WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday there is no need to increase U.S. armed forces for now even though the military is being stretched by commitments in Iraq and elsewhere.
"We're absolutely open-minded about how many people we have in the armed services," Rumsfeld said. "The way to get the right number," he added, is not to rush to a change "the first time you feel the effects of a spike in activity, as we do right now with Iraq."
He said continuing analyses of troop strength, conducted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, indicate current force levels are sufficient for engagements in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, the Sinai peninsula and South Korea.
Last week, the nominee to be Army chief of staff, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, told a Senate committee the Army is likely to need more troops to meet its worldwide commitments.
"Intuitively I think we need more people," Schoomaker had said. "I mean it's that simple."
Rumsfeld was replying to a question about that testimony.
He said there were steps that could be taken to improve the efficiency of current troop levels, including putting civilians in jobs now being done by as many as 380,000 people in uniform.
"That's a pile of people," he said. "They need to be doing military functions."
Rebalance of power
He also said there should be a rebalancing between reserves and active forces "so that we don't have to have the kinds of call-ups that we do now."
In Iraq, he said, the army, civil defense and police ranks need to be filled with Iraqis to perform functions now carried out by U.S. troops.
Rumsfeld said the United States should continue to withdraw troops from Bosnia and Kosovo.
Earlier Tuesday, the acting Army chief of staff, Gen. John Keane, said troop commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan have stretched the Army and its size might need to be increased.
"There's no doubt" more troops are needed, Keane told reporters. "We're short of infantry, we're short of chemical-biological soldiers, we're short of military police."
But he said before military leaders can come up with a number for an increase in combat troops, they have to see what military slots can be converted to civilian slots. He also said combat support services have to be improved.
"Clearly we're stretched and we know we're short certain skill sets we've got to fix," he said. "That's as specific as I can get until we do the rest of the analysis."
Keane is to retire this summer. Rumsfeld tried to persuade him to take over the chief of staff slot when Gen. Eric Shinseki retired last June, but Keane declined, officials said. Rumsfeld then picked Schoomaker, who is awaiting Senate confirmation.