Margaret Talev / McClatchy News & Financial Times – 2006-09-26 16:35:44
Former Officers Criticize Rumsfeld as
Democrats Seek to Put Focus on Iraq
Margaret Talev / McClatchy Newspapers
WASHINGTON (September 25, 2006) — Recently retired military officers who served in Iraq blamed Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Monday for the morass there, said he should resign and urged senators to subpoena active generals to testify about their own similar concerns.
In extraordinary testimony from former senior military men during wartime, retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton said Rumsfeld “continues to fight this war on the cheap” and denounced him as “incompetent.”
Retired Army Major Gen. John Batiste called the United States “arguably less safe now than it was on Sept. 11, 2001.” And retired Marine Col. Thomas X. Hammes compared the shifting of insufficient US troops from one Iraq hot spot to the next to a game of “Whac-A-Mole.”
The three headlined the first of what Senate Democrats say will be a series of oversight hearings they’re holding on the Iraq war. They say Republicans haven’t exercised enough oversight since the March 2003 invasion.
But Democrats also are trying to focus public attention back on Iraq because polls show Republicans are vulnerable on it and congressional elections will be held in six weeks. Republicans prefer to emphasize the broader war on terrorism and national security, issues where polls show they command more support.
Democrats said they’d invited Republicans to attend, but only one, Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina, showed up. His district includes Camp Lejeune Marine base. He’s called for a phased withdrawal of troops.
“I do not want history to show that I did not do my job as a congressman in helping people know the truth,” Jones said.
Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., denounced the two-hour hearing, packed with anti-war activists and reporters, as “simply another partisan media event. And while it may rile up their liberal base, it won’t kill a single terrorist or prevent a single attack.”
Democrats repeatedly cited Sunday’s New York Times disclosure that a six-month old National Intelligence Estimate concluded that the Iraq war has worsened the threat of global terrorism and inflamed jihadi sentiment throughout the Muslim world. That was the consensus of 16 US intelligence agencies. Democrats called for the report to be declassified.
For the most part, the retired officials’ testimony played to the Democrats’ strategy of emphasizing disarray in Iraq and the Bush administration’s responsibility for it.
Batiste, for example, said Rumsfeld had surrounded himself with “like-minded and compliant subordinates,” underestimated the need for ground troops despite arguments to the contrary and was so insistent that there wouldn’t be an insurgency that “he threatened to fire the next person who talked about the need for a postwar plan.”
Eaton said planning for postwar Iraq had been “amateurish at best.”
But Hammes faulted Senate Democrats, too, saying they’d failed to raise important questions before the Iraq invasion because they’d feared being tarred as weak in 2002 elections.
Increasingly, Democrats tend to favor a vague call for an indefinite phased withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, while Republicans decry such calls as “cut-and-run” weakness. In that context, the retired generals’ testimony sounded some cautionary notes.
Eaton said more troops are needed on the ground, not less — another 60,000 troops, he estimated, “conservatively.”
Hammes predicted that the US military will need to stay in Iraq “at least a decade” to stabilize the nation and its region.
And in response to a question from Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, all three said there would be disastrous consequences if US troops withdrew prematurely. Hammes predicted chaos in oil markets and new sanctuaries for terrorists. Said Batiste: “The result will be a civil war of some magnitude, which will turn into a regional mess.”
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7. At stake are 33 Senate seats and all 435 seats in the House of Representatives. Republicans currently run both chambers. Democrats must gain six Senate seats or 15 House seats to regain control.
US Forces in Iraq to Exceed 140,000
Edward Luce / Financial Times
WASHINGTON (September 25 2006) — US officials said on Monday that American troop levels in Iraq were likely to remain well above 140,000 for the next few months, although they would not confirm reports that the 3,500-strong First Armoured Division had been ordered to remain in Iraq beyond its official tour of duty.
Growing sectarian conflict between Iraqi militias in the last few months and the continuation of the mostly Sunni insurgency against US forces has complicated the Bush administration’s goal of “standing down as the Iraqis stand up”. The overall US troop presence in Iraq has risen from 127,000 in July to 142,000 this week.
Last week John Abizaid, the US commander in the region, said that US troop deployment in Iraq was likely to remain at these levels well into 2007 in order to wrest Baghdad and other provinces from the day-to-day control of sectarian death squads and insurgent groups.
In August, General Abizaid, the most senior Arab-American in uniform who has a reputation for being a straight talker, surprised many when he told the Senate armed services committee that Iraq could be heading towards civil war.
This contradicted the Bush administration’s view that the situation was gradually improving. As many as 20,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in 2006 – although estimates vary drastically.
“The Bush administration has complicated its task in Iraq by talking up the rhetoric at home of ‘standing down as they stand up’,” said Tony Cordesmann, a senior analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “But in practice Mr Bush has responded to what the commanders are requesting on the ground, which is more troops and, to a lesser extent, more equipment.”
