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ARLINGTON, Va. — The U.S. military is “good for several years” if the current troop level in Iraq must be sustained, but third tours for active-duty servicemembers might be needed, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday.

And the Defense Department is adhering to the prohibition on placing reservists on active status for longer than 24 months, Myers told Pentagon reporters during a news conference that included Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

However, “there’s the possibility of people going back for a third term, sure,” Myers said. “That’s always out there. We are at war.”

Rumsfeld, meanwhile, scoffed at reports that many are already on their third tour.

“There’s always a risk when people grab into the middle of something, take the worst of what might be, and then wave it around as though it’s reality,” Rumsfeld said.

In fact, different services have different policies concerning deployment lengths, the secretary said.

“So when you start hearing rumors about people on their third tours or fourth tours, you start checking into it, and looking at what you got, you’re going to have people who may be in the Air Force who’ve gone back in on three-month tours, or you may have people who’ve volunteered [to return] because that’s what they want to do,” Rumsfeld said.

In response to a USA Today story Monday about a Marine Corps colonel in Iraq who said he repeatedly asked for 1,000 more Marines, Rumsfeld said such a request was not an indication that there are too few U.S. troops in Iraq.

“The idea … that because somebody wishes they had more [troops] at a certain moment suggests the total number is wrong is a non sequitur, obviously a non sequitur,” Rumsfeld said.

“There’s 137,500 U.S. forces and a good slug of coalition forces, and how they are parceled out and allocated within the country of Iraq is for Gen. [George] Casey and Gen. J.R. Vines to determine,” Rumsfeld said.

Myers, meanwhile, said that “more troops are needed, and they are being provided by the Iraqis. There’s 178,000-plus of them.”

Neither Myers nor Rumsfeld replied directly to a question about how many Iraqi security forces are actually able to operate independent of coalition forces, a query the defense secretary dismissed as “not a useful construct.”


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