Rumsfeld denies overruling commanders

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday flatly denied that he had overruled US military planners on the war strategy in Iraq.

“No, indeed, it’s not true,” Rumsfeld said in a television interview when asked about reports that he and close civilian advisers had micro-managed the advance plan, overruling calls from military officials for more US assault troops and armor before beginning the ground war against Iraq.

In an article for the New Yorker Magazine's April 7 edition, which goes on sale on today, the weekly said Rumsfeld insisted at least six times in the run-up to the conflict that the proposed number of ground troops be sharply reduced and got his way.

“He thought he knew better. He was the decision-maker at every turn,” the article quoted an unidentified senior Pentagon planner as saying.

It also said Rumsfeld had overruled advice from war commander General Tommy Franks to delay the invasion until troops denied access through Turkey could be brought in by another route and miscalculated the level of Iraqi resistance.

“They’ve got no resources. He was so focused on proving his point -- that the Iraqis were going to fall apart,” the article, by veteran journalist Seymour Hersh, cited an unnamed former high-level intelligence official as saying.

Rumsfeld is known to have a difficult relationship with the Army’s upper echelons while he commands strong loyalty from US special operations forces, a key component in the war.

He has insisted the invasion has made good progress since it was launched 10 days ago, with some ground troops 50 miles from the capital, despite unexpected guerrilla-style attacks on long supply lines from Kuwait.

Hersh, however, quoted the former intelligence official as saying the war was now a stalemate.

Much of the supply of Tomahawk cruise missiles has been expended, aircraft carriers were going to run out of precision guided bombs and there were serious maintenance problems with tanks, armoured vehicles and other equipment, the article said.

“The only hope is that they can hold out until reinforcements arrive,” the former official said.

The article quoted the senior planner as saying Rumsfeld had wanted to “do the war on the cheap” and believed that precision bombing would bring victory.

Some 125,000 U S and British troops are now in Iraq. US officials said they planned to bring in another 120,000 US soldiers.

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