December 17th, 2009
01:21 PM ET

Key lawmakers express concern over combat gear in Afghanistan

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/12/16/story.skelton.jpg caption="Ike Skelton, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee"]

Two top Democrats on a key House committee have expressed concern over the quality of equipment and training for troops heading to Afghanistan.

The concerns came straight from U.S. troops heading to combat, who recently spoke to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Missouri, and Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas. The two congressmen relayed these complaints to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen in a letter obtained by CNN.  Read the letter

The congressmen recently met with U.S. troops in Europe, some of them training to deploy and others recovering from combat wounds. Many of the troops passed on some troubling information about their equipment and training that raised concerns with the lawmakers, particularly as the United States escalates its presence in Afghanistan.

Some of the troops complained that a newly designed rucksack has plastic straps that are "cutting off circulation to their arms and hands, making it virtually impossible to fire their weapons," according to the letter.

When they do fire their weapons, the soldiers said, they had problems specifically with the M4 rifle jamming during combat, according to Skelton and Ortiz.

Soldiers have complained before about the M4 rifle, a shorter, lighter version of the M16. CNN obtained an internal military document in which soldiers reported that their M4s jammed during the bloody Battle of Wanat on July 13, 2008.

Afghan militants attempted to overrun a base in the village of Wanat in eastern Afghanistan, killing nine American forces. The base was abandoned days later. The Wanat attack - the deadliest strike on U.S. troops in three years - prompted a Pentagon investigation.

In the letter, the congressmen say that "even though these weapons routinely rank lower than other military weapons in testing, they are still being issued as the Army's weapon of choice."

The Army has issued new ammunition clips that it says provide more reliability for the M4 and M16 weapons. But the congressmen are asking Gates and Mullen to explain what the Army is doing to issue a better rifle.

The congressmen also said some troops are being taken straight from boot camp and sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, without any extensive training at home.

CNN contacted the offices of Gates and Mullen, and officials with the U.S. Army, for their response to this letter but did not hear back.

An aide to Skelton said he had spoken with Secretary of the Army John McHugh, who promised to address the congressman's concerns.

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