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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The fiercest fighting and gravest danger lie ahead for U.S. troops as they advance toward Baghdad, and the Pentagon's plan will result in victory, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Sunday.
While he said he did not know when the war might be over, "It's going to end with the Iraqis liberated," Rumsfeld said in between appearances on the morning talk shows.
He acknowledged that resistance "has been in pockets quite stiff. It's going to get more difficult as we move closer to Baghdad," where President Saddam Hussein's most trusted and battled-tested Republican Guards are waiting.
"I would suspect that the most dangerous and difficult days are still ahead of us," he said.
Rumsfeld denied published reports that he had rejected requests from U.S. war planners for additional troops.
"The planners are in the Central Command. They come up with their proposals and I think you'll find that if you ask anyone who's been involved in the process from the central command that every single thing they've requested has in fact happened," Rumsfeld told "Fox News Sunday."
The plan developed by Gen. Tommy Franks is "a good one and it's working. I think the people who are talking about it really are people who haven't seen it," the defense secretary said.
Like Franks, who said at a briefing Sunday in Qatar that "one never knows how long a war will take," Rumsfeld would not say when the fighting might cease.
"We've never had a timetable. We've always said it could days, weeks or months and we don't know. And I don't think you need a timetable," Rumsfeld said on ABC's "This Week."
He also took on critics of the war strategy who contend the United States underestimated Iraqi resistance.
"It's been going on nine days. It's a little early for post-mortems," Rumsfeld said.
U.S. and British forces now top 290,000 in the Persian Gulf. The Army's 4th Infantry Division is being sent, its first supplies expected to arrive in Kuwait within days, and armored cavalry troops and gun-mounted Humvee utility vehicles could be deployed sooner than scheduled.
Despite complications from Saddam's arming of paramilitary groups, his preparations for street warfare in Baghdad and in other cities and Iraqi soldiers' fake surrenders, Pentagon defense leaders remained confident about the pace of the invasion. They said the deployment of 100,000 additional forces to Iraq was planned months ago.
The military has moved to shore up protections at U.S. checkpoints and other sites after a suicide bomber posing as a taxi driver asked American troops for help and then blew up his vehicle Saturday, killing himself and four soldiers.
Iraq's vice president warned suicide attacks would become routine.
"A terrorist can attack at any time at any place using any technique," Rumsfeld said. "So there's no question but that a terrorist that's willing to die can kill other people. ... Is it going to change the outcome? Not a chance."
Warplanes have dropped some 6,000 precision-guided munitions, Pentagon officials said, and 675 Tomahawk cruise missiles have been launched from the air and sea -- just seven missing their targets because of apparent mechanical malfunctions.
Tomahawk launches from the eastern Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea were temporarily suspended because some missiles fell into Turkey and Saudi Arabia on their way to Iraq.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)