Mr Rumsfeld’s comments are his most explicit yet on the possible future US military role in Iraq and came just two days after President George W Bush indicated that US forces will be in Iraq when he leaves office in 2009.
Asked whether the US military was planning for such a contingency, Mr Rumsfeld noted that the US initially said it was going into Bosnia for a year but still had troops there 10 years later.
“I mean, we may be helping to train and equip some forces in Iraq in 2009,” he told reporters.
“Are we making plans to do that? We’re making plans to assist the Iraqis and the Afghans in training and equipping their forces so that they can take over the responsibility,” he said.
“And as the president said, it’s condition-based. I’m not going to get into speculating about specific numbers or on specific dates. It just isn’t fruitful,” he said.
At a White House press conference earlier this week, Mr Bush said future presidents would decide how long US troops would be in Iraq, indicating that US forces would be there through his term in office.
Currently about 133,000 US troops are in Iraq, a level that has held steady with some temporary increases in forces since a Sunni insurgency exploded two years ago.
US commanders hoped to have enough Iraqi security forces trained and armed this year to make significant reductions in US forces, possibly to as low as 100,000.
But a surge of sectarian violence since a February 22 bombing of a Shiite mosque prompted commanders to temporarily increase security with an extra mechanised infantry battalion from Kuwait.
Mr Rumsfeld said he has received no recommendations from his commanders in Iraq for further reductions in US forces. But, he said, “We anticipate that they’ll go down.”
“And the reason we anticipate they’ll go down is because we think the government will be formed and it will meet with reasonable acceptance and that the Iraqi security forces will continue to be performing well and that we will continue to pass over battle space, bases and responsibility to the Iraqi security forces,” he said.