The Corner

“Sent to Iraq”

I’ve received tons of e-mail about Obama’s Afghanistan anecdote, which Michael Graham was the first to flag last night. The commentary breaks down into three criticisms of Obama’s story, two of which are pretty damaging to its credibility.

The first is that Obama said, “You know, I’ve heard from an Army captain who was the head of a rifle platoon.” Captains command companies; lieutenants lead platoons. However, it’s possible that Obama’s captain was talking about a time when he led a platoon as a lieutenant before being promoted, so this isn’t that problematic.

The second, more problematic criticism concerns Obama’s claim that ”[He was] supposed to have 39 men in a rifle platoon.  Ended up being sent to Afghanistan with 24 because 15 of those soldiers had been sent to Iraq.” A number of Corner readers with military experience have pointed out that platoons aren’t broken up this way. As one reader explained:

A platoon is the smallest unit deployed outside of [special forces] operations.  Sending 24 men to one theater and 15 to another would destroy unit cohesion, leave one group without an officer and be a nightmare for the next higher unit’s (the company) command, control and communication structure.  You should take this story with a grain of salt — that grain being the size of the moon.

Another reader, an 11-year veteran currently working as a civilian for the DoD in Iraq, writes, “More likely they were just understrength due to the normal turnover of the military (people going to service schools, being promoted when there is no slot for them in that unit, being discharged, changing specialties, etc. ad infinitum).”

This reader also commented on the third aspect of Obama’s anecdote that has attracted criticism: His claim that, “they didn’t have enough ammunition… 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.” The reader writes:

I find it inconceivable that any line combat unit would not have plenty of ammunition resupply. Special Operations forces operating in remote areas may use captured ammunition because resupply operations can reveal their location to the enemy, but otherwise this claim is laughable.

Another veteran writes, “There’s also the obvious question of, if they’re so short of U.S. ammunition, how are they managing to capture Taliban ammunition.”

This is just a small sampling of the many e-mails I received (Corner readers, particularly the veterans who read us, are the best and most knowledgeable bunch out there), but this should give you an idea of how the story is breaking down. Over at The Weekly Standard, Stuart Koehl has some additional thoughts. Below the fold, I’ve posted more e-mail from Corner readers on this topic. Bottom line: This creates an opening for John McCain or Hillary Clinton to point out that a candidate who was ready to be commander-in-chief would have noticed that this story was two-thirds BS.

UPDATE: More e-mail added.

More reader e-mail:

That story sounds rather far fetched. Granted, I was in Iraq not Afghanistan, but I was in the Marines and our budget sucks so we ought to have had similar problems. There’s so little fighting in both Afghanistan and Iraq compared to WWII, Korea, or Vietnam, that we have far more ammunition than we need. Maybe not as much fancy stuff like the new flashbangs or every color of smoke grenades, but I think that’s probably good news for taxpayers and my knees since I didn’t need to be carrying anymore useless government-issued junk. Whatever we lacked, we certainly couldn’t have gotten from the enemy. Many might prefer the AK-47 to the M16 but that has nothing to do with stretching the military, funding issues, or President Bush. I’m sure plenty of guys also think the RPG-7 is “cool” and might carry it around and fire it at a tree for laughs, but that’s about it. Some Marines carried around AK-47′s as secondary weapons during the battle of Fallujah because they almost never jam and have great hitting power (while the lack of quality optics and long range accuracy doesn’t matter inside a building)… but it wasn’t because they didn’t have a thousand dollar M16 with a thousand dollar optical sight affixed. – Matt B.

A former military guy here:

1) Captains don’t command platoons, that is a job for lieutenants.  I am sure there are some companies being commanded by 1st Lieutenants, but I cannot see vice versa (unless this is some sort of specops thing).

2) While I am fairly sure that understrength units have been / are deployed, units as small as platoons are not pulled apart like that.  They could easily be short because of pers seconded to training cadres, people out sick or early enlistment ends, but I cannot see having a squad and a half ripped out of a platoon.

