"I've heard from an Army captain who was head of a rifle platoon supposed to have
39 men in a rifle platoon," Sen. Barack Obama said during his debate with Hillary
Clinton Thursday night. "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 for
them to get Taliban weapons than it was for them to get properly equipped by our
current commander in chief."
The comment raised eyebrows among veterans.
Rifle platoons are not commanded by a captain. They are commanded by a lieutenant,
usually a second lieutenant.
The heart of Sen. Obama's charge is that the captain's platoon was cannibalized in
order to send soldiers to Iraq. The Army does have a program called "cross
leveling" where soldiers from units which are not deploying are sent to units which
are to bring them up to full strength. But the Army emphatically denies taking
soldiers from units which are scheduled to deploy to a combat zone to give them to
other units. This would be insane.
"As a consequence, they didn't have enough ammunition, they didn't have enough
This is a weird non-sequitur. There is no reason why a shortage of personnel, if it
existed, would translate into a shortage of ammunition, or of vehicles.
Soldiers on a mission carry a basic load of ammunition, typically seven magazines
(210 rounds). It's possible to burn through this quite rapidly in a firefight,
especially if the soldier lacks fire discipline. Soldiers can run low on ammo until
they are resupplied, typically by helicopter, but this has nothing to do with the
adequacy of ammunition stocks in theater. There has never been a shortage of
ammunition in either Iraq or Afghanistan.
"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
The basic Taliban weapon is the venerable AK-47. Many of our soldiers and Marines
prefer it to the M-16 because it is less likely to jam, and has more range and
stopping power. A soldier who has run out of ammunition for his weapon in a
firefight eagerly would pick up an AK-47 if one were close to hand. But this would
be just a temporary expedient. For one thing, it's against the law for conventional
U.S. soldiers to carry enemy weapons. More practically, a soldier using the AK-47
as his basic weapon would have serious ammunition resupply problems. The AK-47 and
the M-16 are of different calibers. (I doubt Barack Obama knows this.) Our
cartridges don't fit into their guns, and their cartridges don't fit into ours. The
basic load of ammo a Taliban guerrilla carries is less than what our soldiers carry,
both because the AK's 7.62 mm round is heavier and bulkier than the M-16's 5.56 mm
round, and because al Qaida is stingier with ammo than we are. The ammunition taken
off the dead body of a Taliban guerrilla wouldn't last long.
Units don't deploy to Afghanistan with their organic vehicles. Afghanistan is 8,000
miles from the U.S., in a mountainous region far from seaports. It's hard to ship
stuff there. So unnecessary stuff isn't shipped. Units arriving in theater fall in
on the equipment that was being used by the units they are replacing.
Even though he's a member of Congress, Sen. Obama seems to be unaware that it is
Congress, not the president, which funds the military. If Sen. Obama thinks the
military is inadequately supplied, he should take it up with his Democratic
colleagues, who routinely cut the president's defense budget requests.
ABC's Jake Tapper tracked down Sen. Obama's captain, who was a lieutenant in the
summer of 2003 when his unit was sent to Afghanistan. His unit was understrength
(though it was reinforced a couple of months after its arrival in theater). But the
captain complained of a shortage of ammo for his heavy machine guns and grenade
launchers while training at Fort Drum before deployment, not in Afghanistan. This
is a rather different story from the one Sen. Obama told, and a fishy one, because
infantry platoons in the 10th Mountain Division are not normally assigned heavy
machine guns or Mark 19 grenade launchers.
Sen. Obama should restrict himself to talking about "hope" and "change." Whenever
he stumbles into matters of substance, he demonstrates his unfitness for the job he