However, the increase in deployment comes amid growing complaints from senior generals about the overstretch of US military units, some of which have served more than one tour of duty in Iraq and also in Afghanistan, where US troop levels have also risen this year from 15,800 to 20,000 owing to the resurgence of Taliban forces.
There are also concerns about pressure to send regular military and National Guard units back to Iraq within the one-year pause that is customary. In addition, the army and National Guard have both recently relaxed recruiting standards by raising the maximum age and improving the one-off cash payment as an incentive for new recruits.
Worries about the Bush administration’s handling of the increasingly unpopular war in Iraq intensified at the weekend when the New York Times and Washington Post leaked contents of a classified US National Intelligence estimate from April that said America’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 had exacerbated the threat from Islamist terrorist groups.
The report, which was submitted to Mr Bush in April, also said that the overall threat from Islamist terror groups had grown since the attacks of September 11 2001.
The disclosure comes just six weeks before critical mid-term elections, where Mr Bush’s Republicans face the threat of losing control of the House of Representatives. The opposition Democrats have fielded a number of Iraq war veterans in order to bolster their credibility as patriotic critics of the war in Iraq.
Mr Bush has ignored continuing calls by retired US generals – most recently on Monday – to sack Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of defence, over his handling of the war in Iraq.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Army Chief Tells Bush:
There’s Not Enough Money for Iraq War
‘Bungling’ Rumsfeld Must Go, Say Retired Officers
Suzanne Goldenberg & Richard Norton-Taylor / The Guardian
WASHINGTON (September 26, 2006) — George Bush suffered a serious rebuke of his wartime leadership yesterday when his army chief said he did not have enough money to fight the war in Iraq.
Six weeks before midterm elections in which the war is a crucial issue, the protest from the army head, General Peter Schoomaker, exposes concerns within the US military about the strain of the war on Iraq, and growing tensions between uniformed personnel and the Pentagon chief, Donald Rumsfeld.
Three retired senior military officers yesterday accused Mr Rumsfeld of bungling the war on Iraq, and said the Pentagon was “incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically”. Major General Paul Eaton, a retired officer who was in charge of training Iraq troops, said: “Mr Rumsfeld and his immediate team must be replaced or we will see two more years of extraordinarily bad decision-making.”
The rare criticism from the three officers, all veterans of the Iraq war, is an embarrassment to Mr Bush at a time when his party had hoped to campaign on its strong leadership in the “war on terror”.
The officers echoed the findings of the National Intelligence Estimate at the weekend, which said the Iraq war had fuelled Islamist extremism around the world. They also accused the Pentagon of putting soldiers’ lives at risk by failing to provide the best equipment available. “Why are we asking our soldiers and marines to use the same armour we found was insufficient in 2003?” asked Thomas Hammes, a retired Marine Corps colonel.
The criticism comes amid an unprecedented show of defiance from the army chief, Gen Schoomaker. The general refused to submit a budget plan for 2008 to Mr Rumsfeld, arguing the military could not continue operations in Iraq and its other missions without additional funds, the Los Angeles Times reported yesterday. The seriousness of the protest was underlined by Gen Schoomaker’s reputation as an ally of the Pentagon chief. The general came out of retirement at Mr Rumsfeld’s request to take up the post.
“It’s quite a debacle,” said Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute thinktank. “Virtually everyone in the army feels as though their needs have been shortchanged.”
Gen Schoomaker’s defiance gives a voice to growing concern within the military about the costs of America’s wars, and the long-term strain of carrying out operations around the world.
For the past three years, the $400bn (£210bn) cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been funded by emergency spending bills passed by Congress. But Gen Schoomaker and others say the Iraq war has also put a severe strain on regular budgets.
That puts the generals at odds with Mr Rumsfeld’s strategic vision of a more nimble, hi-tech military. In addition, Congress and the White House have cut a number of army spending requests over the past months. “There is no sense in us submitting a budget that we can’t execute, a broken budget,” he told a Washington audience.
As the war in Iraq continues with no sign of a reduction in US forces, military officials have repeatedly complained about the strain on personnel, and say they fear they may be forced to rely more heavily on the National Guard and reservists to meet the demands of overseas deployments.
General John Abizaid, America’s senior commander in the Middle East, said last week there was little chance of any drawing down of the 140,000 forces in Iraq before next spring.
The burden of that commitment was underlined yesterday when the army extended the combat tours of about 4,000 soldiers serving in the Ramadi area.
In Basra yesterday, British troops killed a prominent al-Qaida figure who was hiding in Iraq after escaping from US custody in Afghanistan last year, the ministry of defence said. Omar Faruq was shot dead while resisting arrest during a pre-dawn raid by 250 soldiers after a long-planned intelligence-led operation. A British military spokesman described Faruq as a “very, very significant man”.
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