DAVID HAFFENREFFER, CNNfn ANCHOR, MONEY & MARKETS: Are the U.S. troops in Iraq getting the equipment they need to adequately protect themselves as the attacks against them escalate? A U.S. army spokesman tells "The New York Times" that nearly 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq don't have bulletproof vests. That's more than a third of the total U.S. forces that are there. Part of the Bush administration's $87 billion spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan is earmarked for getting better equipment to the troops. The Defense Department spokesperson told us today that the process is under way now to get every soldier in Iraq a protective vest that can withstand fire from powerful arms. But members of Congress have criticized the Pentagon for failing to provide adequate equipment to soldiers in a timely fashion. Joining us now to talk about all this and the subject of U.S. troop safety is Peter Brookes . He's senior fellow for national security affairs at the Heritage Foundation and Jonathan Schanzer. He's an analyst from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, both of whom today join us from Washington. Welcome.
PETER BROOKES, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Thank you.
JONATHAN SCHANZER, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: Thank you.
HAFFENREFFER: Certainly the starting point for this for us was that incident that took place over the weekend. Peter, as you gauge the situation, you know, along with this very in-depth, very personal-level article that was in "The New York Times" yesterday about the victims who had died in Iraq, ever since the president called off the major part of the war as over, tell me your thoughts on what is needed to keep the troops safe, or is this an area that you can't ensure safety?
BROOKES: Well, it's very difficult. There's no such thing as absolutely security certainly in a war zone. I mean, if we're good in protecting our troops, 99 percent of the time our opposition, our enemies only have to be right 1 percent of the time. In fact, I think we're doing pretty well right now. I mean, every loss of life is a terrible tragedy, but the fact is there's about 25 to 35 attacks a day and it seems that only one or two are being successful. So I mean, it's not perfect, but like I said, there is no such thing as absolute security. We have to give our troops the things they need to protect themselves and allow them to do their job.
HAFFENREFFER: Jonathan Schanzer, would more humans over there help to do the job?
SCHANZER: I don't know if that would actually do the trick. I think we have quite a bit of -- a large number of troops on the ground at this point. I think it might help to get some troops from other countries. I've been wondering lately why our European allies, given the fact that Iraq has become an epicenter of terrorism, why we're not seeing more contributions from our European allies and allies elsewhere.
HAFFENREFFER: And I guess for most people, at least at this point, as we look at this video of the incident that took place overt weekend of the downing of that helicopter, 16 soldiers killed, what would have prevented that? Peter, could you even guess as to what would have helped to prevent that thing from happening?
BROOKES: Well, there is some new technology out there that we may be able at some point in the near future to equip our helicopters with. But helicopters are large targets. They have big heat signatures, which this sort of missile seems to have targeted, and they fly very slowly, about 150 knots, and are especially vulnerable when they're landing and taking off. There are some tactical things we can do such as flying at night, and I think the military's made that decision out there. But remember, we've been looking at putting laser systems on commercial airliners to prevent them from being shot at. The Israelis have that, but it's not very pervasive throughout the commercial air fleet. We could start looking at some things like that for our helicopters in Iraq to meet challenge that we're seeing.
HAFFENREFFER: One of the important keys here that perhaps is not always noted is who it is that is taking these -- performing these actions. Jonathan, we know that it's not always Iraqis who are doing this, taking part in this. Iraq has become a real focal point in the war on terrorism. And people who are coming into Iraq are performing these day in and day out.
SCHANZER: That's correct. There's a large percentage of the people who are carrying out these attacks, they're coming from other Arab countries. We've found on the passports of the different people that have been caught that they're coming from Tunisia. They're coming from the Palestinian territories but more specifically, we have to ask ourselves where they're coming from. And the answer to that question is Syria and Iran. These two countries have -- they're interested only in seeing the United States fail in Iraq. And I believe they're doing everything in their power to make sure that we fail. And that means by providing the logistics, by providing the weapons, by providing the intelligence on the American troops and helping people carry out these attacks.
HAFFENREFFER: Is there a way to close the border, Peter?
BROOKES: Well, it's very difficult. Remember, this country is the size of California. And that's why helicopters almost have to be used unless you slow down your operation significantly because moving by truck or by Humvee is a very difficult. But it is challenging. You can use sensors, you can use intelligence, but I think it's almost impossible to close those borders unless you put a troop, you know, every 15 or 20 feet. It's a very large country, and it would be very charging to what we're trying to do right now and fight this insurgency.
SCHANZER: I would agree with Peter, but I think the answer to this will actually lie in our policy. So far I don't think the administration has been firm enough with Iran or Syria. We know, we have evidence that points to the fact that they are allowing these attacks to happen yet somehow have not really come out publicly and said this has to stop or, you know, in other words, give an ultimatum. We have not done that yet.
HAFFENREFFER: Do you think the administration feels as though it can't do that right now because the American public doesn't feel it's willing to put up with another attack?
SCHANZER?: Well, that's exactly the quandary that the administration finds itself in at this point. We're already spread very thin looking at Afghanistan, looking at Iraq, and a lot of our other operations around the world. It's going to be extremely difficult to start to make demands on Iran or on Syria or on Saudi Arabia because I think at this point they realize that the U.S. is spread thin, that we can't really act on our actions. So I think that they're exploiting this right now. And I wouldn't be surprised to see some of these countries and other actors in the region try to exploit this opportunity as well.
HAFFENREFFER: Peter, as you observe the comments by some about these bulletproof vests and the armor on the Humvees that is not there, is there a way to -- I mean, should this be, should everybody have a flak jacket in Iraq at this point? It sounds like a pretty simple solution, right?
BROOKES: Well, it is. It's very helpful. But of course a flak jacket will stop some arms fire, some small arms fire, but it would not have helped those poor soldiers in that helicopter yesterday or somebody who may be struck by a bomb or a landmine. But it is important that these people have it. There are probably a lot of people over there in support positions that are not in military combat, but I think there's really no reason that everybody in Iraq should not have a flak jacket. We should do everything we can to provide our troops with the best equipment available.
HAFFENREFFER: Jonathan, we hear so much about the Humvee not being armor- clad, either. Is that so it can go at fast speeds into and out of sort of hot spots, or should these vehicles be clad in something that is bulletproof?
SCHANZER: I'm not a military expert. I can't really speak to that. although I do think that, you know, I think that we should be providing some of this hardware and other technology. I think we should be handing this off to Iraqis very shortly. I think that's a point we're not really looking at right now. The Bush administration has been talking more recently about, you know, bringing back some of the units from the Iraqi army. I'm not sure if that's such a good idea, but I think training more and more people to use some of the same technology that we're using, getting Iraqis to ensure Iraqi security is going to be pivotal in the months to come.HAFFENREFFER: All right. We'll have to leave it there. Jonathan Schanzer, thank you so much for being with us today and to Peter Brookes as well.