DOD pushes back on McKeon's demands for weapon systems in Afghanistan

On Thursday, House Armed Services Committee chief Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) requested DOD reconsider its decision to hold off sending the Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar (C-RAM) intercept weapon to Afghanistan. 

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In a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the California Republican blamed the White House's ongoing troop drawdown in the country as the main reason the C-RAM weapon was not sent over. 

McKeon argued the administration's troop withdrawals forced DOD to shelve the weapon, because the Army requires 80-100 personnel onbase for a C-RAM to be used. 

But connecting the C-RAM decision to current U.S. force levels in Afghanistan "oversimplifies the issue," a U.S. defense official told The Hill on Thursday. 

"The notion that the decision not to deploy C-RAM has left our forces defenseless to mortar and rocket attacks is false," the official said. 

In the letter, McKeon claims the weapon — designed to take out incoming artillery and mortar rounds fired at forward deployed based — played a critical role in defending American military outposts during the Iraq war. 

"This system was a significant new defense for our deployed forces and immediately, and measurably, reduced U.S. military casualties from indirect fire" during tours in Iraq, McKeon wrote. 

However, American combat commanders rarely used the C-RAM in Iraq due to the risk of collateral damage when the weapon was used, according to the defense official. 

The risks posed by the C-RAM to non-military personnel in areas surrounding U.S. bases in Iraq ultimately drove the decision to not use the weapon in Afghanistan, the  official said. 

"Decisions on the C-RAM system were informed by our experience in Iraq, where the system was often not employed due to risk of civilian casualties by counter-battery fire," the official added. 

That said, U.S. commanders in country have other base countermeasures just as effective as the C-RAM at their disposal, according to the official. 

"Defending our forces from indirect fire attacks is important, and [combat] commanders do have alternatives to mitigate this threat," the official said.