October has become the deadliest month for American servicemembers in Afghanistan, with 56 killed, and Morrell said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has no higher mission than ensuring troops have everything they need to protect themselves from improvised explosive devices and other threats.
Some assets already are moving to Afghanistan, he noted, including additional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. The theater also is receiving the most advanced drones and new platforms such as the MC-12.
“Last month, … Secretary Gates ordered nearly 3,000 enablers, including additional route clearance and explosive ordnance disposal teams, into Afghanistan,” Morrell said. The teams comb routes to locate and defuse roadside bombs before they go off.
The department also is sending new mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, known as M-ATVs, to the country. The all-terrain vehicles are designed to operate in the Afghan country and towns and are smaller and more maneuverable than the large vehicles that were successful in Iraq.
“The M-ATVs are being delivered by air as fast as we can get them off the factory floor, with hundreds due to be fielded to our warfighters by year’s end,” Morrell said.
American forces are not the only ones making sacrifices, Morrell noted, as NATO allies, Afghan forces, United Nations aid workers and the Afghan people have suffered from the terrorist strikes in the country.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the fallen and also with their comrades in arms, who continue to press ahead courageously in the face of danger,” he said.
And the casualties will continue, because the enemy believes they have an advantage, Morrell said. The 68,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan are the most ever, and enemy fighters have stepped up their use of roadside bombs to target them.
“We expect our troops will continue to be targeted by improvised explosive devices, the No. 1 killer in Afghanistan,” he said.