WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) said Tuesday that American military commanders in Iraq will get additional troops if they request more soldiers to fight a growing Shiite uprising.
Commanders are studying ways they might increase troops in Iraq if should violence spread much more widely, a senior officer said Monday.
Generals believe they have enough forces to handle the attacks that have been coming from various quarters, including the recent violence by a Shiite militia group. But they want to know what is available if the situation gets worse, said the officer, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity.
Rumsfeld, at an appearance in Norfolk, Va., said that he and President Bush frequently ask commanders in Iraq if they need more troops. He said commanders on the scene, including Gen. John Abizaid (search), the head of U.S. Central Command (search), are constantly reviewing the situation.
"They are the ones whose advice we follow on these things," Rumsfeld said during the appearance in Norfolk with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
"They will decide what they need, and they will get what they need," Rumsfeld said.
At the moment, about 135,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq — "an unusually high level," Rumsfeld said. American officials had expected to go down to about 115,000 troops when a series of rotations of new troops into and older troops out of the country was complete, Rumsfeld said.
"The commanders are using the excess forces that happen to be in there because of the deployment process," Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld said there is a possibility that NATO will help in Iraq. The alliance has a peacekeeping force of 6,500 in Afghanistan and is expanding its work there.
"I suspect we'll see, would be delighted to see, NATO take a larger role ... in Afghanistan, then Iraq," Rumsfeld said.