Despite warnings from top US army generals, Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld says the army is not over “stretched” and that no further troops are needed in either country.

He sharply questioned whether the US army needs larger deployments at a press conference on Tuesday.

With nearly 150,000 US troops occupying Iraq for the foreseeable future and 10,000 more in Afghanistan, questions have been raised about US military readiness if faced with a war in North Korea or elsewhere.

But Rumsfeld said the Joint Staff is currently "re-analysing" US war plans to determine whether existing US forces are sufficient to do what they are now doing and still be able to meet other potential contingencies.

He said the studies are finding that "mass is interesting but not necessarily determinative," given the escalation of resistance attacks on US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"And they are looking at other ways of achieving the kinds of effects that are desired in those contingency plans, and we find that often it requires fewer people than the existing information," he said.

"We're short infantry, we're short (specialists), we're short military police."

-General John Keane

Rumsfeld also said that more can be done to ease the stress on US forces without increasing their size.

Rumsfeld cited several possible measures:

  • Filling more jobs now held by military personnel with civilians
  • Finding more efficient ways to deploy and re-deploy forces 
  • Bringing in more Iraqi police and troops 
  • Increase the size of the international contingent 
  • Reducing the US military presence in places like Bosnia, Kosovo and the Sinai.

"At the moment I don't believe that anyone that I've talked to has evidence that argues that we have done those kinds of things sufficiently effectively that one could make a current case for increasing end-strength," he said.

Touchy subject

But the issue has proven to be a major point of disagreement in Rumsfeld's relations with former army chief of staff, retired General Eric Shinseki.

Shinseki argued that the army needed to add 20,000 to 40,000 troops to its ranks to meet the increased requirements imposed by the invasion of Iraq.

There is disagreement whether
more US troops are needed in Iraq

Rumsfeld was also challenged by Shinseki before the war in Iraq when Shinseki said that several hundred thousand troops would be needed for an extended period of time after the war to occupy the country.

There was no reprieve from the issue when General Pete Schoomaker, Rumsfeld's choice to replace Shinseki, revived the debate late last month.

At a hearing to confirm his appointment, he told senators that the force needed to be rebalanced.

"But I'm going to take a little risk here and I'm going to tell you that, intuitively, I think we need more people. I mean, it's just that simple," Schoomaker said.

Irritated by the quote, Rumsfeld suggested the general had been misquoted and insisted that there was not much difference in their views.

General John Keane, the army's deputy chief of staff, told defence reporters at a breakfast Tuesday that before making a case for more troops the army had to free up more troops from jobs that could be performed by civilians.

But he said the army was "obviously stretched" by the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and he had "no doubt" more troops were needed.

"We're short infantry, we're short chem/bios (specialists), we're short military police," he said. "Overall, truly we're stressed, and we know we're short certain skill sets we've got to fix."