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Pentagon, Obama campaign duel over soldier's story

The Pentagon on Friday 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.

US Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) arrives on stage at the Texas Democratic Party's presidential candidates debate at the University of Texas at Austin in Austin, Texas, February 21, 2008. (REUTERS/John Gress)

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 George W. 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.

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.

"We didn't have access to heavy weapons or the ammunition for the weapons, or Humvees (military vehicles) to train before we deployed," the officer was quoted as saying on the ABC Web site. ABC said it withheld his name at his request.

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.

ABC quoted the captain as saying his unit did not go after the Taliban to get weapons but did use captured arms on occasion. He also said his unit should have had four armored Humvees but usually had just two.

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.

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