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Rumsfeld expects help from allies in review of US military

Faced with overstretch and increasing demands on US military resources as a result of the "war on terror", the Bush administration is poised to order a huge review of the Pentagon's policies in order to make better use of what resources it has.

Ordered to increase the already vast US military might without recruiting more troops, the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has been drawing up plans that include the option of asking allies to share the burden. Three thousand Germans now guard US bases in Germany, for example, replacing Americans sent to Iraq.

The decision frees up thousands of US reservists who had originally been earmarked for the German bases.

According to US media reports, Mr Rumsfeld has circulated a memo to senior staff detailing 40 ways to boost military efficiency. Mr Rumsfeld told Time magazine that an estimated 300,000 administrative desk jobs could be transferred to civilians. If just one-sixth of those jobs were converted, the equivalent of two army divisions could enter the fighting force without any increase in the number of paid military personnel, he said.

The introduction of what are essentially business management techniques has been forced on the Pentagon by George Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq when US resources are already widely deployed around the world, partly because of the war on terror. Many critics said his decision to wage war on Iraq ­ a country which a growing consensus agrees offered no threat to the West ­ has reduced the input and focus on places such as Afghanistan, where the Taliban is again reorganising.

There has been growing criticism from Capitol Hill and from the armed forces themselves that the US is severely under-strength in Iraq and more troops are needed to counter the growing resistance to the occupying forces.

After last week's attack on the UN headquarters in Baghdad, Democratic Senator Joe Biden and Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote to Mr Bush about the "urgent need" for more foreign forces in Iraq.

"It is worth enhancing the role of the United Nations because it will allow us to share the huge risk and expense of securing, policing, and reconstructing Iraq, tasks that will take tens of thousands of troops and tens of billions of dollars over many years," they wrote.

The US is desperately trying to encourage other countries to commit troops to Iraq and this week a resolution is likely to be presented to the United Nations Security Council that would encourage and seek greater international involvement in Iraq.

The stumbling block is likely to be America's flat refusal to cede any authority for an international peace-keeping force to the UN.

Mr Rumsfeld has to juggle the risk of not having enough soldiers to carry out various missions with that of not having more funds to spend on new technology and weapons modernisation. Sources told The New York Times that he is aware that increased troop levels carry a number of additional costs beyond pay and benefits: the more troops on the roster, the more it costs to house them, guard them and equip them ­ and pay them retirement benefits in decades to come.

"Rumsfeld's goal is reshaping the entire institution," said Michael O'Hanlon, a security analyst at the Brookings Institution, who attended a closed-door planning session at the Pentagon. "He is rethinking everything, not just reconceptualising warfare."

¿ President Bush?s popularity with the US public appears to be falling amid concern over the occupation of Iraq. A Newsweek opinion poll showed that for the first time more Americans do not want him to be re-elected (49 per cent) than do (44 per cent).