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General: Appeals for More Troops Were Denied

Times Staff Writer

Adding to criticism of the Bush administration’s prosecution of the war in Iraq, a retired senior general who commanded an infantry division in the conflict said Monday that requests by commanders for more soldiers were repeatedly turned down.

“Many of us routinely asked for more troops,” retired Maj. Gen. John R.S. Batiste said, contradicting statements by President Bush and his senior aides that the administration had given the military all the resources it had asked for.

“There simply aren’t enough troops there to accomplish the task,” said Batiste, who has previously called for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to resign. “It’s a shell game we’re playing in Iraq, and we’ve been doing it since day one. And we’re still doing it today.”

The general’s remarks, echoed by two other retired soldiers Monday, came at a special hearing called by Democratic senators in what they said was a new initiative to increase oversight of the war effort.

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Senior Republican lawmakers dismissed the hearing as a stunt orchestrated with November elections in mind.

A Pentagon spokesman declined to address Batiste’s comments directly, instead pointing to past public statements by Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that Rumsfeld had regularly consulted the senior military leadership on troop levels.

In April, when retired generals including Batiste called for Rumsfeld to resign, Pace said: “We had then [in Iraq invasion planning] and have now every opportunity to speak our minds, and if we do not, shame on us, because the opportunity is there.”

Batiste’s comments added fuel to questions about how the administration pursued its goals in Iraq and about the war’s consequences.

Several newspapers, including The Times, reported Sunday that the nation’s intelligence agencies had concluded that the Iraq war intensified the threat of global terrorism.

Administration officials responded that the articles on the war assessment contained in the classified National Intelligence Estimate did not represent the full report.

On Monday, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow continued to discount the news reports. “One thing that the reports do not say is that war in Iraq has made terrorism worse,” Snow said.

The senior Republican and Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee called Monday for the document to be declassified, a request the administration is resisting.

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Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement that the disclosure of the assessment and the testimony at Democrats’ hearing dealt “a fatal blow to any claim that staying the current course is an acceptable strategy for success in Iraq.”

Batiste, in his testimony, renewed his April call for Rumsfeld to resign. Joining him were retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton and retired Marine Col. Thomas X. Hammes.

All three of them Iraq veterans, they lambasted what they called the Defense secretary’s reluctance to commit more troops and other resources to the war.

“The whole thing is absolutely disingenuous,” Batiste said of the administration’s position that the number of soldiers deployed was sufficient to secure Iraq. “We started with a strategy and a plan that was under-resourced in soldiers and Marines and airmen and sailors by a factor of three.”

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A career Army officer -- and military aide to then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, an architect of the Iraq war -- Batiste commanded the 1st Infantry Division from 2002 until his retirement in 2005. Batiste commanded about 22,000 soldiers sent to north-central Iraq from February 2004 to February 2005.

Eaton, who oversaw efforts to train and equip Iraqi security forces in 2003 and 2004, also said he was not given enough U.S. troops to do the job.

About 145,000 American troops are serving in Iraq.

In the run-up to the March 2003 invasion, then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki drew harsh criticism from administration officials for predicting that “hundreds of thousands” of U.S. troops might be needed to keep the peace in a postwar Iraq.

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Batiste and Eaton said Monday that a lack of troops was helping fuel the anti-U.S. insurgency. And Batiste went a step further, suggesting that insufficient troop levels contributed to the abuse of Iraqis by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison and other detention facilities.

As the violence in Iraq has continued, the administration has faced increasing criticism that it went to war with an inadequate force and failed to anticipate the problems of rebuilding.

The Pentagon has steadfastly defended its war planning and deployments.

Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of all U.S. troops in the Middle East, has argued that higher troop levels would be counterproductive because they would anger local communities and undercut Iraqi forces’ incentive for taking over security responsibilities.

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For Democrats -- often divided over the war and on the defensive because of White House and Republican congressional leaders’ charges that the Democrats want to “cut and run” -- Monday’s hearing was an attempt to take the offensive.

“I hope this here will be a wake-up call to our Republican colleagues in the House and Senate to start having hearings, to start doing their congressional responsibility,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Still, the party faces a challenge in formulating an alternative approach.

Responding to questions by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Batiste, Eaton and Hammes strongly warned against an early withdrawal of American forces from Iraq -- a position that several leading Democrats in Congress have advocated.

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Clinton has not supported early withdrawal but has said that the American troop commitment should not be open-ended.

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noam.levey@latimes.com

Times staff writer Peter Spiegel contributed to this report.

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