Three retired U.S. military officers have sharply criticized Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's handling of the war in Iraq and called for his resignation. The officers made their comments at a public forum at the U.S. Congress.
They accused Defense Secretary Rumsfeld of mishandling the war by not deploying enough troops for the mission, not supplying soldiers with the best equipment and not being completely forthcoming with the public about the situation in Iraq.
The three men, all of whom served in Iraq, spoke at a forum sponsored by Senate Democrats. One Republican, Congressman Walter Jones, of North Carolina, whose district includes Camp Lejeune Marine base, also participated.
Retired Major General John Batiste said Rumsfeld did not tell the American people the truth out of fear of losing support for the war in Iraq. He said at one point Rumsfeld threatened to fire anyone who talked about the need for a post-war plan. "He refused to acknowledge, and even ignored, the potential for insurgency, which was an absolute certainty. The bottom line: his plan allowed the insurgency to take root and metastasize to where it is today," he said.
Batiste said the Iraq war - in his words - has made America arguably less safe now than it was on the day terrorists struck on September 11, 2001.
Another retired Major General, Paul Eaton, blamed Rumsfeld for deploying insufficient numbers of troops for the Iraq mission. "We are fighting an insurgency, a distributed low-tech, high-concept war that demands greater numbers of ground forces not fewer. Mr. Rumsfeld will not acknowledge that fact, and has failed to adapt to the current situation. He has tried and continues to try to fight this war on the cheap," he said.
Retired Colonel Paul Hammes said the administration failed to supply U.S. troops with the best equipment for the job.
All three retired officers called for Rumsfeld's resignation - a move the Defense Secretary said he is not considering.
Monday's forum is one of a number of such sessions Democrats plan to organize in the weeks leading up to the November 7th congressional elections.
Democrats hope to capitalize on what public opinion polls show is Americans' dissatisfaction with the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war.
They have seized upon recent newspaper accounts about a classified intelligence document - known as a National Intelligence Estimate -- concluding that the Iraq war has become a recruiting tool for Islamic militants and has increased the threat of global terrorism.
Speaking on the Senate floor, Senator Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, called on National Intelligence Director John Negroponte to testify at a public hearing about aspects of the report, without divulging intelligence. "The American people deserve to know whether the President and Vice President are intentionally misleading us about our safety or whether they are simply ignoring the intelligence community," he said.
In a statement, Negroponte said the news accounts represent only a fraction of what is contained in the National Intelligence Estimate. He said while much remains to be done in the war on terrorism, the United States has made progress against what he calls the global jihadist threat.
Some Senate Republicans called the Democrats' forum a partisan stunt.
Another Republican, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said a U.S. political consensus on a way forward on Iraq may have to wait until after the November election. "My instinct is that once the election is over, there will be a lot more hard thinking about what to do about Iraq, and a lot more candid observations," he said.
The Iraq war is expected to a be a key issue in the congressional campaign.