Friday, February 22, 2008

ABC Fact Checks Obama's Army Story

Following up from this morning's discussion of the Democrat debate, specifical Obama's story about the Army Captain.

To refresh our memory here is what Obama said last night:

Now, that has consequences -- that has significant consequences, because it has diverted attention from Afghanistan where al Qaeda, that killed 3,000 Americans, are stronger now than at any time since 2001.

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. Ended up being sent to Afghanistan with 24 because 15 of those soldiers had been sent to Iraq.

OBAMA: 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.


Jake Tapper at ABC News "fact checked" the story and you'll never guess what he found:

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.


So here is what checks out, the platoon had 24 guys; But, the 15 missing weren't yanked out in a bloc to go to Iraq, they were transfered just like normal. Other than that nothing checks in Obama's story.

Jake Tapper's conclusion - Obama's story checks out.

I left the following comment on ABC's blog carrying this story:

I'm just wondering how exactly Obama's story checks out.

This Captain's story was related as something happening currently not 5 years ago. Obama related the story in a manner that made it seem that the 15 troops in this Captain's (then LT) platoon were specifically stripped to be deployed to Iraq. They weren't. It was an effect of the Army's normal rotational policy.

Obama makes it seem as if the troops were denied their basic weapons and ammo. They weren't.

Did they get all the training this guy wanted? No. Do troops ever get all the training a good officer wants? No.

This is life in the military. How exactly is Obama going to change that?

In short this is exactly what I said this morning. Obama took elements of truth and presented them in a way that turned them into a lie.

A number of people have pointed out that you are deleting large number numbers of comments on this subject. Hopefully this one will survive.


So there you have it, by fiat the story is true.

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