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Special Report

How Many Iraqi Troops Have Actually Been Trained?

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume ," Feb. 15, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: These statements you’ve read about the Iraqi security forces not being capable or they aren’t any of them — there’s — there’s —I got the correct number today from General Petreaus. They’re 136,000 Iraqi security forces.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: I had this long debate that’s been going on long distance between Rumsfeld and me, and others. Them saying that initially we had 210,000 Iraqi troops trained. That’s simply not true. We probably do have somewhere between now six and 18,000 or 19,000.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, HOST: That’s a pretty big difference six and 18,000 or 19,000 and 136 as the secretary announced, as the dispute is important. Because the training of Iraqis to police and defend that country has now become a top, perhaps the top priority of American forces in Iraq. So who is right?

To answer the question, we turn to military historian, FOX News contributor and retired the Army General Robert Scales.

Bob, welcome back.

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

HUME: Is anybody right in that exchange?

SCALES: You know, we’re in those rare times in political history when we have two men on both sides of the political poles and both of them are right. Let me break it down for you. There is about 140,000 police and military that have gone through basic training, what our audience would know as boot camp. And that’s anywhere between and eight to 12-week training program where they learn to be soldiers and police.

HUME: So when Petreaus uses the number to Rumsfeld, 136, that’s what he’s talking about.

SCALES: Petraeus has turned 140,000 people out of his training camps, out of his Paris Island, or his boot training. At the other end of the spectrum, there’s somewhere between, I would say between four and 6,000 Iraqis that are battle-hardened, that have been trained by Americans, that have the equipment, the leadership, the is particulars, the logistics, the communications, the transportation to be able to move, as a sort of quick reaction force, anywhere in the country to reinforce those areas that are hotly contested.

And then you have a bunch in the middle. This ranges anywhere between eight to about 40,000 that are in the process of going through what we in the military call collective training, unit training. This is what the Luck Commission was trying to sort out.

HUME: The general who went over there.

SCALES: Yes, General Luck. He went over there and what he came back and reported was what we all know. That it takes a while to bond and to coalesce, and to build units; to take individuals and make them collectively effective in this dirty business of close combat.

HUME: Let me just stop you for a second. And the small group you mentioned that are ready to go anywhere and be a quick reaction for us, these are — would it be fair to call them really elite forces or not?

SCALES: Some of them are. Some of them are just competent forces. There’s an old saying in the Army, the worst way to train somebody is to learn to fight by fighting. And many of these units in Fallujah and Samarra and Ramadi have actually sort of cut their teeth, if you will, in fighting alongside the soldiers and Marines. And they’re pretty good.

HUME: Why is that the worse way?

SCALES: Well, because people die.

HUME: Oh, I got you.

SCALES: It’s better to train someone without firing a bullet first, before they have to learn the...

HUME: The hard way.

SCALES: ... hard way by escalating the blood curve, if you will. Now, there are some elite units in there. There’s some 20 battalions of elite forces that are pretty good.

HUME: Twenty battalions means about how many people?

SCALES: You figure 600 people per battalion roughly.

HUME: Twelve thousand people?

SCALES: Yes, about 12,000. So you’ve got a core, if you will. A core of very, very competent Iraqis that are beginning to spread themselves out. But it’s going to take a while to convert individuals into effective units. And the biggest parameter and the biggest variable is leadership, you know? Soldiers need good, competent, trusted leaders who are not politically driven. They’re fighting for a cause, to lead them into battle.

HUME: And to be leaders, one presumes you need some military experience. And how do you get that in a place like Iraq?

SCALES: Very interesting. One of the things I found out from my dialogue with people in the theater is that the Iraqis themselves are beginning to sort this out. In other words, they’re letting sort of the soldiers who proved themselves through the merit of combat, if you will, to bubble to the top.

They forgot Ba’athist party affiliations or religious affiliations. Because when you’re involved in fighting for your life, the guy you want leading you is the guy that’s best for his job. Doesn’t necessarily have a party or a family affiliation. And that’s good news.

What’s missing so far are effective staffs, senior leaders, like colonels and generals that have yet to be sort of vetted and sorted out. But that’s going to come. But you know, you don’t create an army overnight, Brit. It takes us 15 years to create a good battalion commander in the Army. The fact that we can suddenly create 25 battalion commanders in the Iraqi army in 14 months is just something that just isn’t going to happen.

HUME: So what is it going to take? It sounds like we could be there for 15 years.

SCALES: Well, you know, we’ve been in Germany and Japan and Korea for a long period of time, too.

HUME: So what happens to our mission now?

SCALES: Well, the mission is changing fundamentally. One of the things you’re going to see in this next rotation that begins next month is you’re going to see a large percentage of the soldiers rotating over there, somewhere probably as much as 40,000.

They’re going to shift from the mission of close combat, direct action by American forces, into the advisory function. So you’re going to see as many as, say 60 or more soldiers. American soldiers with each Iraqi battalion that are going to help train them, and fight alongside them when necessary, and supply them with air power, with ammunition and communications and so forth. The things that the Iraqi forces lack.

HUME: So this means more and more Iraqis on the firing line, relatively fewer Americans.

SCALES: Right. But the difficulty is going to be this bifurcation of missions. Because we’re asking the Americans forces to do two things: fight the bad guys directly, and advise and train the Iraqis. So it’s going to put quite a strain on the American forces over the next year or so.

HUME: Will we be able in the course of this to reduce the force in your judgment?

SCALES: Absolutely. Because for every fully trained Iraqi you put in the field walking the beat in Baghdad, that’s one less American soldier you’re going to need in the fourth rotation. Which is going to begin about this time next year.

You know, it’s important — one other point that’s important is now the Iraqis have something to fight for. They’re not fighting for the coalition. They’re not fighting for the Provisional Authority. They have a government. And soldiers don’t fight and die for money. They fight and die for a cause.

HUME: So your thought is this will get better.

SCALES: Absolutely.

HUME: Bob Scales, great to have you as always. Thank you.

SCALES: Thanks, Brit.

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