General: U.S. Air Force to Be in Iraq for 'Long Time'

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his top military leader on Tuesday issued their strongest rebuttal to date of the recent comments by retired generals criticizing the Iraq war planning and calling on Rumsfeld to resign.

In particular, Rumsfeld said he doesn't recall retired Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold raising any objections to the war planning when he was working in the Pentagon for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"He never raised an issue publicly or privately when he was here that I know of," said Rumsfeld. "An awful lot of people around were not shy about giving their views. ... But in terms of why he would come up with this now, I just can't speak to that."

Rumsfeld said the critiques don't affect his ability to do his job.

Newbold, in an essay in Time magazine, said he was outspoken in his criticism before the war, saying the "zealots' rationale for war made no sense."

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said military leaders, during dozens of prewar meetings, laid out a number of questions and concerns. In the end, he said, "I was very comfortable with the prewar planning. I am comfortable with the way it was executed. And I would go back, given the same facts and figures, and reach the same conclusion."

Earlier Tuesday, Gen. T. Michael Moseley, Air Force chief of staff, said the Air Force may remain in Iraq for a "long time," most likely in a capacity similar to its lengthy patrols of the no-fly zone after the first Gulf War.

Moseley said that even as ground forces begin to come out of Iraq, the Air Force will be needed to carry troops and supplies, to perform surveillance and reconnaissance, and to strike targets. He said the Air Force will remain in Iraq while that country works to establish its own air defenses.

"I think the Air Force will be there like we were for the no-fly zone for a long time," Moseley told defense reporters. "I don't know yet how many bases. We're looking at reducing the number of bases. We have 18 we are flying airplanes off of right now. I see that number coming down. But I don't see the air and space component leaving soon."

As the fourth year of the Iraq war begins, close to 21,000 Air Force personnel are in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the bulk in Iraq.

Overall there are about 132,000 U.S. forces in Iraq. Military officials have expressed hope they can reduce the number below 100,000 by year's end.

Moseley said the Iraqi Air Force has three C-130 transport planes and a variety of other smaller aircraft.

In other remarks, Moseley said it is not appropriate to comment on any specific plans for military action against Iran. Asked whether the U.S. Air Force has the ability to destroy nuclear targets buried deep in the ground there, he said it would depend on how deep the structure is and how it is built.

The military, he said, has a variety of munitions that can penetrate certain levels of concrete, steel and sand.