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Sen. Warner Questions Obama's Army Anecdote

By Josh White
Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), former chairman of the Armed Services Committee, sent a stern letter to colleague Barack Obama today, challenging the Democratic presidential candidate to provide information about an Army officer he cited in Thursday night's Democratic presidential primary debate.

Obama (D-Ill.) said he had heard complaints from an Army captain who led a shorthanded rifle platoon in Afghanistan that had to scrounge for weapons because they were poorly equipped. Obama described Iraq war deployments winnowing the platoon to just 24 soldiers and argued that the Iraq war has so strained the Army that units are going to war without necessary troops and weapons.

"And as a consequence, they didn't have enough ammunition, they didn't have enough Humvees," Obama said. "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."

Warner -- a World War II veteran and former Navy Secretary -- has been a staunch advocate for U.S. troops. Warner's letter to Obama asks the senator to provide "essential facts" about the Army captain's story, including his personal information, so members of the committee can interview him and others to establish accountability, "depending of course, on the accuracy of the facts."

"As you well know, we in Congress, under our Constitution, have explicit duties to provide for the welfare of the men and women of our armed forces and members of their families," Warner wrote. "We have no higher calling. I respectfully ask for your assistance."

ABC News correspondent Jake Tapper reported this afternoon that the Obama campaign put him in touch with the unidentified captain -- who was deployed to Afghanistan from late 2003 to early 2004 -- and that the West Point graduate verified Obama's statement. He said, according to Tapper, that soldiers did not go after the Taliban for the sole purpose of taking their weapons, but that they sometimes used enemy AK-47s. The captain also said his platoon used Toyota pickup trucks and unarmored flatbeds to get their men to the fight because they didn't have enough armored Humvees to go around.

While Pentagon officials have maintained that units deployed to war are manned and equipped properly, Warner, a McCain supporter, vowed to investigate. He said he will grill Army Secretary Pete Geren and Gen. George Casey -- the Army's chief of staff and former commander of U.S. troops in Iraq -- about the matter at a hearing on Tuesday.

Warner also has asked Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to help him get to the bottom of the captain's complaints.

For Obama's part, his campaign made clear that he wants the captain's comments on the front burner.

"Senator Obama is glad that this issue is getting the attention it deserves, and looks forward to working on a bipartisan basis to ensure that our troops have the training and resources they need," said Bill Burton, a spokesman for Obama's campaign.

By Web Politics Editor  |  February 22, 2008; 7:57 PM ET
 
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