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Bush retains faith in Rumsfeld

Washington, April 1 (Reuters) : US President George W. Bush has complete faith in Donald Rumsfeld, a senior US official said today, dismissing criticism of the defence secretary’s handling of the Iraq war as second-guessing by “1,000 colonels” at the Pentagon.

Rumsfeld has been accused of repeatedly rejecting advice from Pentagon planners that substantially more troops and armour would be needed to fight the war. He has flatly denied overruling military war planners on strategy. Questions were raised anew by a report in The New York Times today quoting unidentified army commanders on the Iraqi battlefield criticising decisions to limit initial deployments to the Gulf. “He wanted to fight this war on the cheap,” one colonel was quoted as telling the newspaper. “He got what he wanted.”

Some retired officers are voicing in public an opinion harboured in private by some current military officers — that Rumsfeld’s bold vision of a sleeker, high-tech military prompted him to take unnecessary risks in the size and nature of the force sent to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

“The President has tremendous faith in secretary Rumsfeld and his generals, secretary Rumsfeld’s leadership, his decisions and it’s borne out by what the President views as a successful military campaign,” the senior official said.

“The Pentagon’s a big building. There are 1,000 colonels.”

US-led forces are now within 78 km of Baghdad, but critics contend they are getting bogged down on the way to the Iraqi capital in the face of unexpected resistance. In addition, few Iraqis have hailed the invaders as liberators as some of Bush’s hawkish aides had predicted. The President and his top White House aides have sought to assure Americans that the war is going on schedule.

But Lt. Gen. William Wallace, commander of the US army’s V Corps, said last week unanticipated Iraqi guerrilla tactics and overstretched supply lines pointed to a longer conflict than predicted. A British defence analyst also warned that invading troops lacked the “overwhelming force” needed to take the battle to Saddam’s elite Republican Guards in the streets of Baghdad. Some 300,000 US and British troops are now in the Gulf region. About 100,000 of those are inside Iraq. In the 1991 Gulf war, 500,000 troops were sent to the area. Bush, who has been described as frustrated by questions about how long the war might last, said yesterday that US-led forces had made significant progress in “this short time.”

He will give another progress report in the war on Thursday during a visit to the largest US Marine Corps base in the world — Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. But the official said the President, who has no public events on his schedule today, was not going to be the war’s “play-by-play commentator.”

With the military effort to topple the Iraqi government approaching the two-week mark, there was still no consensus in the Bush administration on the fate of Saddam after an initial air strike on a Baghdad compound where the Iraqi leader was believed to be. Saddam has been seen several times on Iraqi television in taped appearances. “There’s lack of concrete information on whether he’s dead or alive,” the official said. “We just don’t know.”

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