em) to Afghanistan to join the 800 or so that already are there.

“Bad move,” he said. “Are we becoming the Russians?”

MRAP. Maligned by some for its bulk, weight, and limited maneuverability, the current Afghanistan MRAP fleet will be joined by a smaller and more maneuverable model, the RG-31. (Though we prefer “Son of Kong.” 

“It doesn’t matter if they’re smaller, MRAP cannot handle the terrain and sends the wrong message. This is not Iraq,” said the caller. 

The former provincial reconstruction team (PRT) commander from a garden-spot province on the now-infamous (and ever-treacherous) border with Pakistan was outraged. Many routes are vulnerable to attack but are the only surface routes to get to some towns.

“You disable one of those things [MRAP] and no one is getting out,” the caller warned, referring to a hostile attack in the narrow mountain passes. That very scenario was always a concern of his, and a disabled MRAP could doom just about any unit. The caller might know something on the subject: He and his unit were fatally ambushed in the mountains in 2004. “Increased maneuverability?” he spouted incredulously at the mention of Son of Kong’s touted features. “There is no room to move.”

At the request of commanders on the ground, MRAP is being deployed in the face of a mounting improvised explosive device (IED) threat that was not a factor when the caller was in Afghanistan. Knowing the situation is dynamic, the caller recounted that the IED was not the weapon of choice and thinks there are segments of the population that will not resort to the IED. (“Unmanly” was his characterization.) We recall there have been clashes between how PRT commanders and maneuver elements approach situations in Afghanistan and it seems they may disagree on MRAP.

Our caller was especially concerned about the humanitarian element that characterizes the struggle for Afghanistan: “Pull into a village and climb out of one of those things? What kind of message does that send,” he queried. “If anything, the MRAP may encourage the use of the IED by certain elements, and probably foreign fighters.”

Manly or unmanly, debate over the short-and long-term merits of MRAP in any theater will continue. 

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