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McCain: Iraq plan was 'inadequate'

Senator: Rumsfeld should have overruled generals

Sen. John McCain: "It's not an accident that this was the bloodiest month of the war since combat ended, and we need to adjust."

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John McCain
Donald H. Rumsfeld

(CNN) -- The Pentagon should have known it needed more troops in Iraq and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should have overruled his generals on the matter, Sen. John McCain said Thursday night.

"I was there last August. I came back after talking with many, many people, and I was convinced we didn't have enough boots on the ground," said the senator from Arizona and decorated Vietnam War veteran.

McCain made his case on CNN's "Larry King Live" a few hours after Rumsfeld announced that 20,000 U.S. troops scheduled to come home from Iraq would be held another 90 days. (Full story)

The extended tour of duty will help the United States maintain combat strength amid battles that have killed at least 90 American service members this month.

Critics have accused Rumsfeld of underestimating the number of troops needed to occupy Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion last year.

Rumsfeld acknowledged Thursday that he had not expected U.S. troops to continue facing fierce fighting more than a year after the invasion.

"I certainly would not have estimated that we would have had the number of individuals lost that we have had lost in the last week," Rumsfeld said.

McCain, while voicing enormous admiration for Rumsfeld, said he knew months ago that the U.S. military would "pay a heavy price" for being understaffed, and he called the secretary's planning "inadequate."

"I'm saying it's not an accident that this was the bloodiest month of the war since combat ended, and we need to adjust," he said.

Despite the early military planning mistakes, McCain said, "I think we must succeed in Iraq. We cannot fail. We must do whatever's necessary."

He said one thing that was necessary was a long-range plan that included "significant troop increases for a long period of time."

McCain dismissed claims from Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials that they were providing as many troops as commanders on the ground in Iraq requested.

"The decisions have to be made at the highest level," McCain said, noting how previous presidents made tough decisions despite their generals' opposition.

"Harry Truman overruled Douglas MacArthur. Abraham Lincoln overruled his generals. Franklin Delano Roosevelt overruled his military people because -- as Napoleon said -- war is too important to be left to the generals."

McCain, a prisoner of war in Vietnam for more than five years, acknowledged that "things go wrong in war. Mistakes happen."

"I think we missed an opportunity during the first six months or so of our occupation of Iraq," he said.

He predicted that U.S. forces will be able to retake cities now under insurgent control.

"But putting down the kind of insurgency, which is becoming more and more sophisticated every day, is going to be a real challenge," he said.

He also warned that "any kind of coalition, no matter how loose, between Shiites and Sunnis" would be an enormous problem for the United States.

He said the recent kidnapping of civilian truck driver Thomas Hamill of Mississippi and those of other foreign nationals in Iraq signaled a new tactic by insurgents.

"He, of course, has been in every living room in America, and this is an attempt to erode our national will," McCain said.

He said "the message to these brutal, unspeakable scum" should be that "if you harm him, we will track you down, we will find you, and you will pay. And they have to be absolutely sure of that."

McCain predicted that, after the war, the Pentagon would find filling the military ranks to be difficult because the battles in Iraq are being fought with a force that is nearly 40 percent National Guard members and reservists -- who did not expect this kind of duty.

"They'll serve and they'll fight and they'll do magnificently, but keeping them in is going to be, I think, a very difficult proposition," said McCain, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

He also urged an immediate expansion of the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps.

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