Election Security

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," Jan. 7, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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LARRY DIRITA, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: It is a mission to go over there and take a look at Iraqi security force development. Where are we? How’s it going? Provide an assessment to the commanders over there.


BRIAN WILSON, GUEST HOST: That was Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita today, explaining the decision to send retired Four-Star General Gary Luck (search) to Iraq, to assess the deployment and training of Iraqi forces. Well, that decision comes just three weeks before Iraqi elections. So how are things going over there?

For answers, we turn to FOX News analyst, retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel Bill Cowan.

Bill, what do you read into this decision to send Gary Luck, a retired general over there to look at things? One might look at things and say well, maybe they’re not pleased with all the information they’re getting.

BILL COWAN, FOX NEWS MILITARY ANALYST: Well, first thing is General Luck is a very well-known, highly respected, seasoned combat veterans, who’s seen a series of commands at various level. Has seen combat from the best to the worst. So he’s a guy who can stand up the whole picture and take a look at what’s going on. And give some assessments, which are going to be greeted, not assessments that are going to be rejected because he is a flippant outsider.

WILSON: Well, he may have a lot of observations. But we’re told his main focus will be to focus on how the training of Iraqi policemen and security officials is going.

COWAN: Right. And the point with that is our exit strategy certainly deals with how fast we can get Iraqis to take over roles and responsibilities that we’re doing now. So incidentally, this kind of assessment has been done before. General Luck going over there maybe put a new priority on it.

WILSON: That’s what I’m trying to figure out. Why do they need another voice, another person to go over there and look.

COWAN: Well, you know, the last six months, we have suffered more American casualties than at any other part of the war. We know the insurgency is still growing as powerful as ever. We see the reports that the bombs are now moving, excuse me, from little bombs to bigger bombs. It’s just a time to put this kind of command emphasis on something. And General Luck’s mandate, as we see it right now, let’s find out how we really move the process along for our exit strategy.

WILSON: Do I have this right? You are about to head back over there.

COWAN: Going to go back over there tomorrow.

WILSON: And you had some informal discussions with intelligence officials prior to that trip. What are they telling you?

COWAN: Well, Brian, it appears unofficially, and in some cases almost officially, that the insurgency is indeed much bigger than we’ve anticipated. It has grown at a pace far more rapid than our ability to counter it effectively. Certainly, we talk about outside support from Syrian and Iran, the general agreement of what that support is and how much it is.

So we continue to look at a more difficult picture for our exit. Not a better picture. And we look towards the elections, and we all know the elections are going to happen. The question is what happens after the elections? And the picture is not just a great one. Men and women on the ground, troops are doing great. The question is, are we conducting the war itself in the best way? Are we going after the insurgents in the best way?

WILSON: You raised the question. Can you give me an answer to that?

COWAN: Well, look. I think with respect to the training of the Iraqis, I mean we’re going to still have to carry the brunt of the battle for a long time that. That may require us to do some changes. It may require us to get away from mechanized and motorized, and back on the street.

I like to say if you have got a crime-ridden neighborhood and the police drive by four or five times a day in their vehicle and look it over, that is not going to solve the crime problems are. We have got to gets troops back out on the streets meeting with and talking to Iraqis. We have got to our face back on the street with them.

We have tot to make sure that we have better sources of intelligence and intelligence that we can act on. We’re going to have to feeds these Iraqi forces that are coming along, probably have American advisers with them. It is a good plan.

WILSON: The external forces that are at play here, how significant are they, how large are the number of people coming into the country to stir things up?

COWAN: Well, the first thing is, by all accounts, there’s not that many foreign fighters as we’ve been lead to believe for a long time. Maybe two percent of the foreign fighters, they’re guessing these days, in the Sunni Triangle (search), including the battle in Fallujah (search), are foreign fighters. They are getting the foreign fighters to come in and do the suicide bombings. But it’s hard core Iraqis who aren’t prepared to go out there and die who are doing this fighting.

WILSON: Really?

COWAN: And the influence out of Syria is significant. It’s the money that’s coming from there. This is the rest area for people to go back.

WILSON: Not manpower or financing.

COWAN: Financing, manpower, guidance and direction, and the support of Syrian intelligence. Syrian intelligence is believed, in many cases, to help with the targeting. And help with the decision-making about what’s the next good target to go after from a geo-strategic position, perspective, and why. Why do you want to hit this governor? Why do you want to hit that nongovernmental organization? It’s not just random attacks. The have intelligence to help pick it out.

WILSON: Let me ask you. There are those that say what we need to do is perhaps back on this plan to go forward with the election fir a little bit. See if we can tighten up security. The president seems to be saying time and time again, no, that is not going to happen. Do you agree? Is that the right approach?

COWAN: Well, you know, my argument used to be that we needed to buy time for the moderate Sunnis, the moderate Sunnis to go out and try and influence the more radical Sunnis, or the people who weren’t committed. Give the moderate Sunnis who want democracy to work a chance to influence others. That’s not going to happen now. No question there.

The elections are going to go on January 30. And our question is not whether the Shiites (search) are going to participate, or the Kurds (search) are going to participate. It’s how many Sunnis are going to participate. And at the end of the elections, where do the Sunnis feel like they are, in or out? And if it’s out, the insurgency continues unabated.

WILSON: Because I was going to ask you, I mean because are you nervous about going back?

COWAN: Oh, no. Not at all. No. No. I wish I were staying longer. I mean I’m here with you all. I need to see what’s going on over there so when I’m talking about it, I have a good sensing.

WILSON: Bill Cowan, good to have you here.

COWAN: Thanks, Brian.

WILSON: We appreciate it.

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