Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is voicing fresh confidence that U.S. troops will find deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Mr. Rumsfeld says it is impossible to know if Saddam's death or capture is imminent.

In recent days, U.S. commanders in Iraq have indicated troops are close on Saddam's heels. "The noose is tightening" is the way one general put it.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld praised the enthusiasm of his senior officers. But he told reporters at the Pentagon that until the ousted Iraqi leader is found, it will not be clear whether his American pursuers were in fact close.

"The folks that are trying to find him are enthusiastic and they think they're getting closer and I'm for that, I like that enthusiasm," said Mr. Rumsfeld. "But if you ask me, are we getting closer, I'll say, I'll let you know when we catch him. Until you have him, you don't have him. And we need to find him and we're going to find him."

Mr. Rumsfeld said the deaths of Saddam's sons in a recent shoot-out with U.S. troops marked a turning point in the post-war era. He said the deaths have helped persuade ordinary Iraqis that the Baathist regime is finished and has prompted an outpouring of new tips about the whereabouts of other fugitive Iraqi leaders and weapons caches.

"As more Iraqis step forward with information and assistance, coalition forces have conducted scores of raids against the remnants that still exist in the country," said Mr. Rumsfeld. "Within recent weeks, coalition forces have captured literally many hundreds of individuals. They have now captured or killed 38 of the top 55 most wanted."

In addition, Mr. Rumsfeld said they have confiscated millions of dollars and seized thousands of weapons. But the U.S. defense decretary called for patience, saying success - military and political - will take time.

He also cautioned that there will continue to be attacks on U.S. forces.

According to the latest Pentagon statistics, 54 U.S. military personnel have been killed in hostile attacks since the end of major combat operations in Iraq on May 1.