How Close Are U.S. Troops to Withdrawing From Iraq?

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

ANDREW NAPOLITANO, GUEST HOST: U.S. forces may be right on track with their plans for Iraq's security. Iraq's interim government is taking hold and security forces are taking on more responsibility. So does that mean some of our troops could be coming home?

Heather Nauert has the story.


Well, senior military commanders say that they have made an awful lot of progress in training Iraqi troops and in training the insurgents. Now, if all goes well and if it's what the Iraqi government wants, the number of American forces could drop from about 142,000 there now to about 100,000 early next year.

Joining me from Washington is FOX News military analyst, Lieutenant Colonel Tim Eads.

And today's big question, Colonel Eads, is talk of troop realignment in Iraq now the beginning of an end game there?

RETIRED LT. COL. TIM EADS, U.S. ARMY: Well, I think, yes, it is, is the short answer. But it's still going to take a lot of time. I mean, we're talking years, as opposed to months.

Yes, we are going to be able to bring some troops home, bring some troop levels down, as the Iraqi military and police force are more capable and able to do some of the tasks that the U.S. military is forced to do right now. We can bring those guys, get them reset, get them ready to go to the next task, wherever it may be.

NAUERT: Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani (search), just recently said that he expects in about two years that the U.S. troops will be transitioning out, but that Iraqis will be able to take charge within a two-year period. Is that realistic?

EADS: I think, no matter, after two years, we are going to have some troops there. Now, what the level is and what their skills are — are they engineers, are they civil engineers, are they communicators — that kind of stuff [is still unknown]. But I think he is probably correct in the fact that we will not have the combat troops that you see every day.

You won't see the armor that you're seeing on the screen right now or the tanks running around or perhaps you won't see some of the bombings, the IEDs that are going off all the time. As the populace begins to feel more comfortable with the military, the Iraqi military forces and Iraqi military police, I think you will see those kinds of events starting to decline.

NAUERT: So, given where the U.S. started in terms of training the U.S. Iraqi forces and really put out the hard-core effort about a year ago under General Petraeus, you would probably estimate that it would take about a solid three years to train the Iraqi military, given where it was before. Is that right?

EADS: Absolutely, because, you know, we started from nothing. You know, the first thing we did — and some have said it was a mistake — was that we disbanded the military.

And so, what you lost when you did that is the officer corps, the officer, the noncommissioned officer corps, which are really the backbones of the military.

NAUERT: Yes. So, it was really starting from the beginning.

EADS: Absolutely.

NAUERT: One of the things I'm curious about is some senior U.S. commanders haven't been specific about numbers. They haven't necessarily been specific about an exact timeline. So, is it really credible that we're talking about drawing down of U.S. forces in Iraq?

EADS: Well, I think what they're telling you is, the trend line is showing that, if things continue on the current trend, we are going to be at a point soon that we can start bringing guys home. If something unexpected happens, if Zarqawi (search) becomes a big power player all of a sudden and things really start to pick up, then, no, we're not going to be able to bring guys home.

Or if the Iraqi government should happen to crumble, we're not going to be able to do that. But the trend lines are good right now for being able to bring troops, some amount of troops home, as we go forward.

NAUERT: One of the things that is still alarming is that some insurgents are still coming in over the border from Syria. How big of a factor is that now?

EADS: Well, it is a factor. You know — I hate to, this is blunt — but we are killing a lot of the bad guys. And we're capturing a lot of the bad guys.

But, still, we are not seeing a huge decrease in the number of terrorists that are in the country. That's because they're coming across the border. How do we stop that? I mean, you have got to put guys out in the border.

The U.S. has a problem securing their borders. So, yes, it's not to the same scale, but it's still a problem that we have got to face and the Syrians and the Iranians obviously...

NAUERT: A really good point you made there on just how tough of a job it is to keep track of anyone's borders.

Thank you, Colonel Eads. Appreciate it.

EADS: Thank you, Heather. Have a nice one.

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