Resistance in Iraq surprises Rumsfeld

Pentagon extends tours of 20,000 U.S. troops

April 16, 2004|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld conceded yesterday that he has been surprised by the intensity of attacks on U.S. forces more than a year after the invasion of Iraq and by the recent surge in U.S. military deaths.

The latest casualties have swelled the number of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq to 88 during April, the deadliest month so far for Americans.

"If you had said to me a year ago, `Describe the situation you'll be in today, one year later,' I don't know many people would have described it - I would not have described it - the way it happens to be today," Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon. "And it's a tough road. And it's a bumpy road. And I'll be honest, it's an uncertain road."

For the defense secretary, it was a rare admission that the persistence of the insurgency has defied expectations. Since the war began, at least 687 U.S. troops have been killed - 547 since May 1, when President Bush declared major combat over and 221 since Saddam Hussein was captured Dec. 13.

Still, a top officer brushed aside any notion that the Pentagon has mishandled the task of securing Iraq during the occupation by U.S.-led forces.

"No," said the officer, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who appeared with Rumsfeld. "I think what you have happening today is terrorists who ... are scared stiff that, in fact, the promise has been made to the Iraqi people that they have the opportunity to have representative democratic government, to live in freedom."

Pace said the military must strike a balance in determining how many soldiers to deploy - enough to do the job, but not so many as to alienate Iraqis who dislike having foreign troops on their territory.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, and retired Army Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey have faulted the Bush administration for not sending more troops to quell the violence during both the major combat that followed the U.S. invasion and now.

Pace rebuffed those views.

"The civilian leadership has said to the military personnel, `How many do you need? Tell us what you need. You will get it,'" Pace said. "The military folks, like me, have done our analysis of what we need on the battlefield ... and we have been given those numbers."

Rumsfeld announced yesterday that about 20,000 U.S. troops would remain in Iraq for three to four more months to confront insurgents in the Sunni Triangle, west of Baghdad, as well as the rising attacks from Shiite Muslim militias.

"We regret having to extend those individuals," Rumsfeld said. "But the country is at war. And we need to do what is necessary to succeed."

That means the U.S. force will remain at about 135,000 troops rather than fall to 110,000, as envisioned, by the end of May.

If more troops are needed past that three- or four-month extension, Rumsfeld said, those whose deployments are being extended would be replaced by other U.S. soldiers. Pentagon officials said those forces might include Marines from the 3rd Marine Division on Okinawa and the Army's 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, Stryker Brigade Combat Team.

Most of the soldiers with extended deployments are from the 1st Armored Division, based in Germany, and the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment from Fort Polk, La., who were scheduled to leave in coming weeks. Army officers said a few of the 1st Armored Division soldiers had returned to Germany and were called back last week.

About 4,300 of the soldiers who will remain longer are from National Guard and Reserve units, though none are from Maryland. Most of the reservists are in transportation, military police and engineering units, such as the 203rd Engineer Battalion from Joplin, Mo. That means Sgt. Richard Clanton, 44, a father of four, won't be home in May as planned.

"It's hard on everybody - we want to be with our husbands," his wife, Carolyn, said in a phone interview, noting that their youngest child, Rachel, is nearly a year old. "The last time he saw her, she was 12 days old."

The National Guard Bureau in Washington is providing family support counselors and chaplains to deal with the expected calls and concerns, officials said.

"This extension will offer great challenges to each of us," Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said in a statement.

Asked yesterday about the longer deployments, Rumsfeld said the military needs the flexibility to deploy its troops as needed. "Come on, people are fungible," he said. "You can have them here or there."

That remark drew a caustic response from Sen. John Kerry, Bush's likely Democratic opponent in November.

"Secretary Rumsfeld's comment that `people are fungible' is further indication of this administration's continuing disregard for the men and women who put their lives on the line every day in Iraq," Kerry said. "Troops are not chess pieces to be moved on a board. They are real people with families and loved ones who depend on them."

Killed in Iraq

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