WASHINGTON – An investigation into allegations the Marine Corps delayed sending blast-resistant trucks to Iraq also will examine whether the Marines were negligent in delivering a laser to divert drivers and people from checkpoints and convoys, according to a memo obtained by The Associated Press.
Marines on the front lines sought the tool, known as a Compact High Power Laser Dazzler, but stateside acquisition officials didn't deliver it, said a civilian Marine Corps official. A less capable laser was eventually sent, but delays of nearly 18 months may have led to an untold number of Iraqi civilian casualties, according to allegations by the official, an internal critic whose claims are being investigated.
The deaths and injuries occurred when civilians mistaken as the enemy got too close to guarded areas and U.S. troops lacked a non-deadly way of forcing them away, according to the official. The Iraqi government has complained about such incidents in the past.
The Dazzler emits a powerful stream of green light that stops or redirects oncoming traffic by temporarily impairing the driver's vision. Without it, troops have to open fire when warning signals are ignored or not seen.
The Marine Corps has stressed that the allegations made by the official, Franz Gayl, reflect his personal views. Gayl's conclusions stem from a series of case studies he was conducting for the Marine Corps plans, policies and operations department about the wartime acquisition system.
Gayl's been ordered to terminate the project, however, according to Adam Miles of the Government Accountability Project in Washington. Gayl filed for whistleblower protection last year.
The AP reported Monday that the Marine Corps had asked the Pentagon inspector general to look into Gayl's charges that a nearly 2-year lag in the fielding of mine-resistant, ambush-protected trucks (MRAPs) resulted in hundreds of U.S. Marines being killed or injured by roadside bombs.
A Feb. 20 memo from Gen. Robert Magnus, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, to the Pentagon inspector general requests that the dazzler allegations also be investigated.
The memo, obtained Tuesday evening by AP, notes that a Naval Audit Service review of the system for rapidly shipping needed gear to be deployed was recently completed. The Marine Corps has said that audit found shortcomings and fixes are being made.
Gayl's charges are related to "human interaction and motivation" within the acquisition system, Magnus said.
After the Naval Audit Service began its review, "allegations surfaced that the Marine Corps had not acted with alacrity in responding to the needs of deployed units, and specifically that mismanagement on the part of Marine officials cost Marine lives by not acquiring (MRAP) vehicles or laser dazzlers in a timely fashion," Magnus wrote.
The memo from Magnus "stands as our position," said Maj. Manuel Delarosa, a Marine Corps spokesman.
"There isn't anything more to say until (the inspector general) has addressed the issues mentioned in Gen. Magnus' letter," Delarosa said.
Gayl, a retired Marine officer, is the science and technology adviser to Lt. Gen. Richard Natonski, who heads the plans, policies and operations department.
Gayl completed a case study on the Compact High Power Laser Dazzler on Feb. 14. In it, he notes that Marines stationed in western Iraq filed an urgent request for the tool in June 2005. And he said that the 2005 request and subsequent calls for the dazzler were not met.
"The urgency of the operational need for dazzlers was not debatable, since the tragedies it was designed to mitigate had already been experienced," Gayl wrote.
Marines in Iraq became so frustrated at the delays they bypassed normal acquisition procedures and used money from their own budget to buy 28 of the dazzlers directly from LE Systems, a small company in Hartford, Conn., according to Gayl. The dazzlers cost about $8,000 each.
But because the lasers had not passed a safety review process, stateside authorities barred the Marines from using them, his report states. There were also questions raised about whether the LE Systems could build sufficient numbers of the dazzlers. LE Systems has said it could meet the demand.
In January 2007, nearly 18 months after the first request, Gayl said the Marines received a less capable laser warning device built by a different company, B.E. Meyers of Redmond, Wash.
Gen. James Conway, the Marine Corps commandant, told members of Congress in July 2007 that a "great deal of effort was made" to meet the specific request for the dazzler from LE Systems. The B.E. Meyers laser, he added, has been well received by troops in Iraq.
As for the blast-resistant trucks, Gayl's Jan. 22 report on the MRAP accused the Marine Corps of "gross mismanagement." Cost was a driving factor in the decision to turn down a February 2005 "urgent" request from battlefield commanders for the so-called MRAPs, he said. Depending on the size of the vehicle and how it is equipped, the trucks can cost between $450,000 and $1 million.
"If the mass procurement and fielding of MRAPs had begun in 2005 in response to the known and acknowledged threats at that time, as the (Marine Corps) is doing today, hundreds of deaths and injuries could have been prevented," Gayl said. "While the possibility of individual corruption remains undetermined, the existence of corrupted MRAP processes is likely, and worthy of (inspector general) investigation."
Senior Marine Corps officers have said the defense industry lacked the capacity to build MRAPs in large numbers when the 2005 request was made. The best solution to the deadly roadside bombs planted by insurgents was to add extra layers of steel to the less sturdy Humvee, they said.
"I don't think (the study) stands up to the facts about what we did, about what the industry was capable of doing and why we did what we did," Magnus told Marine Corps Times in a recent interview. "I just don't think that's accurate."