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Casualty-hit US marines use dummies to fool rebels

London Telegraph | April 27 2005

US marines who suffered the highest casualty rate of any unit in Iraq have revealed that they were so short of soldiers that they used cardboard dummies to fool insurgents into believing that they faced more men.

Company E of the First Marine Division dressed the cutouts in camouflage shirts and placed them in observation posts to trick Iraqi rebels into thinking that they were manned.

More than one third of the unit's 185 troops were killed or wounded during its six-month tour last year in Ramadi, an insurgent stronghold west of Fallujah, during which it was targeted by 26 firefights, 90 mortar attacks and nearly 100 home-made bombs.

The deception was revealed yesterday when the marines broke the corp's code of silence to detail the shortages of equipment and manpower that they blame for many of their comrades' deaths.

The marines highlighted in particular the lack of armoured Humvees, the four-wheeled-drive vehicles favoured by the US military, which the company says meant they had little protection against roadside bombs.

When the unit arrived, none was fully armoured and the unit's commanders had to find scrap metal to line the sides and bottom of their vehicles.

It was also issued with maps that were several years out of date and showed urbanised areas still to be farmland.

The unit, nicknamed the Magnificent Bastards, said it had only a handful of electronic devices that block the detonation of roadside bombs, responsible for the deaths of 13 of 21 members of the company that were killed.

Instead they had to be spotted by eyesight. "Halfway through the deployment marines began getting good at spotting little things," Sgt Charles Sheldon told the New York Times.

"We had marines riding down the road at 60 miles an hour and they would spot a copper filament sticking out of a block of cement."

A force twice the size is now stationed in the city, which has been relatively peaceful since insurgents were ejected from neighbouring Fallujah in fierce fighting last November.

The lack of adequately armoured equipment has been a continuing complaint of US troops stationed in Iraq. The unusual decision by the unit to go public is only likely to add to government embarrassment at the shortage.

The Senate last week announced an extra £140 million of spending to buy more fully armoured Humvees. But critics say the procurement system is itself flawed as it primarily relies on one small Humvee provider in Ohio.

The Pentagon acknowledged that Company E lacked enough equipment and men but said the problems were experienced by many units when the insurgency suddenly intensified last year.