| Donald Rumsfeld
Washington, Dec. 23 (Reuters): Defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, responding to mounting criticism even from fellow Republicans, said yesterday he was 'truly saddened' anyone could think he was not labouring to protect US combat troops.
An uncharacteristically subdued Rumsfeld addressed his critics with an unprompted statement at the start of a Pentagon briefing, and said he stayed awake a night worrying about America's fighting men and women.
Asked whether the recent criticism had affected his ability to do his job, Rumsfeld said: 'You get up in the morning and you think about what our troops are doing. And I must say, if they can do what they're doing, I can do what I'm doing.'
Critics pounced on Rumsfeld in recent weeks after he told a soldier who asked about a lack of armoured vehicles for troops in Iraq that 'you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want,' and admitted his letters to families of troops killed in Iraq had been signed by a machine.
Some leading Senate Republicans, including John McCain of Arizona, former Senate majority leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Susan Collins of Maine, have questioned Rumsfeld's performance.
President George W. Bush, who last month asked Rumsfeld to continue serving in his second term, on Monday gave him a vote of confidence. Bush said Rumsfeld had a 'rough and gruff' demeanour, but was a 'caring fellow' with a good heart.
More than 1,300 US troops have been killed in Iraq, including 13 soldiers who died in an apparent suicide bombing inside a dining hall in a base near Mosul on Tuesday.
'I am truly saddened by the thought that anyone could have the impression that I, or others here (at the Pentagon), are doing anything other than working urgently to see that the lives of the fighting men and women are protected and are cared for in every way humanly possible,' Rumsfeld, minus his trademark swagger, said.
'When I meet with the wounded, with their families, or with the families of those who have been lost, their grief is something I feel to my core,' Rumsfeld added.
Rumsfeld also acknowledged the toughness of an insurgency that arose after Saddam's ouster. 'The enemy is effective,' Rumsfeld said.