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Rumsfeld defends war plan

By Charles Aldinger

Click to enlarge photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has insisted there will be no pause in the war in Iraq, but America's top general says U.S. ground forces are in no rush to take the fight to Baghdad.

Rumsfeld, facing scrutiny over his influence on a war plan that involves far fewer troops than the number used in the 1991 Gulf War, flatly denied reports that he had rejected advice from Pentagon planners for substantially more men and armour.

"That is not true," Rumsfeld told "Fox News Sunday".

"I think you'll find that if you ask anyone who's been involved in the process from the Central Command that every single thing they've requested has in fact happened."

Rumsfeld also on Sunday dismissed reports of a pause in fighting as a result of stretched supply lines and unexpected resistance from Iraqi fighters using guerrilla tactics.

"We have no plans for pauses or cease-fires or anything else," Rumsfeld told ABC's "This Week" programme.

He again declined to forecast when the war would be won but one of his closest outside civilian advisers, Richard Perle, publicly predicted that it would be over inside six weeks.

As the fighting entered its 11th day, some U.S. troops told reporters in Iraq they were digging into their positions, but that the aerial and artillery bombardment on Iraqi positions in and around Baghdad would continue unabated.

Military officials told troops with one front-line unit that the pause could last 35 to 40 days.

"That assertion is way off base," Genera; Richard Myers, head of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN's "Late Edition".

"The closest we came to any pause was two days of very bad sandstorms."

Myers said the campaign was going to plan, with U.S. and British forces already in control of 40 percent of Iraq, but he gave a clear signal that there would be no swift ground assault on the Iraqi capital.

The aim before going in, he said, was to isolate the Iraqi leadership under President Saddam Hussein and cut it off from the rest of the country.

"We're not going to do anything before we're ready," Myers told NBC's "Meet the Press"

"We're certainly not going to do anything to put our young men and women in danger precipitously. We're also not going to put Iraqi civilians in danger as well. We'll be patient. We'll just continue to draw the noose tighter and tighter."

OVER-OPTIMISTIC?

Early American public expectations of a quick and easy war in Iraq, fuelled by comments from Perle and other outside advisers close to Rumsfeld, have faded in the face of U.S. casualties and reports of stretched supply lines.

A CNN/Time poll published on Sunday said 55 percent of Americans felt the government had been too optimistic in what it had told the public. Nearly three out of 10 believed the government used upbeat forecasts to boost support for the war.

President George W. Bush and Rumsfeld have denied misleading the public and warned Americans since the start of the conflict that a tough and possibly long battle lies ahead with elite Republican Guard units dug in around Baghdad.

Perle, seen as a leading architect of Bush's policy on Iraq, suggested last July that support for Saddam would "collapse after the first whiff of gunpowder".

In an interview with Canadian CBC television aired on Sunday, he acknowledged there had been some Iraqi resistance to the invasion but forecast it would still be a quick war.

The 1991 Gulf War to end Iraq's occupation of Kuwait involved 38 days of air strikes followed by a 100-hour ground war. "I don't think it will be longer than that and maybe shorter," Perle said.

Nearly 100,000 U.S. soldiers and Marines and 25,000 British troops are in Iraq. U.S. Defence officials say 100,000 more American troops will be there before the end of April.

Critics charge that the fresh troops -- including the high-tech U.S. 4th Infantry Division and 1st Armoured Division now moving from Texas and Germany -- should already be pressing on Baghdad and protecting stretched supply lines from Kuwait.

Myers and Rumsfeld both said overall commander General Tommy Franks had devised the plan and had been given everything he asked for. "It's a good plan, it's a creative and innovative plan and it is going to work," Rumsfeld said.

Franks told reporters at his forward headquarters in Doha, Qatar, that he had not asked Rumsfeld for more troops before launching the invasion on March 20. He said progress to date was "not only acceptable, in my view it is fairly remarkable."

"Those who would seek to find a wedge between the various people among us, the various leaders who have been party to this, will likely not be able to do so," Franks said.

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