3) While the American Army has its faults, basic logistics are generally not one of them.  If there is not enough ammo, then Congress needs to appropriate funds to buy more.

4) It is not unusual to be short of vehicles, especially if some of the ones you were issued have become hors to combat.  The Taliban, to my knowledge do not have much in the way of vehicles — was this mythical captain appropriating Taliban donkeys? (They could be useful for dismounted patrols in the hills.)

5) If one is holding a defensive position, it may be advantageous to use a bunch of extra heavy weapons like machine guns — essentially to use more than your usual allotment.  If the Taliban were kind enough to leave behind a supply, then why not use them?    Still not an indictment of the President.

6) Does the Senator and/or this mythical Captain have a magic hat?  Is it the same color as John Kerry’s magic hat?  I/o/w I am calling BS here.

Michael S.

Divisions get split up, I would guess even brigades too. But splitting up a 39 riflemen platoon? Sounds like a Scott Beauchamp special.

Mark F.

He is either so full of it or he’s not smart enough to question a bogus story. I was a Captain in the USMC and a combat vet. First off, Captains are not in charge of “platoons”, Lieutenants are. Captains are in command of a Company. Three platoons make up a company.

Secondly, I have no idea how a unit that size would be “chopped” and redirected to another country while sending another part to a different country. Personnel are not commodities in the way he refers to them. There is no way that would happen at the company level and even more ludicrous at the “Platoon” level. Frankly, I can’t even see that happening at the Battalion level.

The third point is if we are forced to capture their weapons, how are we dong it? I mean, our guys don’t have the proper equipment and weapons so we’re forced to capture theirs? I guess the only assumption I can make is that an under manned unit without the proper weapons is forced to beat an enemy who is superior in both weapons and men? And, in so doing they beat them, took their weapons and lived to fight another day?  One, the premise is ridiculous, but if true, our guys are kicking some serious butt with sticks and stones I guess.

Lastly, once those weapons have been “appropriated”, the next issue is the ammo. Since NATO shoots 5.56 mm and the standard of our enemy is 7.62 mm for the AK-47, unless they found an unguarded ammo bunker in which to put those weapons to use, they’re right back at square one. The NATO M-60 does shoot 7.62 mm but that’s belted (machine gun) and the vast amount of NATO ammo is 5.56 mm which is mostly loose.

In short, this story is so full of holes and I’ve never seen or even heard of a story like this in my years in the Marine Corps or after. If this was the actual case, there are some very senior officers who would be relived of duty ASAP. Someone should call BS, get this Captains name and unit, and start an investigation. How can he deny that if he’s so concerned for those that are taking the fight to the enemy?

Pete L.

I am an Infantry Captain. I have deployed to Afghanistan twice, OEF 4 (2003-2004) and OEF 7-8 (2006-2007). In the army, we don’t split up units like that; the quote about 15 guys from a rifle platoon bound for Afghanistan getting sent to Iraq is utter nonsense. Not enough ammunition? are you nuts? No soldier leaves Bagram Airfield without a Basic Load, 210 rds of 5.56 (7 full magazines).

As to the statement about humvees, early in OEF there was a shortage of vehicles, specifically up-armored ones — the IED threat was still relatively new at that time. During my last deployment with 2-87 Infantry (3D BCT, 10th MTN DIV) that took place from January 2006 until May of 2007, every soldier in our task force was equipped with state of the art equipment, and plentiful amounts of it. We fired veritable mountains of ammunition during combat operations, and always had more on hand. Vehicles were plentiful, as were the resources required to maintain (the REAL challenge!) them.

US Soldiers do not use enemy weapons or equipment under most circumstances (Special Forces and assorted secret squirrel guys sometimes do). Think about it: why would I train up on a weapon system, zero the optic so that I hit what I aim at, maintain it etc. and then trade it in for an AK47?

What do we do with captured Taliban/Al-Qaeda/Haqqani/Waziri equipment? We turn some of it over to the Afghan police (what is serviceable, which usually isn’t much) and Afghan army units, but the majority is destroyed.

