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September 23, 2006

Defending Strategy In Iraq

SIR – You assert that difficulties in Iraq can be explained by errors such as “disbanding Iraq's army [and] committing too few American troops”, which you claim are the fault of Donald Rumsfeld, America's secretary of defence (“Five years on”, September 2nd). A few facts are in order. Although officially disbanded in May 2003 by coalition officials in Iraq, the Iraqi military had already largely disbanded itself by then. As the commander of the top division in the Iraqi Republican Guard explained: “I started the war with 13,000 soldiers. By the time we had orders to pull back to Baghdad, I had less than 2,000; by the time we were in position in Baghdad, I had less than 1,000. Every day the desertions increased.”

It is also incorrect to suggest that Mr Rumsfeld opposed sending more troops to Iraq. The secretary has regularly asked General John Abizaid, who took command of the mission in the summer of 2003, if he had all the necessary resources, and, if not, what more was required to carry out a successful campaign. Commanders in the field have consistently said that they need more intelligence and Iraqi forces, not American troops. General Tommy Franks, General Abizaid's predecessor, told the Senate in July 2003, when he was still in command in Iraq, that: “There has been [the] suggestion that perhaps there should be more troops. And in fact, I can tell you...that if more troops are necessary, this secretary's going to say yes.” Reliance on the counsel and advice of experts continues today.

Dorrance Smith, Assistant secretary of defence for public affairs, Department of Defence, Washington, DC

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