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Top general defends pre-war planning for Iraq

WASHINGTON—The Pentagon's top military officer on Tuesday defended the pre-war planning for Iraq, saying he and other top generals "had every opportunity" to voice dissent if they disagreed with Bush administration officials over the invasion plan.

Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he and other senior military officials had discussed plans for invading Iraq "50 or 60 times" with Gen. Tommy Franks, who was then the top U.S. general for the Middle East. Pace was vice chairman of the joint chiefs at the time.

"Not once was Tom told, `No, don't do that. No, don't do this. No, you can't have that,''' Pace said during a Pentagon news briefing.

He was responding in part to an essay last weekend in Time magazine by retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, who accused top military leaders of failing to stand up to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials over war planning. Newbold said intelligence used to justify the war was flawed and that the invasion plan didn't include enough troops to effectively control the country after Saddam Hussein was toppled.

Newbold served as the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff until the summer of 2002, when he retired partly out of opposition to invading Iraq. He's the latest in a string of retired generals who have spoken out in recent weeks over the Bush administration's handling of the war and who have called for Rumsfeld to be replaced.

He accused Rumsfeld of squelching dissent among the generals, noting that the defense secretary had sidelined former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki after Shinseki told Congress that several hundred thousand troops would be needed to stabilize Iraq after the invasion. Newbold also accused Rumsfeld of "arrogant micro-management that at times crippled the military's effectiveness."

Pace, however, said Tuesday that he and other top brass had "every opportunity to speak our minds" if they questioned the invasion plan.

"The plan that was executed was developed by military officers, presented by military officers, questioned by civilians as they should, revamped by military officers and blessed by the senior leadership, " he said.

Pace said he thought the invasion plan was "a solid plan and that the resources that (Franks) needed were going to be allocated."

U.S. forces numbered around 150,000 for the invasion and have fluctuated from around 110,000 to 160,000 in the three years since. Pace said he was "very comfortable" with prewar planning and the way the invasion was executed.

"I would go back, given the same facts and figures, and reach the same conclusion," he said.

With so many calls for his ouster, Rumsfeld was asked whether he thought that his continued presence at the Pentagon was hurting the war effort. He said he wasn't bothered by the criticism and that it didn't affect his ability to do his job.

"There's nothing wrong with people having opinions," he said. "And I think one ought to expect that. When you're involved in something that's controversial, as certainly this war is, one ought to expect that."


(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Peter Pace