Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld turned down a request in May 2004 by L. Paul Bremer III, the U.S. diplomat governing Iraq at the time, for hundreds of thousands more American troops during a particularly violent period in the country, the Pentagon acknowledged Monday.
Bremer, who served as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority for 13 months after Saddam Hussein was toppled, said in an NBC interview that he wrote a memo in May 2004 to Rumsfeld suggesting that about 500,000 U.S. troops were needed, more than three times the 142,000 in Iraq at the time.
Congressional critics from both parties argued at the time that the Pentagon had deployed too few troops to maintain order, restore essential services and fight an insurgency that was escalating.
The month before Bremer's memo was the deadliest of the war for U.S. forces.
Lawrence Di Rita, chief Pentagon spokesman, told reporters that Rumsfeld had asked Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and top commanders in Iraq to evaluate Bremer's recommendation and others'.
"There was a specific conclusion that the military commanders reaffirmed their belief that the level that they had there was the proper level," Di Rita said. "The secretary relied on the judgment of the military commanders.
"He [Bremer] had views on a variety of things over time that he shared. He, I think, would be the first to acknowledge he wasn't responsible for military force levels. He, many times, demurred [in media interviews] when asked what the proper levels of forces were during the course of his tenure there, properly," Di Rita added.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: "The president believes that the decisions about our troop levels ought to be based on the recommendations of our military commanders who are on the ground in Iraq. They're the ones who are in the best position to say what they need to complete the mission."
Bremer is publicizing a book on his experiences in Iraq.