This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," Jan. 25, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CASEY: We’re broadly on track to achieve the goals that we’ve set for ourselves. Which is an Iraq with a representative government and security forces that could maintain domestic order and deny Iraq as a safe haven for terror. And we’re broadly on track to achieve those goals here by the end of next year.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRIT HUME: That from no less than the U.S. commander in Iraq. And if you put his remarks together with the upbeat remarks expressed to FOX News by General David Petraeus (search), who’s in charge of training Iraqi forces, you have a decidedly positive portrayal of the military situation there. But generals don’t get to be generals without a can-do spirit.
So let’s turn to one who no longer has to take or carry out orders, Retired Army General and military historian Robert Scales, also a FOX News contributor.
GEN. ROBERT SCALES (RET.), FOX NEWS MILITARY ANALYST: Hi, Brit. Good to see you.
HUME: First of all, let’s talk a little bit about General Petraeus, a man you know well.
SCALES: Yes, I do.
HUME: And who you heard in the Dana Lewis report talking about those Iraqi soldiers, some of whom we saw there on the tank. And he was saying and quite confident and chipper that these guys were good to go. They had two weapons and more than one. They had Kevlar vests (search). We’re hearing from him and others that is these people will be providing most of the protection this weekend. The U.S. forces in a supporting role. Can we count on — I mean this sounds — this sounds like it may work.
SCALES: Well, there’s been an enormous sea change in the quality of Iraqi forces in the last six months. I’ve seen it and I — the word I get from the theater from unbiased sources, it’s pretty remarkable. They’ve gone from one battalion to over 47 guard battalions. From two commando battalions.
HUME: Now, how many people is 47 guard battalions?
SCALES: Oh, let’s see. You figure about 600 per battalion, so whatever it is, 24, 28.
HUME: That’s 28,000.
SCALES: Yes, it’s a good-sized force, 27 commando battalions. They now have two armored brigades. I think what’s most important is for the first time now, we see American advisors, 10-man teams of mostly enlisted soldier who is not only train the Iraqis, but also go out on patrol with them and share the risks of close combat with Iraqi units.
HUME: Used to be small numbers of Iraqis going out with teams of Americans.
SCALES: You train them up, send them out, and let the Iraqis fend for themselves. And I’ve been told by some reliable sources that two of our young soldiers tragically have been killed in close combat with Iraqi units. Brit, that is a serious sea change. Not only in the effectiveness of the Iraqi units, but the commitment to create an Iraqi force that can stand by itself.
HUME: Now, Senator Biden (search) was saying that the estimates that he’s heard got picked up when he was over there, and hasn’t been that long, were that there were no more than 4,000 men under arms and well trained. That’s got be — that’s wildly at variance from what we’ve heard from these generals.
SCALES: Well, that depends on what you think of as "well trained." The question was which of the Iraqi unit — how many Iraqi soldiers were as good as American soldiers? That was the question. And somebody came up with 4,000. Well, I mean, you know, we’ve had an Army that’s been in being 223 years. And we’re very good. We’re the best army in the world. So that’s an apple and oranges comparison.
I mean to build an army that’s stable and effective and autonomous, takes not a couple of month, six months, a year, it takes decades. It takes 15 years to create a battalion commander or good platoon sergeant. So this is nothing that won’t be rushed this. This is going to take time. For what I’ve seen in the last six months, Dave Petraeus, I think, has done nothing less than a miracle in turning this military force around.
HUME: Well, what do you hear now about the report that General Luck (search) is supposed to bring back, or has brought back in fact, from his mission in Iraq. Where he was supposed to assess the level or the amount of training, he is said to be recommending a drastic acceleration.
SCALES: Very important point, Brit. What you’re going to see is a sea change in the military situation and the military strategy in Iraq over of the next four months. Up until now, the weight of the effort, the close combat effort has been born by American soldiers and Marines. What you’re going to see is an effort not only to shift resource: people and money and equipment to the Iraqis, but also shift the mission to the Iraqis.
And so between, let’s just say the election and say midsummer, you’re going to see the Americans begin to pull back, push the Iraqis forward. Let them fight on their own, give them the things we give them best: logistics, fire support, intelligence at the strategic and operational level, and let them do them do the close.
HUME: And one assumes air cover at times.
SCALES: Well, that’s what I meant by firepower: artillery, mortars, and air power. Yes, because that’s what we will be providing them for a long time. The key is it’s gone from a training effort to an advisory effort. And that’s a huge difference.
HUME: But is General Luck expected to recommend an intensification of this training?
SCALES: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Because that’s our exit strategy, Brit.
HUME: Right. But does that mean more forces go in who are trainers? And we have it for a time and a larger force present.
HUME: Or what does that mean?
SCALES: Yes. There’s a new corps going over to replace the Third Corps. It’s the 18-Airborne Corps. And that corps is increasingly going to be given the mission of not only providing sort of security Iraq, but also to carry the heavy burden of this advisory and training mission.
So that corps from Fort Bragg, North Carolina is going to be the corps that sort of makes that transition from purely a security mission into a training and advisory mission.
HUME: Now let me get your reaction to General Casey, the overall commander’s remark there. That we are broadly on target to meet the goal of — and into next year being able to turn this not entirely, perhaps, but largely turnover the Iraqis. A stable government in place. Insurgency maybe not dead, but not anywhere in any danger of prevailing, so to speak. Does that strike you as a plausible, realistic estimate?
SCALES: I think it is realistic. And I think fall is the time that we’ll have to start looking for results. Because remember, the clock is ticking. And the negative side is, of course, that we have an Army and Marine Corps that’s stretched thin to perform now two missions. And we do it through a rotation.
HUME: Fighting and training.
SCALES: Fighting and training, and this is sort of trying to carry on a dual mission, which is going to be very difficult. The equipment is beginning to wear out. You’ve seen a recent announcement; the Army gets something like $60 million to re-capitalize and rebuild its vehicle fleet.
So — and frankly, soldier will be heading into their third rotation beginning next fall, the next winter. So the clock is ticking. We’re going to have to start handing this over and let the Iraqis bear the burden, before our Army and Marine Corps begin to crack.
HUME: General Scales, it’s always a pleasure to have you. Bob, thanks very much.
SCALES: Thanks, Brit.
HUME: It’s good to see you.
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