Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, was questioned by the Pentagon yesterday about a report that he had warned President Bush that the plan to attack Iraq lacked sufficient ground troops, according to military sources.
Shinseki, on a flying tour of Army posts in Louisiana and Colorado yesterday, was asked to explain the report on NBC on Friday night, the sources said.
He told reporters traveling with him that his conversations with the president are "private and privileged." Of the Iraqi war plan, he said, "The plan is executable, and we're executing the plan."
The debate over American troop strength has become heated during the past week as current and former Army officers complained that not enough tanks, other armored vehicles and artillery have been committed to complete the drive on Baghdad and also protect a 250-mile supply line to Kuwait that has been harried by irregular Iraqi forces.
In Louisiana, Shinseki met with 500 soldiers from the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment who were ordered by the Pentagon on Monday to be airlifted to the Persian Gulf, along with their machine-gun equipped Humvees and Kiowa reconaissance helicopters armed with Hellfire missiles. Previously, their equipment was supposed to be transported to the gulf by ship, a time-consuming process.
Col. Terry Wolff, regiment commander, said his troops specialize in protecting supply lines, and when they heard of problems in Iraq, they said, "Let's go."
Shinseki, bidding Wolff goodbye, tapped him on his chest and said, "See you in Baghdad. You take care of yourself."
Much of the criticism about troop levels in Iraq has focused on Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, who originally believed Iraq could be conquered with a force of 70,000 to 80,000 troops. Eventually, he agreed to a force of some 300,000 sought by Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, commander of allied forces in Iraq.
But Rumsfeld was not willing to have the force fully assembled before the attack, opting for a "rolling" deployment, according to military officials.
Rumsfeld asserted Friday that the war plan "was carefully prepared over many months."
"It was washed through the tank with the chiefs on at least four or five occasions," he said. "It has been through the combatant commanders. ... When asked by the president or me, the military officers who've reviewed it have all said they thought it was an excellent plan."
A White House spokesman declined to comment yesterday on the conversation reported by NBC. However, on March 20, a senior administration official described to reporters a video conference that the president had held the previous day with all of his top commanders, just before the war began.
During that conference, Bush asked each of the commanders in turn if they had everything they needed to win and if they were comfortable and pleased with the military strategy. "All responded in the affirmative," the senior official reported.
Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described the attack plan on Friday as "brilliant" and asserted that it "is sound. It's being executed, and it's on track."
However, commanders on the ground in Iraq have spoken of making adjustments to cope with unanticipated rearguard attacks by guerillas.
Rumsfeld denied Friday that the course of the war had caused "any change in my perspective."
Last month, he told troops that the war "could last, you know, six days, six weeks, I doubt six months."