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Bush backs Rumsfeld against resignation calls

Written by: Staff
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WASHINGTON, Apr 14 (Reuters) US President George W Bush today defended his defense secretary amid growing calls from retired generals for him to quit over the handling of the Iraq war, saying Donald Rumsfeld had his full support.

Six retired generals, some of whom led troops in Iraq, have spoken out against Rumsfeld in recent days, accusing him of arrogance, ignoring his field commanders, and micro-management.

''Secretary Rumsfeld's energetic and steady leadership is exactly what is needed at this critical period. He has my full support and deepest appreciation,'' Bush said in a statement.

''Earlier today I spoke with Don Rumsfeld about ongoing military operations in the global war on terror. I reiterated my strong support for his leadership during this historic and challenging time for our nation,'' said Bush, who is in Camp David for the Easter weekend.

Rumsfeld told Al Arabiya in an interview to air later today that he would not resign, the Arab satellite channel said.

The president's move to issue a statement backing a senior administration official was highly unusual.

Asked why Bush felt the need to issue the statement, White House chief of staff Andy Card told Reuters: ''The secretary of defense is being challenged and he is doing a great job, and the president said he is doing a great job.'' Bush's own job approval ratings have slid to around the lows of his presidency, partly due to increasing public discontent with the Iraq war.

His statement said Rumsfeld had been tasked with ''many difficult missions'' including to modernise the military.

''That kind of change is hard, but our nation must have a military that is fully prepared to confront the dangerous threats of the 21st century,'' Bush said.

Bush said he had witnessed Rumsfeld's reliance on the views of military commanders. Bush has repeatedly said any decision to withdraw US troops from Iraq would be made based on the assessment of military commanders on the ground.

''I have seen first-hand how Don relies upon our military commanders in the field and at the Pentagon to make decisions about how best to complete these missions,'' Bush said.

Public opinion polls show increasing skepticism about the Iraq war, in which about 2,360 US troops have died. Bush has given a series of speeches in recent weeks to explain his administration's strategy on Iraq and convince Americans that the war is been justified.

Rumsfeld has previously said he twice offered his resignation to Bush during the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq, but the President declined to accept it.

Critics have accused Rumsfeld of bullying senior military officers and disregarding their views, and often cite his dismissiveness of then-Army Chief of Staff Gen Eric Shinseki's opinion a month before the 2003 invasion that occupying Iraq could require several hundred thousand troops.

REUTERS PG BD0106

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