Transcript: Gen. David Petraeus on 'FNS'

The following is a rush transcript of the May 10, 2009, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace." This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: With troubling new developments this week in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, we thought the time was ripe for a firsthand assessment of where we stand.

Joining us from U.S. Central Command in Florida is General David Petraeus, who oversees American military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia.

And, General, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday."


WALLACE: General, let's start with Pakistan. The military there has launched a new offensive against the Taliban in the Swat Valley. Is there any sign that this is different from earlier Pakistani military campaigns, which have not been effective?

PETRAEUS: There are a number of signs of difference, actually, Chris. First of all, the actions of the Pakistani Taliban pushing below the Swat Valley into Dir and Buner seem to have galvanized all of Pakistan, not just the president and the prime minister, but also even the opposition leaders, virtually all the elements of the political spectrum and the people, in addition to, of course, the — the military.

So there is a degree of unanimity that there must be swift and effective action taken against the Taliban in Pakistan.

And this is reflected also, as has been announced by the Pakistani leaders, the shift of forces from the eastern part of their country faced off against India to the North-West Frontier Province areas where the fighting is already ongoing and where more presumably will be conducted.

WALLACE: But the fact is that — and I know you have been critical of this. A lot of military experts in the past — the Pakistani army tends to fight the war that they would fight against the Indians, with heavy artillery, with air ships — you know, with war planes fighting.

Do — do you have the sense that they have the counterinsurgency strategy that makes you confident that they can beat the Taliban in the Swat Valley?

PETRAEUS: Well, we did have some good conversations this past week in Washington as part of the trilateral process that you've reported.

And during that, it was very clear in discussions with everyone, from President Zardari through the other members of the delegation that there's an understanding that this does have to be a whole-of- government approach — in other words, not just the military but all the rest of the elements of government supporting the military — so that they can reestablish basic services, repair the damage that is inevitably done by the bombardment of these areas in which the Taliban are located, and to take care of the internally displaced persons.

And there's an enormous effort ongoing in that regard, our State Department, other countries, all trying to help the U.N., which is the agency on the front lines there, trying to take care of these refugees that are streaming out of the Swat Valley.

WALLACE: General, you reportedly told top U.S. officials recently that the next two weeks were critical to determine the survival of the Pakistani government.

If we're talking about something as existential as that, what are the chances that the Islamic radicals could get their hands on Pakistan's nuclear arsenal?

PETRAEUS: Well, first of all, the reports of what I said were a little bit more than what I actually said behind closed doors several weeks ago, at which time I said that, in fact, the next few weeks would be very important and, to a degree, pivotal in the future for Pakistan.

And I think that that has been proven accurate. Indeed, now the Pakistani government, military, people have all responded, and certainly the next few weeks will be very important in this effort to roll back, if you will, this existential threat, a true threat to Pakistan's very existence that has been posed by the Pakistani Taliban.

With respect to the — the nuclear weapons and — and sites that are controlled by Pakistan, as President Obama mentioned the other day, we have confidence in their security procedures and elements and believe that the security of those sites is adequate.

WALLACE: But — but to press the point, if I may, because, as you say, you are talking about an existential threat from Islamic radicals, can you assure the American people and the rest of the world that the U.S. will not allow those Pakistani nuclear weapons to get into the hands of Islamic radicals?

PETRAEUS: Well, this is not a U.S. assurance that matters. This is a Pakistani assurance. And also, by the way, I should point out, Chris, this is not a U.S. fight that Pakistan is carrying out at this point in — in this effort.

This is a Pakistani fight, a Pakistani battle, with elements that, as we've mentioned, threaten the very existence of the Pakistani state.

WALLACE: You also said this week that Al Qaeda has reemerged in northwestern Pakistan as a centrally organized operation capable of planning attacks in other countries.

Is Al Qaeda back in business, sir?

PETRAEUS: Well, Al Qaeda has been back in business for years, Chris. There is not an enormous revelation here. What I was merely saying was that the location of Al Qaeda's senior leadership is, indeed, in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of that very rugged border region of western Pakistan just east of Afghanistan.

There's no question that Al Qaeda's senior leadership has been there and has been in operation for years. We had to contend with its reach as it sought to facilitate the flow of foreign fighters, resources, explosives, leaders and expertise into Iraq, as you'll recall, through Syria.

We see tentacles of Al Qaeda that connect to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, the elements Al-Shabab in Somalia, elements in north central Africa, and that strive to reach all the way, of course, into Europe and into the United States.

And of course, there were attacks a couple of years ago in the U.K. that reflected the reach of the transnational extremist elements of Al Qaeda and the other movements in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

WALLACE: And — and, General, do you believe that bin Laden and Zawahiri are still in charge of Al Qaeda?

PETRAEUS: We do. Again, I don't think anyone can give you any kind of accurate location for bin Laden or, frankly, for Zawahiri other than a general description of where that might be, but certainly, they surface periodically.

