PHOENIX -- US Senator John McCain said yesterday that he has ''no confidence" in Donald H. Rumsfeld, citing the secretary of defense's handling of the war in Iraq and contending that he has failed to send enough troops.
McCain, in an interview, said his comments were not a call for Rumsfeld's resignation, explaining that President Bush ''can have the team that he wants around him."
Asked about his confidence in the secretary's leadership, McCain recalled fielding a similar question a couple of weeks ago.
''I said no. My answer is still no, no confidence," McCain said.
He estimated an additional 80,000 Army personnel and 20,000 to 30,000 more Marines would be needed to secure Iraq.
''I have strenuously argued for larger troop numbers in Iraq, including the right kind of troops -- linguists, special forces, civil affairs, etc.," said McCain, Republican of Arizona. ''There are very strong differences of opinion between myself and Secretary Rumsfeld on that issue."
McCain, a decorated Navy veteran and former Vietnam prisoner of war, is a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which has oversight of military operations and considerable influence over the Pentagon budget.
If Senate Republicans maintain their majority two years from now, McCain would be in line to become the committee's chairman, something he said he'd weigh when considering whether to run for president again.
Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita said McCain ''has frequently expressed his views regarding troop levels in Iraq and he is an important member" of the committee.
Rumsfeld has ''relied upon the judgment of the military commanders to determine what force levels are appropriate for the situation at hand," Di Rita said.
Despite the troop levels, McCain contends morale remains high, but said involuntary extensions of tours of duty were frustrating to soldiers.
''I believe we'll be in Iraq militarily for many years, which would not be a problem to the American people," the senator said.
''I think what is not acceptable to the American people is an increasing flow of dead and wounded."