Coalition Troops in Iraq Walk a Fine Line

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, October 28, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Our troops in Iraq now have to walk a fine line, cracking down on the bad guys without ticking off the general population.

Here to talk strategy, retired Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner (search). He joins me from Washington. Big question — can you crack down on guerrillas without antagonizing the locals, colonel?

COL. SAM GARDINER, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): That's really a tough one, John. I'm not sure that we know the answer yet. Those attacks over the past few days have been very interesting because what it suggests is that the guerrillas have an open ground to operate.

I mean, the people aren't turning them in. So sort of in the history or the tradition of guerrilla warfare, that means the guerrillas have found a place that they are at home. And when that happens, that means that we don't have the hearts and minds battle won very well.

GIBSON: Well, there is a suggestion, I think the phrase that was used in The New York Times today was to “lock down the city.”


GIBSON: Is it possible to lock down Baghdad? And then flush out these — I mean, there is reportedly 5,000 Saudis in Iraq launching these attacks? Is it possible to flush out the people who are not Iraqis who are doing this?

GARDINER: Right. I think that's kind of an extreme argument. You can't lock down the city because the city has to see to go on. It has to exist as a city. And if you lock it down, then you are just going to push the hearts and mind problem more difficult. I think the argument is for a stronger military presence, for more patrolling, for being stronger with people who are not cooperating and that sort of thing. Now that is a possibility.

GIBSON: Well, there has been a lot of talk about bringing in more troops who are not American. Now the choice seems to be, well, let's say you could bring in some Turks that might affect a lot of Iraqis. Or let's bring in some Pakistanis. That might not work as well, either, or simply ratchet up the old Iraqi army that they would recognize who the Saudis and the Syrians are, and they could go get them.

GARDINER: I think that's probably — there's a truth of value to that. And I guess I would add the other thing we would ratchet up in addition to that is there is a report that came out this last week that the army's identified a need for more intelligence resources.

So I think the combination of the two do offer some possibilities. One thing I guess you have to say is that I think here in Washington, people are rethinking the strategy. The events of past few days, my sense, has gotten the attention of the Pentagon (search). They're re-looking.

GIBSON: All right. But what do we do? The president talked about this today in his press conference. And I'm quite certain that there are going to be a bunch of people who shout him down and say he is not taking into account how angry we've made the Iraqis.


GIBSON: But if you look at Al-Jazeera (search), they're reporting thousands of foreign fighters have come into Iraq to fight the Americans, the Saudis, Syrians and others. Is there some way to say, “Okay, we got a war and we know who they are. They're not Iraqis.”

GARDINER: Yes. I honestly, John, don't know how big that problem is. I think about two months ago, we shot up a camp where we found some foreign passports. That maybe had been 30, 40 or 50 people.

For a while, the commanders in the field were not saying that there were foreigners. It was only this last week that that reappeared when it was confirmed there was a Syrian apparently involved in one of the operations and the commanders are saying there were more foreigners.

But you're on to the point and that is — why aren't people saying, “Hey, we have Syrians in our neighborhood. They don't belong here.” Or, “We've got Saudis.”

GIBSON: I have a hard time understanding why our commanders would resist this information. I can log on to and read it and there is the report. Why would an American general in Iraq deny it?

GARDINER: Because they may not have seen the fruits of it, John, which is what Al-Jazeera is reporting is that there have been people coming in from Saudi Arabia. But maybe until this last weekend, they hadn't seen them taking military action.

GIBSON: All right. Retired Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner helping us sort things out how to straighten things out on the ground in Iraq. Thanks a lot, colonel.

GARDINER: Sure, John.

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