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The central theme of Sun Tzu’s timeless book, “The Art of War,” is for commanders to take care of their troops. If one of his generals had sent warriors into battle with defective chariots, I’ll bet you a fortune cookie that the offender’s head would have quickly decorated the end of a pike.

But that’s far from the case in the 2004 U.S. Army. And a classic example of leadership negligence is our soldiers’ current chariot, the Humvee.

As early as Oct. 3, 1993, the Ranger fight in downtown Mogadishu demonstrated the added value of armored Humvees. Subsequent shoot’em-ups in ex-Yugoslavia proved once again how effectively this rugged vehicle protects our grunts.

Yet the high brass, from SecDef Bill Cohen to Donald Rumsfeld to almost a generation of generals, never bothered to adjust their budgets to buy more armored Humvees. And today, troops are being killed and wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan because there aren’t enough of these bullet-and-shrapnel-stoppers to go around.

Why is the armored Humvee in such short supply when after-action reports have been shouting its praises since 1993?

For sure, there’s been no shortage of cash. Since the need for these obviously essential lifesavers became apparent, the Pentagon has ordered more than $5 trillion of toys – from irrelevant big-ticket items like Star Wars II, to fleets of VIP jets to fly generals and politicians to and fro, to Gen. Tommy Franks spending almost half a million dollars on a VIP show-and-tell stage he had sent from the USA to Qatar so he could spin the Iraq War in a slick “Today” show-like setting.

Meanwhile, in this high-tech day and age, the troops are actually back to the same old sandbags and jury-rigged plates of steel welded to their vehicles that my recon platoon used at the end of World War II when we were fighting Tito’s insurgents in northern Italy.

And as the brass ease into the blame game, the thing that frosts me is that no one is being held accountable. Not one head has fallen as legs and arms keep getting blown off and more and more body bags are zipped.

The logisticians are saying the senior commanders didn’t tell them what the requirements were. And the combat skippers are saying the nature of the war changed from slamming Saddam with an iron fist to fighting guerrillas who use rocket-propelled grenades and improvised explosive devices as their weapons of choice.

I don’t buy this bureaucratic game of passing the hot grenade. Long before Saddam’s statue came toppling down in Baghdad a year ago this month, it should have been clear to any career officer with any knowledge of guerrilla warfare that we were about to find ourselves smack in the middle of an insurgent war and needed armored vehicles to more adequately protect our warriors.

But the Pentagon’s Cheap Charlie estimate back then was that a mere 235 armored Humvees would do just peachy-keen for the occupation phase of our misadventure in Iraq. Now, after 720-plus dead and thousands of wounded – and hundreds of Humvees destroyed or damaged – the same geniuses have suddenly concluded that we need more than 5,000 armored Humvees.

The brass’ lame excuse is that they didn’t expect things to turn violent in Iraq. And considering it took months for Rumsfeld to finally admit that our forces were engaged in a guerrilla war, upping the Humvee order early on might have interfered with the all-pervasive miasma of denial – and who knows how many precious careers.

The $180,000 vehicle is being built by Armor Holdings Inc. A year ago, the company was popping out 60 armored Humvees a month. This month, it will turn out about 200, and the goal is to kick up production to 450 units a month by November. If the Army can find the money.

But even if some gold-plated Cold War porker like the Air Force F-22 is canceled and the money is transferred to the armored Humvee account, the word is that Armor Holdings won’t be able to meet demand until sometime next year.

In the meantime, more Americans will be blasted to pieces, while those responsible are promoted or check out of the military to cash in as defense lobbyists.

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