I seriously question the veracity of the “Army Captain” referred to. Most disturbing to me about this incident is it illustrates how clueless Obama and his staff are when it comes to the military.  Prepared to be the CIC indeed.

JDT

I am serving in Afghanistan with the 4th BCT of the 82nd ABN DIV. Arrived over here last summer and have worked with both the Afghan forces as well as Coalition. I wanted to state first that I am no fan of Senator Obama. Having said that, I have never seen or heard of US forces (this tour) finding it necessary to scavenge captured weapons and ammunition in order to conduct operations. Our soldiers are well equipped and have the latest in body armor, weapons, and technology to fight this enemy. We DO need more soldiers in the battlespace to effectively eliminate Taliban and criminal safehavens and to separate the enemy from the populace, bring in governance, and provide for economic development of the area. When then President Clinton cut the active army from 16 divisions to 10, he set up the scenarios we are now living with of an over-committed fighting force. Additionally, a rifle platoon is commanded by a 2nd Lieutenant, not a Captain. The unit would never split a rifle platoon and send half of its men to Iraq and half to Afghanstan. It defies common sense to do something like that. We are winning the fight to defeat the radical Islamists here in Afghanistan. Roads are being built, schools opened and government services are being brought to the people. We do not need a defeatist President to turn back the clock and enable those who would destroy what we have created to succeed. I do not want my grandsons (3) to have to return here in 10 years and finish what we should have done now.

RR

Rifle platoons are not at full strength, war or peace, ever.  The TO&E (Table of Organization and Equipment) may call for a certain number of soldiers, but you never have all of them. It just doesn’t happen, and on the odd chance it does, it only means you’re days, or even hours, away from being understrength.  The natural strength of a platoon is understrength.

If you have fewer soldiers, then you need fewer vehicles.  And the last time I checked, the only tranportation assigned to a rifle platoon was “feet, your own, 2 per individual”.  Hmm…..

Short of ammunition?  Oh, they took all their bullets with them?  When the Platoon Sergeant went back to Support Platoon for re-supply they wouldn’t give him any more?  Somebody told a US Army sergeant in a combat zone they wouldn’t give him ammo for his troops?

This one flunks the reality check on so many different levels that it isn’t even funny.

David T.

There are lots of red flags in that anecdote.  First off, Captains aren’t usually the “head” of platoons; they are usually over a company (there may be exceptions but it still raises a red flag).

Second, the Army doesn’t deploy its forces in the manner described.  Platoons are not split between two separate theaters.  Think about it, the reason the U.S. Army is reorganizing (has been reorganized) in to Brigade Combat Teams, is at the beginning of Iraqi Freedom, the Army was only prepared to deploy forces as a Division.  (A Division consists of multiple Brigades, a Brigade consists of multiple Battalions, a Battalion consists of multiple Companies, and a Company consists of multiple Platoons.)  Because a Brigade Combat Team is the Armies smallest deployable (conventional) unit, this entire story makes no sense from the outset.  The Army doesn’t split (conventional) rifle platoons between theaters.  However, if they are Special Ops, all bets are off. 

I don’t know if Special Operators are organized in the above manner and I also don’t know if a 24 man special operations team makes sense.  Regardless, Special Ops pretty much gets whatever Special Ops wants/needs equipment wise.  If Special Operators are using captured weapons it is by design, not because of a shortage of supplies. There of course could be other variables.  Maybe this was a Guard or a Reserve unit.  That could explain the over grade platoon leader and possibly the split forces.

Third, you’d think that Senator Obama would make a point to highlight the part-time status (especially if it was a National Guard unit)  because as you know the Democrats firmly believe all of us Reservist and Guardsmen were misled into joining the military for the education benefits not realizing we might have to actually fight in a war.   Because of this glaring omission, I think we can safely dismiss the Guard or Reserve unit theory. 

Patrick W.

My thanks again to everyone who e-mailed in.

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