Snow: Troops 'rushed' to Iraq due to Bush 'surge' can get their desert training 'in theater'
At Wednesday afternoon's White House press briefing, Press Secretary Tony Snow was asked about an Associated Press report about two Army units forced to skip desert training to accomodate President Bush's new strategy to escalate the number of troops in Iraq. The White House spokesman suggested that troops "rushed" to the battlefield can "also do training in theater."
Earlier today, AP military writer Robert Burns reported that "[r]ushed by President Bush's decision to reinforce Baghdad with thousands more U.S. troops, two Army combat brigades are skipping their usual session at the Army's premier training range in California and instead are making final preparations at their home bases."
According to Burns, some Congress members are wondering if the "Army is cutting corners in preparing soldiers for combat, since they are forgoing training in a desert setting that was designed specially to prepare them for the challenges of Iraq."
Brig. Gen. Tom Maffey, who is in charge of Army training, said at a press briefing that the loss of the training would have only a "marginal" effect on the troops. Burns notes that "Army officials say the two brigades will be as ready as any others that deploy to Iraq, even though they will not have the benefit of training in counterinsurgency tactics at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., which has been outfitted to simulate conditions in Iraq for units that are heading there on yearlong tours."
"The two units that are skipping their National Training Center sessions are among five Army brigades that are being dispatched to Baghdad on an sped-up schedule as the centerpiece of Bush's new approach to stabilizing Iraq," Burns wrote.
Today, at the White House, Snow told the reporter who brought up the AP report that "what happens is a lot of times you will also do training in theater as well as equipping in theater."
"The generals have made it very clear and military commanders have made it clear nobody is going to go into combat activity without proper equipment and training, period," Snow added.
The reporter then said that the article "flatly says that two brigades are going in without desert training in California so that doesn't sound like they're getting the training."
"All right, I understand," Snow said, cutting off the reporter in mid-sentence.
"Well," Snow suggested, "but they can get desert training elsewhere, like in Iraq."
Earlier this month, the Savannah Morning News reported that one soldier "rushed" to Iraq in the Bush's "surge" had, along with his entire brigade, missed a final combat exercise, and was killed within a week of his deployment.
"At least 143 soldiers joined Fort Stewart's 1st Brigade too late to participate in a final combat exercise before their units deployed to Iraq," Sean Harder reported for the Georgia newspaper. "Last week, one of those soldiers - Pvt. Matthew T. Zeimer, 18 - was the first from the brigade to be killed when he was hit by enemy fire in Ramadi, the stronghold of Iraq's Sunni insurgency."
Zeimer "missed the brigade's intensive four-week mission rehearsal in October when more than 1,300 trainers and Iraqi role-players came to the post as part of the most realistic training program the Army offers for Iraq operations," because he had only "arrived at Fort Stewart on Dec. 18 after basic training and deployed to Iraq just a few weeks later."
"The fact some of the brigade's 4,000 soldiers missed that training raises questions about how well the Army is preparing troops for war in the face of accelerated and repeat deployments," Harder wrote on Feb. 9. "With one brigade already deployed, at least two other brigades will deploy earlier than planned to meet President Bush's call for a troop surge to stabilize Baghdad."
Excerpts from Wednesday's White House press briefing:
Q There was also a report this morning that two Army combat brigades are being sent to Iraq without desert training -- the Associated Press has a story out today -- and that it's because they're being rushed to Iraq to help get the surge in place.
MR. SNOW: Again, let me stress, what happens is, a lot of times you will also do training in theaters, as well as equipping in theater. The generals have made it very clear, and military commanders have made it clear, nobody is going to go into combat activity without proper equipment and training. Period. So if things --
Q But the story flatly says that two brigades are going in without desert training in California. So that doesn't sound like --
MR. SNOW: All right, I understand.
Q -- they're getting the training.
MR. SNOW: Well, but they can get desert training elsewhere, like in Iraq.
FULL TRANSCRIPT AT WHITEHOUSE.GOV