WASHINGTON -- The Marine Corps has asked the Pentagon's inspector general to examine allegations that a nearly two-year delay in the fielding of blast-resistant vehicles led to hundreds of combat casualties in Iraq.
The system for rapidly shipping needed gear to troops on the front lines has been examined by auditors before and continues to improve, Col. David Lapan, a Marine Corps spokesman, said Monday night. Due to the seriousness of the allegations, however, "the Marine Corps has taken the additional step" of requesting the inspector general investigation, Lapan said in an e-mailed statement.
In a Jan. 22 internal report, Franz Gayl, a civilian Marine Corps official, accused the service of "gross mismanagement" that delayed deliveries of the mine-resistant, ambush-protected trucks, or MRAPs.
Gayl's study, which reflected his own views, said cost was a driving factor in the decision to turn down a February 2005 "urgent" request from battlefield commanders for the vehicles.
Stateside authorities saw the hulking vehicles, which weigh up to 40 tons and can cost as much as a $1 million each, as a financial threat to programs aimed at developing lighter vehicles that were years from being fielded, charged Gayl, who prepared the study for the Marine Corps' plans, policies and operations department.
Gayl, a retired Marine officer, is the science and technology adviser to Lt. Gen. Richard Natonski, who heads the department.
The Associated Press first reported on Gayl's study Feb. 15. At that time, Gayl's work had not been reviewed by his immediate supervisor, Col. David Wilkinson, Lapan said Monday.
"The paper represents Gayl's personal opinions and is clearly marked as such," Lapan said. "It is both preliminary and pre-decisional, and therefore a mischaracterization to term his work an official study or report."
Gen. Robert Magnus, the Marine Corps' assistant commandant, disputed Gayl's conclusions in a recent interview with Marine Corps Times.
Magnus and other Marine Corps officials 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 the newspaper in an interview. "I just don't think that's accurate."
Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared the MRAP the Pentagon's No. 1 acquisition priority in May 2007. Defense contractors are now producing close to 1,000 vehicles a month.
Gayl has clashed with his superiors in the past and filed for whistle-blower protection last year. In his study, he recommended an inquiry be conducted to determine if any military or government employees are culpable for failing to rush critical gear to the troops.
"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."
Sens. Joe Biden, D-Del., and Kit Bond, R-Mo., called for an investigation after reviewing Gayl's report.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars, the nation's oldest veterans organization, said if Gayl's allegations are true, charges should be brought against the military and civilian officials who failed to deliver the MRAPs.
If, however, Gayl's findings are incorrect, he should be held accountable for his actions, said VFW National Commander George Lisicki in a Feb. 19 letter to members of Congress.
"There is no doubt MRAPs have saved many lives in horrendous (improvised explosive device) explosions, but to accuse the Marine Corps of knowingly and intentionally jeopardizing the safety of fellow Marines on the battlefield is a very serious charge," Lisicki said.