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Rumsfeld, generals defend war plan amid new criticism

Monday, March 31, 2003

WASHINGTON -- The nation's top generals and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld defended their Iraqi strategy on Sunday against new criticism they had underestimated the opposition and started the war with too few troops.

Rumsfeld, whose confident, sometimes combative style is quickly becoming a focus of criticism, insisted Sunday that the plan to attack Iraq -- which he called a good one -- had originated with war commander Gen. Tommy Franks and been approved through the nation's military command, all the way up to President Bush.

"In fact, the president wanted to support the diplomacy in the United Nations. So he wanted things to flow in over a period of time," Rumsfeld said on ABC's "This Week."

"But everything that they've (ground commanders) asked for is in process. It's all arriving," Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld said he could think of one instance, during the prewar troop and equipment buildup, when he questioned war planners about their recommendation to call up one particular specialized unit as opposed to letting somebody else handle the job.

Creative, innovative

"The plan we have is his," Rumsfeld said of Franks. "I would be delighted to take credit for it. ... It's a creative and an innovative plan, and it's going to work."

In Qatar, Franks likewise insisted the U.S. troop reinforcements now headed toward Iraq are not a reaction to the tough resistance from Iraq fighters, but part of a long-planned "rolling start" to the war.

And the nation's top general, Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, insisted along with Rumsfeld that some U.S. ground commanders who have expressed surprise at Iraqis' ferocity see only one part of the war, and not the overall situation, which they called good.

"Nobody ever promised a short war," Myers said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"Others can have opinions, but I just would say we are executing the plan that the combatant commander (Franks) asked for," Myers said. "He's got exactly what he wants."

Last week, the Army's senior ground commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace, told reporters: "The enemy we're fighting is different from the one we'd war-gamed against."

A Senate Republican, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, while not mentioning Rumsfeld by name, said he was "a little concerned" that Pentagon civilian leaders were not listening carefully enough to such views.

"When your battlefield commanders -- who are there, who are commanding the troops in the middle of the battle -- are saying certain things, the civilian leadership at the Pentagon must be very careful not to be publicly dismissive of that," Hagel said on CNN's "Late Edition."

A Gallup poll earlier this year indicated nearly 6 in 10 Americans had a favorable opinion of Rumsfeld.

But in recent days, retired generals including Barry McCaffrey, a ground commander during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, have insisted that Rumsfeld dangerously ignored advice that the ground troops in Iraq were stretched too thin.

Rumsfeld on Sunday dismissed such critics as "second- guessers." Nine days into the war, "It's a little early for postmortems. It's a little early to write history," he said.

The decision to skip a lengthy air war and begin the ground attack almost immediately also helped avert humanitarian disasters and save Iraq's oil fields, the defense secretary said.

"A lot of good things happened, and a lot of bad things were avoided, because General Franks decided to put forces on the ground fast and early," Rumsfeld said.


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