The Disengagement Question

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," January 11, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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JOHN GIBSON, HOST: It is not like our troops can just pack up and come home as soon as the Iraqi elections (search) are over, but at some point, maybe sooner rather than later, the Iraqi will have to start running their own show.

I'm joined now by retired Major General Don Edwards. He is a FOX News military analyst.

General, the big question, so: when can our troops start leaving Iraq?

RETIRED U.S. ARMY MAJ. GEN. DON EDWARDS, FOX NEWS MILITARY ANALYST: Well, they're not going to start leaving Iraq anytime too soon, unfortunately. Assuming that we want to see this through and get it done, it's going to take years.

There is a possibility that when the Iraqis do become more able to take care of themselves, we can begin to draw down the force there. But it's going to take a long time.

GIBSON: Well, then why is the D-word, "disengagement," all the buzz in Washington, D.C.?

EDWARDS: That's an excellent question and I think there are several things going on. Things aren't going well in some ways, as we all know. The casualties are steady and continuous; the problems with the insurgency are not going away. In fact, as you mentioned earlier, it appears to be getting worse. And that is not a success story.

And there are people who like to disengage and get out of the quagmire.

GIBSON: Is there a disengagement de facto? In other words, whether anybody likes or not coming when we run out of National Guard (search) and reservist troops, when they've done their 24 months and can't make them do more?

EDWARDS: I'm not as concerned about that as some people are. There are eight Guard divisions out there who we really haven't tapped into. There are things we can do. The problems, however, are in the specialty areas where we have very few people.

And military police are an obvious point. We've got people going back and forth now literally after a year. And we're going to wear people out and we're going to wear out the goodwill of their families.

GIBSON: What is your guess about the size of the insurgency? I realize you don't have a precise answer, but I was reading in the last few days, somebody talking about 30,000 insurgents in Iraq. Now, that's a pretty formidable force when you get to operate like they do, with stealth. Do you think it's that big?

EDWARDS: I don't think it's 30 fighters. I don't think there's any question that there are 30,000 people who are either willing to fight or help the fighters, or coordinate, or be intelligence across the spectrum. I do believe there's anywhere from 8,000 to 15,000 fighters beyond any question.

GIBSON: So, what is it? If there gets to be a point where Iraq is not Germany -- in other words at some point, the German police were handling German problems and American troops were in the barracks. And it's not Japan: Japanese police were handling Japanese problems and American troop were on bases.

If Iraq continues to be something in which the American troops have to walk the streets and face the insurgency, at what point does the American military say to the American political force, "You know, we've gone down this road as far as we can go. This is not working."

EDWARDS: I think there's frankly, some of that going on now, but not at quite that abrupt a level. I think there is a discussion going on about we're really pushing the envelope here. And that's why I think we saw General Luck on the mission going to Iraq to evaluate where we are with their security forces. Because that's not working the way it should and we've got to fix it.

He's highly regarded; he's an impeccably capable military man; and I think he'll come back with some excellent suggestions. I suspect they'll be similar to what the theater commander and the commander in Iraq have been saying: "We need more people to train; we need more people helping the security forces; and we need better equipment and we need it now."

GIBSON: There's been a lot of talk looking back at decisions that were made by, one presumes the president or the Secretary of Defense, or somebody in that level, that we were not going to let Baathists in the new government; we're not going let the party of Saddam Hussein run things anymore; and we were not going to deal with an Iraqi army. They were both going to be disbanded.

Is there a point at which, coming at which we sort of, blow a whistle and say, "All Baathists come home. The Republican Guard come on in. We have uniforms and jobs for you."

EDWARDS: Well, I certainly think that you're right that we made two mistakes there, at least. Excluding the Baathists, every single Baathist and deactivating the Iraqi army were very significant areas and we're paying dearly.

I do see a point -- and I'm a bit surprised that we haven't seen this sooner -- that we say to the Iraqi government, says to every 16 to 40-year- old Iraqi male, "It's time you served your country. We want you to serve a year; we want you to serve two years. Show up."

I think that may be in the cards and that does two things for you. One, it helps you build a force. And two, it gets them off the street and into an organized environment where they're not shooting at us.

GIBSON: So, no draft in the U.S., but they draft as soon as possible in Iraq?

EDWARDS: I'd do it in a flash.

GIBSON: General Don Edwards. General, thanks very much, appreciate it.

EDWARDS: Thank you.

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