SAN ANTONIO – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld insisted Monday that the U.S. military has enough troops to successfully complete all its missions, including the war in Iraq.
Rumsfeld told thousands of veterans attending the 104th Veterans of Foreign Wars (search) meeting that U.S. military officials don't want more American forces. But if that should change, he said he wouldn't hesitate to recommend to President Bush that the U.S. force level be raised.
Addressing critics who suggest the war may cost much more than the administration originally acknowledged, Rumsfeld said the United States can afford whatever final troop strength is necessary for national security.
"The United States can afford whatever military force level is necessary and appropriate for our national security," Rumsfeld said, adding that Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command has not indicated a need for more troops. "If [Abizaid] believes additional troops are needed, he will have additional troops, let there be no doubt about it."
Still, he noted that any increase in forces now would require cuts in other parts of the federal budget.
Rumsfeld said one way to avoid that is for Congress to approve his request for flexibility. He wants civilians to perform some nonmilitary jobs now being performed by those in uniform. The secretary said that would free up some 20,000 to 25,000 troops for use in worldwide missions.
Earlier at the session Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) charged that the Bush administration has failed U.S. troops in Iraq while neglecting soldiers who served in past wars.
Kerry, a veteran of the Vietnam War, said as president he would get more allies involved in Iraq, improve pay for U.S. soldiers and ensure veterans the benefits they were long ago promised.
On Sunday, top U.S. officials cited better intelligence and increased cooperation with Iraqis as keys to countering the rising number of terrorist attacks that have hampered rebuilding efforts.
L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian chief in Iraq, and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (search), welcomed more assistance from other countries to help stabilize the situation. But they stopped short Sunday of relenting to foreign critics calling for some military control to be ceded to the United Nations.
Bremer told "Fox News Sunday" it was "hard for me to see how the U.N. itself can play a further military role because the U.N., in my experience, normally insists on commanding its own troops."
At least some U.N. control is a condition that France, India and other nations have insisted on before sending troops. Bremer said all military forces should remain under command of the U.S.-led coalition, although "the U.N. clearly has a vital role to play in the reconstruction of Iraq."
Questions about U.S. troop strength in Iraq have heightened since the truck bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad last week that killed the United Nations' top envoy and at least 23 others.
Rumsfeld, who called the quick toppling of Saddam's regime "a breathtaking accomplishment," played down the continuing resistance in Iraq. He labeled the guerrilla fighters "dead-enders," and compared them to bands of Nazis who fought on after World War II had ended.
"The coalition forces can deal with the terrorists now in Iraq, instead of having to deal with those terrorists elsewhere, including the United States," Rumsfeld said.
About 150,000 American troops are in Iraq, along with 20,000 soldiers from Britain and other coalition countries. Roughly 50,000 Iraqis are working with the United States on security matters.
On Monday, American forces captured seven men — two of them Saddam Hussein loyalists and five believed responsible for attacks on U.S. troops — during raids in the deposed leader's hometown, the military reported.
American troops operating near Hamurrabi, 60 miles south of Baghdad, also reported finding a huge arms cache that included 400 cases of anti-aircraft shells and 200 rocket-propelled grenade rounds, the U.S. military reported.
No U.S. troops were hurt in the raids that resulted in the capture of seven men in Tikrit, 120 miles north of Baghdad, according to the 4th Infantry Division 1st Battalion 22nd Regiment, which conducted the searches.
The military said the captured men and some still being sought were suspected of organizing regional cells of the Fedayeen Saddam (search), the militia loyal to Saddam and believed spearheading the guerrilla war against U.S. occupation forces. The military gave no identities.