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Giffords: Addiction to Oil Harms U.S. Service Members

Napoleon Bonaparte famously said that an army marches on its stomach. True as that was of 19th-century armies, the military of today marches on its fuel supply and, for our armed forces, fuel has replaced food as our Achilles’ heel. The Department of Defense is the single largest consumer of oil in the world, using 93 percent, or 6.9 billion barrels, of the U.S. government’s total consumption each year. This dependency on foreign oil has burdened us with complex national security challenges and places undue risk on our service members on the battlefield.

A 2008 report shows 170 service members lost their lives in attacks on fuel convoys the year prior and that it takes almost 17 full-up convoys each day to supply both theaters with the 590 million gallons of fuel they required. But internal Army estimates show that reducing fuel consumption by only 10 percent across Stryker Brigade Combat Teams alone could save 70 lives a year.

It is no secret that without a steady supply of petroleum, nearly every military system, installation and mission would grind to a halt. Whether it is powering the runway lights of Andrews Air Force Base, computers at the Pentagon, or combat assets in the air, on the ground and at sea, our men and women in uniform, both at home and abroad, depend heavily on a very costly and finite resource extracted from beneath the sands on which they are fighting.

Our enemies are more aware than ever of our reliance on oil, and they are using it to their advantage in places such as Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden calls oil our military’s “umbilical cord” and actively targets our vast and vulnerable oil supply chain. His instructions to al-Qaida terrorists and foreign insurgents are to “focus your operations on oil, especially in Iraq and the Gulf area, since this will cause the [Americans] to die off.”

To date, his strategy has proved effective. Instead of fighting the enemy, service members are dedicated to securing supply lines so that needed supplies of fuel can reach forward operating bases and far-reaching outposts for use in vehicles, generators, aircraft, and, often, to heat and cool unoccupied tents or plywood huts with no insulation and open doorways that represent the very model of inefficiency. In the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Marine Corps burned through 90 percent of its fuel transporting and protecting the other 10 percent it needed for ground operations. A review of Defense Department statistics shows that in June 2008 alone, we lost 220,000 gallons of fuel to attacks and other incidents — almost 25 truckloads per month.

Our most heavily deployed ground vehicles such as the M-1145 class, a mainstay of our rapidly deployable force more commonly known as the Humvee, get only 4 miles to a gallon of fuel. Today, there are roughly 20,000 Humvees in combat. Strykers, which are used as troop transports and for security patrols, get roughly 2 miles per gallon, and the M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank achieves a peak output of just more than a half-mile per gallon of fuel.

Every day we continue to commit a cardinal sin of fighting wars. By increasing our reliance on fuel supplies, we agree to fight our enemies at the critical point of their choosing, allowing al-Qaida to focus on our center of gravity and deprive us of the means we require to defeat it. It is no coincidence that improvised explosive devices, the signature weapons of our enemy, are used primarily to target convoy operations.

Our burden is a strategic one and a tactical one. Military vehicles have a long replacement cycle. Forward operating facilities are designed to be flexible and easy to tear down and move out. Over eight years of war, we have moved slowly to adopt fuel consumption reductions. This has only heightened the criticality of our problem.

This year’s defense authorization bill specifically and purposefully addresses many of the crucial battlefield energy challenges our service members face daily in theater. And the overwhelming bipartisan support on these provisions validates the need for aggressive, smart and responsible solutions.

Prudence dictates we act now, for we know that with every moment we remain passive, service members die. And with every passing day, we allow our addiction to oil turn Afghanistan into our Waterloo.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

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