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Ex-Army chief: U.S. misread Iraq stay

Rumsfeld can't face need for more troops, White says

From Jamie McIntyre
CNN Washington Bureau

U.S. soldiers guard an Iraqi man accused of stealing cars Tuesday in Baghdad, Iraq.

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Former U.S. Army secretary says Pentagon leaders underestimated the number of troops needed to occupy Iraq. CNN's Jamie McIntyre reports.
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U.S. forces seek to stabilize a part of western Iraq suspected of sheltering Saddam Hussein loyalists.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Pentagon's civilian leadership underestimated the number of troops needed to occupy Iraq after ousting Saddam Hussein, former Army Secretary Thomas White said Tuesday.

"I just think we mis-estimated it, and I think the sooner we come to that realization and set ourselves up for the long term, the better off we will be," White told CNN in a telephone interview.

About 150,000 U.S. troops are trying to restore order and basic services in Iraq, nearly two months after Saddam's government collapsed amid a U.S.-led invasion.

Gen. Eric Shinseki, the outgoing Army chief of staff, told Congress in February that "something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers" would be needed to govern Iraq after a war.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld discounted that estimate within days.

"Any idea that it's several hundred thousand over any sustained period is simply not the case," he said.

White was forced to resign in April after repeated clashes with Rumsfeld, including disputes over Rumsfeld's decision to cancel one of the Army's pet projects, the $11 billion Crusader artillery system, and efforts to modernize the service.

The Pentagon had originally projected that the occupation force would have been cut in half by this point.

Instead, U.S. commanders say it is hard to impose order in Iraq with just 150,000 troops, and the return home of the 3rd Infantry Division -- one of the units that led the assault on Baghdad -- has been delayed indefinitely.

White said Rumsfeld was wrong and that his rebuke of Shinseki was unfair.

"The facts bear out that [Shinseki] was pretty accurate in estimate," he said.

Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, were leading advocates of the U.S. attack on Iraq. In congressional testimony last month, Wolfowitz said Shinseki's estimate was still overstated.

"I would say 'several hundred thousand' is 300,000 or more, and I don't think we're close to that," he said.

White said Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld can't come to grips with the idea that more troops are needed.

"Obviously the size of force [was] based upon a whole series of assumptions, and I just think we got the assumptions wrong," White said.

White wouldn't say whether he thinks more U.S. troops should be sent to Iraq, but he suggested it was logical that more troops would be needed to keep peace than to win war -- the opposite of what Pentagon officials said before the conflict.

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