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Obama Heard Wrong

10:25 AM, Feb 22, 2008 • By STUART KOEHL
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There is a lot about Obama's story that makes no sense. Let us start with the opening line:

"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."

Well, captains command companies, not rifle platoons. A rifle platoon is normally commanded by a 2nd lieutenant, sometimes (if short handed) by a senior sergeant. So for starters, Obama betrays a woeful ignorance of military organization and the chain of command. Then he remarks that the platoon was under-strength because 15 of its men had been "sent to Iraq." Sorry, the Army doesn't work that way. Platoons are organic units, consisting of three rifle squads, a heavy weapons squad, and a headquarters section. You can't break it up. It is the smallest building block in the infantry that can conduct fire-and-movement tactics.

So, no matter what, if the Army needed to shift men from Afghanistan to Iraq, it would have done so either by detaching the whole platoon, or, more likely, an entire company from its parent battalion, because a company is an administrative as well as a tactical unit, and believe me, the Army would sooner fight with one hand tied behind its back than create administrative hassles for itself. Maybe the captain was commanding something other than a rifle platoon--perhaps a company headquarters unit, or an intelligence or communications unit, or some other small specialist unit, but in that case, the loss of troops is not nearly as critical as Obama's story implies. "High-Demand/Low-Density" specialists are always being moved around because there just aren't enough of them to go around. Period. It's a chronic problem not just in the military, but in civilian life as well. Obama went on:

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.

The idea that our guys were scrounging weapons and ammo because they were short is ludicrous. How much ammo you carry is done on a "per man" basis in the infantry--each solder carries a "basic load," which is backed up by reserve supplies at company, battalion, and above. It is possible to run out of ammunition, temporarily, in the midst of an intense firefight. Weapons like the M4 Carbine, the M16A3 rifle, and especially the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) can burn through ammo like fire through dry tinder. Since each man carries perhaps 200 rounds into a firefight (about six or seven magazines), he can easily expend it all in a matter of minutes (which is the reason the Army teaches fire discipline). If you can't get a runner back to the company supply train, then things might get dicey, and if you're out, and there's a Taliban guy lying dead at your feet with an AK-74 and a full bandoleer of ammo, what are you going to do?

Moreover, U.S. soldiers have always scrounged, and have always admired the other guy's weapons. In World War II, our guys picked up German MP-41 submachine guns and MG-42 machine guns, which were demonstrably better than their U.S. counterparts. In Vietnam, GIs seemed to prefer the rugged and reliable AK-47 to the high-tech M16 (while, perversely, the Viet Cong preferred the M16 because it was lighter and had less recoil). It would not surprise me if some U.S. troops "acquired" some ex-Taliban AKs--though they run the risk, especially at night, of being mistaken for the enemy because different types of guns have distinctive sounds.

To the best of my knowledge, no U.S. forces in either Afghanistan or Iraq ever ran out of ammunition for more than a few hours at most. When you consider that we were operating in Afghanistan at the tenuous end of a 8,000 mile supply line, that's pretty impressive.

As for not having enough HMMWVs, that's understandable, when you consider what it takes to get a HMMWV to Afghanistan and then to keep it up and running. Fact is, no unit ever has enough HMMWVs (in its own mind, at least), just as in World War II, no unit had enough Jeeps. Again, that we have managed to sustain our forces in Afghanistan so well is cause for congratulations not criticism.

Overall, I think Obama would be better sticking to his "message of hope"--hope that nobody will ever ask him to make any substantive statements on military affairs, ever again.