Monday, February 25, 2008


Obama Fact Checking

Presidential candidate and Commander in Chief aspirant Sen. Barack Obama apparently stood in a debate last week with competitor Sen. Hillary Clinton. During the debate, Obama used an anecdote provide him by an Army Captain, who deployed to Afghanistan in 2003, and wanted to share some criticisms of his deployment with Obama.

Here’s what Obama actually said:

“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.”

As anyone knowledgeable about the military might surmise, that set off a firestorm of criticism.

Many wondered in the Captain actually exists, or served in Afghanistan as a Platoon Leader.

Yes, he exists, and yes, he served as a Platoon Leader back when he was a Lieutenant, and yes, he and his platoon deployed with 24 out of a possible 39 soldiers. So thus far Obama’s purported source passes the same level of “existence” checks as Scott Beauchamp of TNR Diary fame.

Stephen Spruiell, writing at The Corner, did a good job capturing the other immediate, critical reaction several factual “features” of Obama’s little story. Their objections and calls of BS center on three features of Obama’s tale.

First, Captains don’t lead Rifle platoons. Lieutenants do, and usually 2nd LTs at that. Second, Platoons themselves don’t get split up for different theater assignments Companies are the smallest organizational chunk that ever gets farmed out, and even that’s extremely rare, and rarely in theater level assignments, unless they’re a rare combat service or service support company.

Third, critics savaged the notion that equipment and ammo shortages forced the CPT and his unit to scrounge, salvage or capture enemy equipment to make up the shortfall. Knowledgeable MILBLOGGERS and their readership have been vehement, and unanimous, that this hasn’t not happened in Afghanistan.

For good reason, it turns out. ABC’s Jack Tapper scored an interview, courtesy of the Obama Campaign, with the Army Captain at the source of Obama’s anecdote.

Tapper rather blissfully states that “Obama’s anecdote checks out,” he must be using the same kind of fact checking methodology as TNR in their War Diarist debacle.

To return briefly to what Obama actually said, Obama stated that his Army Captain deployed to Iraq with 24 of the 39 he was authorized, and that as a consequence, “they didn't have enough ammunition, they didn't have enough humvees.” He further alleged that those shortfalls necessitated their capture of enemy weapons to make up for their shortfalls, as it was easier to capture what they needed than to get (properly) supplied “by our current commander in chief.”

Here’s what Tapper reports about the “ammo shortages:”

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.")

As First Sergeant of a National Guard unit which mobilized in 2004 and deployed to Iraq in 2005, I am not surprised that ammo for these two weapons systems might have been in short supply in 2003, given the OPTEMPO. We ourselves had no training shortages, but we didn’t get much more than qualification fire time, either. Though qualifying did take some time, going from a minimum number of qualified soldiers to a very healthy maximum number of those likely to be assigned.

Then, there’s the outrageous notion that soldiers needed to capture what they needed. When interviewed by Tapper, the Army Captain contradicted Obama, rather than “backed him up:”

"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 underlying story behind Obama’s politicized anecdote, minus a few important details and with factual rearrangement, may be thought be some to “check out.” The unit was deployed without soldiers who had been transferred, there were ammo shortages, during training at Fort Drum, and the unit may have had vehicle shortages, as many units did in 2003, when this story takes place.

Obama, however, greatly elaborated on his storyline by: avoiding mention of when this took place and implying a currently existing state of affairs; falsely attributing causality between the shortage of soldiers to a shortage of ammo and equipment; and falsely depicting any relationship between any perceived weapons or equipment shortages and capturing weapons from the Taliban.

To a military reader, that falls far short of “checking out,” hence all the calls of BS and fabrication. But again, note that it was Obama, not the Army Captain whose fair criticisms he badly mischaracterizes, who has created the false fabric upon which the factual details are stitched.

Yes, the CPT's unit was short of ammo -- but only for range fire at Fort Drum in the US during mobilization training. That's a far cry from the intimation that troops were lacking ammo in combat, and thus had to salvage from the Taliban.

Yes, some of the soldiers pulled from the Rifle Platoon were reassigned to units that then were sent to Iraq -- some but not all. Glossing it all over as if the Army robbed Peter to pay Paul is misleading at best. Did the soldiers fill vacancies in units leaving immediately, whereas the Afghan bound Platoon left 6 months later?

Then, the belated acknowledgement that the CPT did his Afghan tour in 2003. With two big deployments just underway, it took 1-2 more years before vehicle shortages caught up. Yet, Obama's anecdote certainly conveyed the impression of negligent under-equipping of our soldiers. Ask any of us whether we had too little, or too much equipment.

And read closely this account of WHY the CPT's soldiers captured or confiscated enemy weapons. He states clearly the reason WAS NOT that they didn't have enough of their own.

Obama's use of this anecdote was rhetorical flourish, to be sure, and such always contains more gas than solid. But in this case, he exaggerates an anecdote from 5 years ago, twists it to fit his political purposes, and conveys all manner of impression not supported by facts.

(Tapper interview via The Corner.)

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