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Vets Group Blasts Trump for Suggesting Troops Stole Money for Iraq

In this March 1, 2016 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop at the Signature Flight Hangar at Port-Columbus International Airport in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
In this March 1, 2016 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop at the Signature Flight Hangar at Port-Columbus International Airport in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

A progressive veterans group is criticizing Donald Trump as "uninformed and irresponsible" for suggesting American soldiers stole millions of dollars intended for Iraq reconstruction projects.

Paul Eaton, a retired major general in the U.S. Army, said Trump's "smear" against American troops and veterans should disqualify him as a presidential candidate.

The remarks stand as "testimony to why Mr. Trump is unqualified to serve as Commander in Chief of the finest troops on the planet," Eaton said in a statement released through VoteVets.org, where he serves as a senior adviser.

During a speech on Tuesday evening in Greensboro, North Carolina, Trump criticized U.S. policy during the Iraq war to send millions of dollars in cash to Iraq, which he called "a corrupt country," with no supervision.

"Millions and millions of dollars, and handing it out," the presumptive Republican nominee said. "I want to know, who were the soldiers that had that job? [Because] I think they're living very well right now, wherever they may be."

A spokeswoman for Trump immediately tried to quell criticism, telling NBC News that the candidate didn't mean to suggest American troops were stealing; he was referring to Iraqi soldiers.

Yet while Trump's remarks were bound to draw a critical response, there were, in fact, more than 100 American service members convicted of graft and corruption stemming from their handling of aid funds in both Iraq and Afghanistan, according to published reports.

For example, former ArmyCapt. Michael Dung Nguyen of Oregon was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison after being found guilty in 2010 of pocketing more than $690,000 while serving as a civil affairs officer overseeing millions of dollars in Iraq reconstruction project money and pay for private Iraqi security forces.

In 2014, former ArmySpc. Stephanie Charboneau of Colorado was sentenced to seven years after pleading guilty for her role in a scheme to steal and sell fuel from Forward Operating Base Fenty in Afghanistan. Charboneau's was the fourth to be found guilty in connection with the scam, which cost the U.S. some $1.2 million in lost fuel.

According to a report last May in Slate.com, at least 115 enlisted personnel and military officers had been convicted since 2005 of theft, bribery and contract-rigging crimes valued at $52 million during their deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq.

VoteVets.org is lobbying group that typically supports progressive candidates and causes. Eaton served in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, commanding U.S. forces charged with establishing the country's military forces following their disbanding after the U.S.-led invasion.

"Trump's attack against the courageous American men and women who heroically worked to restore law and order in Iraq is at once uninformed and irresponsible," Eaton said.

The retired officer also recalled some earlier military-related remarks and actions Trump, including his criticism of Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona for being captured and held prisoner during the Vietnam War.

Trump also tried to get disabled veterans removed from Trump Tower in New York City, once belittled military service "by calling his sexual exploits in the 80s his 'personal Vietnam,'" Eaton said.

"It is clear Trump has no respect for military service, or the people who serve," he said.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at Bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at@BryantJordan.

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