Will Iraq Be Ready?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," March 3, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: At long last, training Iraqi troops is becoming a worldwide effort. NATO (search) members giving the coalition a boost in getting Iraqi forces up to par, preparing them to take over the security of their own country. NATO forces are also busy in other parts of the world. Heather Nauert is here with the head of the U.S. European Command and the NATO Supreme Allied Command.

HEATHER NAUERT, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, he has two jobs. General Jones is in charge of all of our forces in Europe and through most of Africa. And he also oversees NATO's military component. He joins us now from Washington to talk about terrorism in Europe and NATO's role in Afghanistan and in Iraq.

General Jones, thanks for coming in. Let's start off with Iraq. There are about 100 NATO forces now in the country. What can we expect from them in the future?

GENERAL JAMES JONES, COMMANDER, U.S. EUROPEAN COMMAND: Essentially the mission of NATO is to grow the force considerably to take on, essentially, a threefold mission. One is to help train junior officers and middle grade officers inside Iraq. Also facilitate some training outside of Iraq and also thirdly, coordinate the delivery of equipment to the emerging Iraqi army.

And I think the mission will grow in scope to reach its full maturity in a few months. And I think we'll make a significant difference.

NAUERT: Now, I understand they're going to ramp up those numbers a little bit to somewhere in the low 100s. What is your reaction to that? Is that enough to actually make a difference?

JONES: No, actually, the full goal, Heather, is to ramp it up to 1,000. It'll be done incrementally, but at the end of the day, the level of effort will be about 1,000 total NATO trainers. We will be not only training the junior officers and the mid-grade officers, as I mentioned, at a training camp outside Baghdad, but also helping the Iraqi general staff get off the ground and learn how to do proper staff work and military work and develop staff NCOs and the like.

NAUERT: Well, I imagine one of the important things to teach there is leadership, because under Saddam's regime, the guys who at least used to be in the military weren't taught that kind of leadership that now they need to learn. But are we looking at enough numbers? Is NATO giving enough to Iraq?

JONES: Well, I think 26 sovereign nations agreed to do this mission, and this is the level of commitment that they've made so far. And coupled with the U.S.-led coalition effort, I think the numbers that I've seen, with regard to turning out Iraqi forces that will be properly equipped and properly led probably are just about right for what we can do right now. But we'll just have to see as time goes on.

NAUERT: OK. We'll keep our fingers crossed.

Now, I imagine you've got to be in a tough position in the heart of Europe, and we've heard so much talk since the war about countries there not liking the U.S.-led war effort in Iraq. What effect do you think that the political opposition of the war has had on NATO's efforts in the country of Iraq?

JONES: Well, I think it's important to remember that NATO is made up of 26 sovereign nations, as I mentioned. We just expanded by seven this past year and the only real disagreement that we've had has been over Iraq. In all other missions — whether it's the Balkans, Afghanistan, the global war on terrorism, the counterterrorism mission in the Mediterranean, the development of the NRF, the transformation of NATO — there is full agreement on this.

So, the disagreement, while important, really focuses on one thing and one thing only. And I think as a result of the president's visit, the secretary of state and the secretary of defense recently that a lot of that feeling has dissipated and we're now moving forward much more cohesively and progressively.

NAUERT: Now, NATO has had troops in Afghanistan for quite some time, but recently has just expanded its effort throughout the west, in sort of, that unruly part of Afghanistan. But I understand that there has been some very preliminary talk about potentially sending peacekeepers to the country of Israel. How likely do you think that that is?

JONES: Well we'll have to wait and see. It is interesting that there's more conversation about that among ministers both in NATO and outside of NATO, and it is something that I'm certainly watching with interest.

Two years ago when I arrived in Europe, they were talking in the same way about Afghanistan — eight months later we were there. So anything can happen.

But as the allied commander for operations, I've been given no tasking and the North Atlantic Council has made no decision. So, I think it's just interesting discussion right now, and we're staying abreast of things.

NAUERT: OK. Now, of course, some European countries have made no surprise of their beliefs that the U.S. has entirely too much power. And they've talked about potentially creating some sort of a counterbalance, a European Union (search) sort of military to counterbalance the United States. What is your reaction to that?

JONES: Well, I do read about things like that, but the reality is that 19 nations exist both in the E.U. and in NATO. There is a finite number of troops available for the security missions. I think the long-term solution is that we find the agility and the flexibility of a creative force that can answer the common needs of both organizations.

We just turned over, for example, our NATO mission in Sarajevo and Bosnia to the E.U., but functionally, the same troops stayed there, they just raised the E.U. flag the next day. So I think that budgets being what they are and troop lists being what they are, the real task at hand is to develop the interruptible security capabilities for both organizations that can answer the call when needed.

NAUERT: And Sir, we have just a few seconds left, tell me what you're doing with the countries in Europe to try to combat terrorist groups that we hear so much are trying to infiltrate all the different countries there.

JONES: Well, I mentioned we have a very active counterterrorism mission in the Mediterranean. It's a naval mission, but it's been very successful over two years. And we're also trying to develop a greater intelligence fusion capability among NATO nations with a pioneering effort this year that we hope will be funded by the Congress and supported by the allies. But this is a new capability in NATO. It's absolutely essential, in my view, to stay ahead of the challenges it faces, particularly with regards to terrorism.

NAUERT: General Jones, thank you so much for joining us. NATO supreme allied commander and head of European Command. We appreciate you joining us, Sir.

JONES: Great pleasure, Heather. Thank you.

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