How Are Marines in Iraq Working to Root Out Terrorists?

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," Oct. 18, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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BRIT HUME, HOST: Again the story in Iraq is Fallujah. That's a city of about a half million people that has become known as the hot bed and the headquarters of the terrorist resistance in Iraq. Most of the people in that city, of course, are not terrorists and would like to be rid of the violent extremists in their midst, but have shown no ability to bring that about. Raising the question of how the job can be done militarily.

So what are the Marines up to? We turn to FOX News contributor, retired Army general and war historian Robert Scales (search).

Bob Scales, welcome.


HUME: Tell me what's the operation is, as you see it, unfolding in Fallujah and whether it's up to the task in your judgment.

SCALES: It's a preparatory operation. About 1600 Marines have established what they call a "dynamic cordon." You and I have talked about cordon operations before. Purpose of this is to gain intelligence of the insurgent situation in the city, to strike very selectively, very surgically at targets that are confirmed.

HUME: A cordon is a ring, right?

SCALES: It's a loose siege. Yes. You sort of try to create an airtight seal where you try to control entrance, an egress to the city. And that does two things. No. 1 is that it allows the innocents to escape, but it tries to keep the bad guys inside. So it's like draining the swamp and leaving just the alligators. And So far, it seems to be working very well. The down side, of course, is that the enemy has had what? Six months to dig in, to prepare, to establish ambushes, to put explosive devices along the roads and so forth, waiting for the Marines to come in.

HUME: All of this is owing to a decision that was made, as you put it, months ago to try to let the locals deal with the insurgents?

SCALES: Well, yes. Remember, the Marines were about two days away from essentially taking down city. They were called off.

HUME: Which would have been a very violent and bloody affair.

SCALES: I don't think so. I mean...

HUME: Really?

SCALES: No. No. There was about anywhere between 150 and 200 foreigners in there. Who knows? Four or 500 insurgents, nowhere near as well prepared as they are now for this. And you know there's an old saying in the military, "A good general never takes the same ground twice." Well, they pulled back and now they're outside the city. And the day is coming when they'll eventually have to go in there and do it again.

HUME: And the likelihood that this can be avoided in your view is nil.

SCALES: Close to zero.

All right. All right. So, tell...

SCALES: I mean this is the Alamo. This is the bad guys are looking at this as sort of their time to beat the Americans at their own game and to defeat the Marines as they try to take the city.

HUME: So you've got the city of roughly a half million. Presumably some of those people will have vacated the premises by the time the big shooting starts.

SCALES: That's right. That's right.

HUME: And there will be left — and presumably some damage has been done to the terrorist hideouts by the bombing that has occurred?

SCALES: That's right. That's right.

HUME: So by the time we get around to trying to take this place down...

SCALES: Mm-hmm.

HUME: ... how many forces is it going to take? And do we have enough?

SCALES: Well, we don't have enough out there now. There are 1600 trying to cordon off a city that large, they're going to have to be reinforced. Probably elements from the Army's First Cavalry Division will probably participate. Maybe others.

Remember now, Samarra, which went down what? About a month ago, had over 5,000 soldiers. Also important that...

HUME: That went down easily though.

SCALES: Went down easily but it's nowhere near the military problem. The other key issue is you have got to get the Iraqis involved. And the spearhead of the operation has got to have an Iraqi face on it. Because ultimately, when the Marines pull out again and the city is returned to the Allawi government, you have got to have Iraqi forces on the ground there protecting that city.

HUME: How many forces is it likely to take, just based on military doctrine as best as you can estimate, we're talking about 20, 30, 40, 50,000...

SCALES: No. No. No. We're talking five to 10,000; 5,000 low end, 10,000 high end. That's about two-thirds of the division.

HUME: Right. But there are at least that many in — I mean Iraqi troops and well-trained troops who have been in short supply. But there are probably that many out there.

SCALES: Yes. I would say the Iraqis could put up about 2,000 of that, maybe 3,000 by the time the city goes down. I don't think it's an issue in the numbers of troops. It's the problem is going to be having the right doctrine to be surgical. And the other thing that's important, Brit, it's quick. You know, a siege is done very patiently as you shape the battlefield. But once the city goes down, it's got to be a very quick, very surgical, very directed type of operation so that you kill the bad guys and you protect as many of the innocents as you can.

HUME: Right. So that means that you roll into a city, a pretty big city.

SCALES: Big city.

HUME: Big city. A lot of hideouts, some of them presumably underground. You've got to know where they all are.

SCALES: Yes. Well, and they've done a lot better at fighting the enemy. Mainly because the cities — the residents of Fallujah are getting sick and tired of this. And a lot of the good intelligence are coming from the people inside the city. These surgical strikes that you see happening are occurring because citizens of Fallujah are turning in the bad guys, particularly the foreigners. And that's where those bombs are going, on their hideouts. So that's good news.

But this is not going to be easy. It's going to be a very, very difficult operation; a lot more difficult now than it would have been six months ago.

HUME: And to what extent is it your sense the Iraqi forces are prepared for an operation of this caliber? Obviously backed up by marines, perhaps led by Marines.

SCALES: Yes. They did well in Samarra. The reports I get back was that American training being a bit more selective about who you put in, the fact that the command and control of the Iraqis was good. It was pretty good. So I think they'll perform well. I don't think you're going to have the disaster that you had with the Fallujah Brigade six months ago.

HUME: How long will it take to prepare the battlefield in your judgment?

SCALES: A couple of weeks, probably a couple of weeks.

HUME: So about the time we're going to vote, they maybe going into Fallujah.


SCALES: I'm not sure the two are connected. But yes, that's right. It's going to take a while to get the intelligence to put the troops in place, to get the Army troops to reinforce the Marines, to go through a series of rehearsals; a couple of weeks.

HUME: Thanks very much.

SCALES: You bet.

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