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Pentagon questions Obama’s soldier story

The Pentagon on Friday tried to cast doubt on an account of military equipment shortages mentioned by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
/ Source: NBC News and news services

The Pentagon on Friday tried to cast doubt on an account of military equipment shortages mentioned by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, whose campaign team stood by the story.

In a debate with rival Hillary Clinton on Thursday evening, Obama said he had heard from an Army captain who served in Afghanistan and whose unit did not have enough ammunition or vehicles.

Obama said it was easier for the troops to capture weapons from Taliban militants than it was "to get properly equipped by our current commander in chief," President Bush.

"I find that account pretty hard to imagine," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters.

"Despite the stress that we readily acknowledge on the force, one of the things that we do is make sure that all of our units and service members that are going into harm's way are properly trained, equipped and with the leadership to be successful," he said.

Captain: Training shortages
The captain told NBC News that he was talking about not having enough ammunition and no Humvees for training, but that his unit underwent a three-week crash course in Afghanistan before they saw combat.

The captain, who spoke on background because he's still active duty, said that his unit temporarily had to replace their .50-caliber turret-mounted machine gun with a weapon seized from the Taliban because they couldn't get a needed part fast enough.

He did not say that any of the shortages contributed to any combat casualties in his unit. But he said any shortage, whether in training or combat operations, was inexcusable for the U.S. military.

Obama said the captain had served as the head of a rifle platoon, which should have had 39 members — but 15 had been sent to Iraq so the unit deployed to Afghanistan had only 24 soldiers.

Obama's campaign said an ABC News interview with the captain confirmed the story. ABC said the officer was a lieutenant when he led a platoon to Afghanistan in 2003. Fifteen soldiers were reassigned to other units in ones and twos and not replaced before the unit deployed, ABC cited the captain as saying. He knew 10 had gone to Iraq, and suspected the other five had too, ABC said.

Running issue with military
Military equipment shortages have been a big U.S. political issue, particularly in the early years of the Iraq war.

A U.S. soldier confronted then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over the topic in Kuwait in 2004, complaining that troops were forced to dig up scrap metal to protect their vehicles because the military did not have enough armor.

Rumsfeld famously replied that "you go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time" — a remark that drew widespread criticism.

The U.S. Army said it was hard to verify the account cited by Obama without being able to identify the unit involved.

Republican Sen. John Warner questioned Obama's recounting, calling it "a disturbing framework of factual allegations."

Warner, who supports Sen. John McCain, told Obama in a letter that the incident likely happened on his watch as chairman of the Senate Armed Services. He said he's asked the Defense Department for information and will raise the issue next week in hearings with defense officials.

He asked Obama for "the essential facts," including when and where the events happened and which units were involved.