WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Wednesday dismissed a media report that said the Army would not reduce troop numbers in Iraq at least through 2006.

Speaking after a House Armed Services Committee meeting, Rumsfeld said it would be “a misunderstanding to characterize” statements made by Army Lt. Gen. James Lovelace to mean the service had firm plans to keep the force at present levels.

The Washington Post reported, and Stars and Stripes subsequently printed, a story that said the Army expected to keep its troop strength in Iraq at about 120,000 soldiers for at least two more years.

The Post quoted Lovelace as saying, “We’re making the assumption that the level of effort is going to continue.”

But asked if he agreed with the assessment, Rumsfeld said it was routine planning for multiple scenarios.

“It certainly was not an assessment of any kind, and he said that very explicitly, if I’m not mistaken,” Rumsfeld said.

“He said that the Army has to plan, it has to look forward, and it looks forward one, two, three years. And what they do is develop an assumption.

“And so they said for the sake of argument, assume you kept the same level of forces there over that period, how would we meet that?

“Then they do various sensitivities; they say what if it’s more, what if it’s less? Then they say, ‘How would we deal with that situation?’”

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