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Special Report

Leaving Iraq

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume ," Feb. 4, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

Watch "Special Report With Brit Hume" weeknights at 6 p.m. ET

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: They say to me, are you going to ha ve a timetable? Timetables are the wrong thing to put out.

(APPLAUSE)

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: It says to the enemy, go ahead and wait. No. The timetable is this, we will continue training the Iraqis as fast as possible, so they have the capacity to meet their will, which is to defeat these terrorists.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JIM ANGLE, GUEST HOST: Now that the elections are over, the U.S. plans to bring home some 15,00 troops from Iraq in the coming weeks. But bringing home larger numbers will depend on one thing, enough well trained Iraqi forces to protect their nation from the terrorists and insurgents. When is that likely to happen? And is it wise to lay out an exit strategy in advance?

Joining from us San Diego is retired Army General and FOX News military analyst Bob Scales.

General Scales, good to see you again, sir.

GEN. ROBERT SCALES (RET.), FOX NEWS MILITARY ANALYST: Hi, Jim.

ANGLE: Let me ask you first about the training of Iraqis. There’s been a lot of confusion about this, and about the numbers over the last year. Where do we stand in training Iraqis?

SCALES: Well, it’s a good thing that Dave Petraeus has had a chance to explain it. And what the general said was the following. There are about 140,000 Iraqis who have completed what we would call basic training, and the veterans in your audience know what that means. That’s individual training. Some smaller number, let’s just say for argument’s sake, half of that number are in the process of going through collective or unit training, where they learn to fight in groups of squads, platoons, companies and battalions.

And obviously that takes time, and that’s where the American advisory effort is being focused. An even smaller number, somewhere around 40,000 now have been through collective training, have had some experience in combat, have proven leaders and the equipment to become a quick reaction force.

That is units that are able to become unplugged from their local area and hop in vehicles, and go from city to city, troubled spot to troubled spot to reinforce Iraqi, or in some cases, American force that’s are threatened by the insurgents.

So, the numbers vary because the level of training varies within the Iraqi units. And you have to expect that when you’re trying to build an army from scratch in a period of less than two years.

ANGLE: You believe that the U.S. is undergoing a fundamental change in the military mission in Iraq. What do you mean by that?

SCALES: What I mean is this new wave of soldiers that are going over to Iraq really are going to perform a new mission. You know, for the last two years the American military, soldiers and Marines, have been engaged in close combat, direct action, taking the fight directly to the enemy. This new mission, if you will, that the U.S. command is assuming is to do that when necessary, but also to perform the advisory function.

So a certain number of soldiers are being taken out of every American battalion deploying. And they’re going to put these soldiers actually with the Iraqi units to act as advisers, to give them assistance in the close combat function. And also to perform some of the vital things that the Iraqis can’t yet do, things like close air support, logistics, command and control, et cetera.

And it’s very interesting to note, sadly, two American soldiers already have been killed in action while participating in this advisory function. And what our viewers really need to understand is this is a real tectonic shift in our military mission and our military strategy in Iraq. And it’s very, very significant.

ANGLE: You mean in the sense that Iraqi troops are now doing much of the fight. That they’re up front, being backed up and helped in training and advising and so forth by American troops.

SCALES: No. Really more to the point that Job 1, the No. 1 mission has shifted from fighting the enemy directly to building a new Iraqi army. So American commanders, when they go over now have in their list of orders of their to-do list, defeat the enemy. But oh, by the way, more importantly, let’s build up the Iraqi army’s ability to defeat the enemy so we can pack up and go home pretty soon.

ANGLE: Now, one of the problems, of course, is that people in Congress, you heard a number of them this week, are starting to get a little antsy about things. And wondering when Iraqis are going to step out front, though there is plenty of evidence that many of them are. And wondering when American troops can come home.

You heard what the president said about laying out an exit strategy. What is the reluctance here? What has been our experience with exit strategies?

SCALES: Yes. Well, I have to tell you, Jim, for those of us who are veterans of the Vietnam era, we’ve been down this road before, where administrations in the Johnson, and of course, later in the Nixon administrations made the mistake of establishing specific timelines when specific events are going to occur.

And what does the enemy do? Well, the enemy is not stupid. He wants to win this war, so he adjusts his strategy of when to attack at the time when American forces are the weakest, which is when they’re pulling out. So it would be foolish, not just from a political sense. But it would be foolish from a military strategic sense to give the enemy any sense of what our yardstick, what our timeline is for removing American soldiers.

And the other point is this is not going to be a day when 136,000 Americans get on the planes and fly home. This is going to be a gradual process that’s going to evolve over time. Perhaps measured in years, as the U.S. effort begins to wind down, and the Iraqi effort begins to grip and to take hold. And you just can’t say on a certain date we’re all going to go home, because that would be strategically a disastrous decision.

ANGLE: Now, I mean for obvious reasons, neither military leaders nor political leaders want to lay that out. But clearly the idea here is that the more Iraqis we train, the better trained they are, the more they’re able to defend themselves, the fewer American troops will be need. What is your sense of how that is likely to unfold over the next couple of years?

SCALES: Well, one piece of advice is to watch how the Iraqis do. See what they do in the field. Watch their effectiveness at the tip of the spear. I think we’ve been paying too much attention to things, like attrition rates and to numbers and to desertions.

You know, ultimately the measure of a unit is not its numbers; it’s its capability. And as you watch the Iraqis do the close combat function, you see how more capable they become. You see how better the leadership is, and their ability to plan and to execute these operations. That’s going to be the real determination.

There’s not any magic number 270,000 or 320,000 that’s going to determine or be the point at which we leave. It’s going to be based really more on how well do they fight, what’s their will to fight? And oh, by the way, how does the enemy lose the will to fight? It’s a very complicated equation and just counting heads doesn’t work.

ANGLE: Great. Jim Scales, thank you. As always sir, a pleasure to talk with you.

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