SAN ANTONIO -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld assured veterans Monday that U.S. commanders will have enough troops to combat guerrilla attacks in Iraq after one of President Bush's rivals said the administration had put American troops in "increased harm's way."
Appearing in succession before several thousand delegates to the annual Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, Rumsfeld and Bush's national security adviser Condoleezza Rice defended the U.S.-led war against Iraq and said coalition forces can handle the resistance that has followed the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime in April.
Earlier at the same podium, John Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and one of nine Democrats seeking the party's nomination, had told the group that the administration's policies had failed U.S. troops in Iraq while neglecting soldiers who served in past wars.
The Massachusetts senator suggested that the administration had not heeded the lessons of Vietnam in its planning on Iraq.
Amid calls from Democrats and Republicans either to send more U.S. troops to Iraq or cede more military control to the United Nations in return for allied forces, Rumsfeld said U.S. military commanders will have a sufficient number.
He added, however, that Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, hasn't indicated more American troops are needed.
"The United States can afford whatever military force level is necessary and appropriate for our national security," Rumsfeld told the veterans. If Abizaid "believes additional troops are needed, he will have additional troops, let there be no doubt about it."
About 150,000 American soldiers are in Iraq, with another 20,000 from Britain and other coalition countries. Roughly 50,000 Iraqis are working with the United States on security matters.
Dismissing the continued resistance, Rumsfeld labeled the guerrilla fighters "dead-enders" and compared them to bands of Nazis who fought on after World War II had ended. He also argued that the anti-American fighters from other Middle East nations streaming into Iraq to help Saddam's followers could prove to be a more efficient target for U.S. troops.
"The coalition forces can deal with the terrorists now in Iraq, instead of having to deal with those terrorists elsewhere, including the United States," Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld also criticized television news coverage, particularly by all-news networks, that he says highlights U.S. failures and ignores successes.
"Each setback in Iraq is repeated and repeated and repeated as if it were 10 or 20 setbacks," he said. "Progress being made -- let there be no doubt solid progress is being made -- is often not deemed sufficiently newsworthy to report."
Rice said the resistance to the U.S. presence was not surprising, because a democratic Iraq could influence other nations in the region.
"The terrorists know a free Iraq can change the face of the Middle East. That is why they and the remnants of the old regime are fighting as if this was a matter of life and death. It is a matter of life and death," said Rice, who was presented a distinguished service medal.
In his address, Kerry said that if elected president, he would get more allies involved in Iraq, raise pay for U.S. soldiers and ensure veterans the benefits they were long ago promised.
Kerry, who formally announces his candidacy next week, is casting himself as the one Democrat capable of neutralizing Bush's advantage on national security issues. Kerry served on a gunboat during the Vietnam War; Bush was in the Texas Air National Guard.
Kerry said the administration has "stubbornly refused" to allow other nations to assume risks in Iraq, and he urged wider involvement of the United Nations.
"With the threats we face, we can never cede our security to others, but even a nation as great as the United States needs some friends in this world," he said.