WASHINGTON — Gen. George Casey, the Army's chief of staff, said Tuesday he has no reason to doubt Barack Obama's recent account by an Army captain that a rifle platoon in Afghanistan didn't have enough soldiers or weapons. But he questioned the assertion that the shortages prevented the troops from doing their job.
Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Casey said the incident would have occurred in 2003 and 2004 following the Iraq invasion. He said he remembers it as a "difficult time" trying to rush armor and other equipment to the troops.
"I have no reason to doubt what it is the captain said," Casey said. "This was 2003 and 2004, almost four and a half years ago. We acknowledge and all worked together to correct the deficiencies that we saw in that period, not only in Afghanistan but in Iraq. It was a period that we worked our way through."
During a Democratic debate last week, Obama said an Army captain remembered leading a platoon in Afghanistan that was short on men, ammunition and 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," Obama said.
Obama's account prompted denials from the Pentagon. In a letter to Obama, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., demanded the name and whereabouts of the captain so he could investigate the matter.
Obama campaign has declined to release the name of the captain, citing the soldier's privacy.
"I find that account pretty hard to imagine," said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman after the debate.
Casey said the Army has purposefully not tried to seek out the captain individually. But he did contact the platoon's brigade commander, which belonged to the 10th Mountain Division, and reviewed the division's readiness reports.
Casey said the brigade was manned at 100 percent during its entire deployment, but that it is possible a particular platoon within the brigade was not manned at the desired level.
"There may have been some spot shortages in spare parts and ammunition," he said. "But the commander said that there were never a shortage of ammunition that impacted the units ability to accomplish its mission."