- The Washington Times - Monday, December 8, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he wants senior commanders in Iraq to consider whether the Pentagon had underestimated how many U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces would be needed before a sovereign Iraqi government can take over next summer.

Mr. Rumsfeld, who spent Saturday in Iraq, said he alone has raised doubts about whether the goal of about 220,000 Iraqi security forces would be adequate, but that he has asked commanders to review their estimates.

He was interviewed on the flight to Washington, arriving early yesterday after a weeklong trip that also included a stop in Afghanistan.

“I raised that question not because I have conviction that we need more, but because I worry that budgets will begin to get committed, and we may not know if we need more until sometime, for example, in February or March or April,” he said. By then, he said, the money might not be available.

“I’m concerned that we might not have the option of increasing if, in fact, that proves to be necessary,” he said.

The number of Iraqis in uniform is said to be about 140,000, many of whom were rushed through training programs.

The importance of building up those forces to perform duties now done by the U.S. military was a major theme of Mr. Rumsfeld’s visit to Iraq. He sees it as the key to completing the military mission there in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s deposed dictatorship.

In the interview en route to a stopover in Ireland, Mr. Rumsfeld disputed a prediction from Army officials that only two of their 10 active-duty divisions will be at full strength and ready for any new conflict next year.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken a toll on the Army, he said, but the soldiers due home next spring are fit to return to a war zone if necessary.

Four Army divisions in Iraq are to return next year and will need about six months to rest and retrain and to repair equipment. With three divisions set to rotate into Iraq and another into Afghanistan as replacements, about 80 percent of the Army’s fighting strength will be either on the mend or on duty fighting terror and stabilizing the two countries.

One of the two remaining divisions, the 3rd Infantry, is just back from Iraq and not up to capacity.

Despite all that, Mr. Rumsfeld said, the Army’s rating system for combat readiness may be outdated and inappropriate during wartime. He said he intended to discuss the matter at the Pentagon with Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army’s chief of staff.

“If you are going to use metrics that are fashioned for peacetime and you think that they should apply in a circumstance such as we’re in — which is not peacetime — then I think it at least raises a caution flag,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.


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