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Rumsfeld takes issue with Obama's remark about Afghan troops

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld disagrees with President Obama's statement that the Bush administration denied commanders' requests for more troops.

December 03, 2009|By Mark Silva
  • Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says that while he served under President George W. Bush, he was unaware of any requests from U.S. commanders for more troops in Afghanistan.
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says that while he served… (MATTHEW CAVANAUGH / EPA )

Reporting from Washington — Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld took exception Wednesday to President Obama's assertion that the Bush administration rebuffed commanders' repeated requests for more troops in Afghanistan.

Rumsfeld, who oversaw the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, said he was unaware of "a single request of that nature between 2001 and 2006," while he served under President George W. Bush.

"Such a bald misstatement, at least as it pertains to the period I served as secretary of Defense, deserves a response," Rumsfeld said in a written statement.

In his nationally televised address Tuesday night, Obama maintained that "commanders in Afghanistan repeatedly asked for support to deal with the reemergence of the Taliban, but these reinforcements did not arrive."

Obama's remark probably referred to requests that were made after Rumsfeld left the Defense Department and was replaced by Robert M. Gates.

Army Gen. David D. McKiernan, who was named to head Afghan efforts in mid-2008, concluded later that year that he didn't have enough troops to fight the Taliban.

"There was a saying when I got there: If you're in Iraq and you need something, you ask for it," McKiernan said in an interview after being fired this year. "If you're in Afghanistan and you need it, you figure out how to do without it."

In late summer 2008, he requested 30,000 more troops from the Bush administration, which instead tried to persuade NATO allies to send more soldiers to Afghanistan.

Gates asked for more surveillance drones and armored vehicles to be sent to Afghanistan, but the soldiers McKiernan wanted never arrived.

As Obama took office, the United States had 32,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. The next deployment of 30,000 troops will bring the total to about 100,000 by next summer.

Asked about Rumsfeld's assertion, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs responded, "You go to war with the secretary of Defense that you have" -- a clear reference to Rumsfeld's famous remark that "you go to war with the Army you have."

mdsilva@latimes.com

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