22 Feb 2008

Obama Criticizes US Troops’ Supplies of Arms and Ammunition

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At last night’s democrat debate, Barack Obama claimed rifle platoons are being split and sent to two different countries, and apparently unarmed American soldiers have to capture enemy weapons in order to arm themselves.

0:34 video

You know, I’ve heard from an Army captain who was the head of a rifle platoon — supposed to have 39 men in a rifle platoon,” he said. “Ended up being sent to Afghanistan with 24 because 15 of those soldiers had been sent to Iraq. And as a consequence, they didn’t have enough ammunition, they didn’t have enough humvees. They were actually capturing Taliban weapons, because it was easier to get Taliban weapons than it was for them to get properly equipped by our current commander in chief.

Dividing a rifle platoon in the way Obama describes is the sort of thing that simply does not happen. It seems to be not uncommon for US soldiers to pick up AK-47s, and to use them by choice, as the AK offers advantages with respect to reliability and penetration. I expect there is going to be a lot of blogospheric coverage and debunking of this one.

But ABC News claims to have verified Obama’s story by speaking to the Army captain who was his actual source.

I called the Obama campaign this morning to chat about this story, and was put in touch with the Army captain in question.

He told me his story, which I found quite credible, though for obvious reasons he asked that I not mention his name or certain identifying information.

Short answer: He backs up Obama’s story.

The longer answer is worth telling, though.

The Army captain, a West Point graduate, did a tour in a hot area of eastern Afghanistan from the Summer of 2003 through Spring 2004.

Prior to deployment the Captain — then a Lieutenant — took command of a rifle platoon at Fort Drum. When he took command, the platoon had 39 members, but — in ones and twos — 15 members of the platoon were re-assigned to other units. He knows of 10 of those 15 for sure who went to Iraq, and he suspects the other five did as well.

The platoon was sent to Afghanistan with 24 men.

“We should have deployed with 39,” he told me, “we should have gotten replacements. But we didn’t. And that was pretty consistent across the battalion.”

He adds that maybe a half-dozen of the 15 were replaced by the Fall of 2003, months after they arrived in Afghanistan, but never all 15.

As for the weapons and humvees, there are two distinct periods in this, as he explains — before deployment, and afterwards.

At Fort Drum, in training, “we didn’t have access to heavy weapons or the ammunition for the weapons, or humvees to train before we deployed.”

What ammunition?

40 mm automatic grenade launcher ammunition for the MK-19, and ammunition for the .50 caliber M-2 machine gun (“50 cal.”)

“We weren’t able to train in the way we needed to train,” he says. When the platoon got to Afghanistan they had three days to learn.

They also didn’t have the humvees they were supposed to have both before deployment and once they were in Afghanistan, the Captain says.

“We should have had 4 up-armored humvees,” he said. “We were supposed to. But at most we had three operable humvees, and it was usually just two.”

So what did they do? “To get the rest of the platoon to the fight,” he says, “we would use Toyota Hilux pickup trucks or unarmored flatbed humvees.” Sometimes with sandbags, sometimes without.

Also in Afghanistan they had issues getting parts for their MK-19s and their 50-cals. Getting parts or ammunition for their standard rifles was not a problem.

“It was very difficult to get any parts in theater,” he says, “because parts are prioritized to the theater where they were needed most — so they were going to Iraq not Afghanistan.”

“The purpose of going after the Taliban was not to get their weapons,” he said, but on occasion they used Taliban weapons. Sometimes AK-47s, and they also mounted a Soviet-model DShK (or “Dishka”) on one of their humvees instead of their 50 cal.

The Captain has spoken to Sen. Obama, he says, but this anecdote was relayed to Obama through an Obama staffer.

I doubt there have ever been any wars where everyone had all the manpower he wanted, all the weapons, and all the supplies, every day all the time. It also must be something of a first for the United States to have arrived at a level of materialistic self congratulation that the improvised use of captured enemy weapons is taken as proof of our own inadequacy and imperfection.

Can you picture Robert E. Lee telling General Pendleton: “Just abandon those Yankee cannons our men captured. We wouldn’t want people thinking the Confederacy couldn’t supply every item of equipment our soldiers require?” Or General MacAuliffe at Bastogne telling one of Thomas E. Dewey’s staffers about US soldiers scrounging German rifles and machine guns as a grievance?

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