We see communications that they send out. And of course, they periodically send out videos in which they try to exhort people and to inspire individuals to carry out extremist activities.

WALLACE: General, let's...

PETRAEUS: It's important to note, by the way, Chris, that — that these organizations, by the way, in the FATA have sustained some pretty significant losses over the course of the last six, eight, 10 months or so.

And there is a good deal of disruption that has taken place but, of course, that's transitory in nature, and we'll have to see how the security operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas — different from, of course, the fight in the — in the Swat and North- West Frontier Province areas go.

WALLACE: General, let's turn to Afghanistan. It has been widely reported that as many as 147 civilians, Afghan civilians, were killed after U.S. air strikes in western Afghanistan. I know you've been investigating the circumstances and the responsibility for that. At this point, what do you know?

PETRAEUS: Well, in fact, I should note, first of all, that I had a very good conversation with President Karzai about this, about some statements, of course, that he's made in recent days, and we're going to have to work our way through this.

I would point everyone to — and we sent you a copy, of course, of the joint press release — again, put out by the Afghan and U.S. elements in Kabul yesterday after their initial investigating team came back, which clearly described the sequence of events that took place, with the Taliban moving into these villages, seeking to extort money from them, eventually killing three of the citizens in that area, then engaging the Afghan police who responded, which led to the governor of that province, Farah province, requesting help from the Afghan national army and coalition forces.

It was in that response that, of course, this very significant firefight broke out, battle, that ultimately resulted in the dropping of bombs which clearly killed Taliban and some civilians that it appears the Taliban forced to remain in houses from which the Taliban was engaging our forces.

Now, we are going to do a very thorough investigation of this. I've appointed a brigadier general with extensive experience in conventional and special operations who will go out to Afghanistan and look at it more broadly as well, to ensure that our forces are very well acquainted with in — in carrying out the directives that General McKiernan has put out so that our tactical actions don't undermine our strategic goals and objectives.

And that's essentially the conversation that President Karzai and I had yesterday on this particular topic.

WALLACE: General, you also say that the Taliban is mounting a surge of its own to protect its safe havens in eastern Afghanistan. President Obama has announced that he's going to send another 21,000 troops to the country.

Are you getting all the troops you need? And what kind of assurances are you getting from the president about his willingness to send more troops if necessary, his commitment to win in Afghanistan?

PETRAEUS: Well, I'd just state that every request for forces that — that I've sent to the secretary of defense and that has gone to the president has been approved, and that carries all the requests through the course of this calendar year.

There are requests beyond that for which decisions don't need to be made for a number of months, and I'm confident those decisions will be made at that point in time.

We have gone so far as to shift some forces that just — we don't have enough of in the inventory — which, by the way, is why Secretary Gates' budget addresses these kind of so-called enablers, the low- density, high- demand units — to shift some of these from Iraq to Afghanistan, in fact, to ensure that — that the infrastructure is established and that the kinds of forces that they need to enable this significant augmentation of our forces is made possible.

WALLACE: There is also growing violence in Iraq, amid signs that the Iraqi government is dropping some of the counterinsurgency tactics that you introduced into Iraq. Jobs programs in Sunni areas are — are being ended. The Sunni "Awakening" — these are Sunni forces that are fighting Sunni insurgents — some of those units have not been paid for most of this year.

Are we giving back — is the Iraqi government giving back some of the gains that we worked so hard to establish on the ground in Iraq?

PETRAEUS: Well, first of all, I don't think it's accurate to say that the "Sons of Iraq," these Sunni "Awakening" forces, have not been paid this year. There is drama and emotion with every single payday, but the vast majority of these "Sons of Iraq" have been paid during the pay periods.

There's another one ongoing right now. Inevitably, names are lost, mixed up, or what have you. But over time, we feel quite comfortable with what the Iraqi government has done in taking care of these "Sons of Iraq" and on taking them all now onto their payroll rather than being on ours.

The level of violence, actually, has been roughly about the same for the last five or six months, which is quite significant. It has averaged between 10 and 15 attacks per day for that period, which equates to a level of violence not seen since the late summer of 2003 before the insurgency and well before the militia activities accumulated that led to, at one time, 160 attacks per day in Iraq in June of 2007. What we have seen and what is troubling, certainly, has been the incidence of sensational attacks, if you will, high-casualty-causing attacks. Particularly, we saw these in Baghdad a few weeks ago.

That did prompt a number of attacks with Iraqi conventional and special operations forces, together with our forces, to go after the reemerging networks of Al Qaeda.

We should expect that Al Qaeda will continue to try to reestablish itself in Iraq, even as the focus of Al Qaeda's senior leadership appears to have shifted away somewhat from support of the activities in Iraq.

WALLACE: I've got a couple of...

PETRAEUS: But we will see this periodically. There will be periodic upticks in that regard.

WALLACE: If I may, sir, we've got a couple of more questions I want to ask you, and we're beginning to run out of time.

I want to follow up on this last point, because all U.S. combat troops are supposed to be out of Iraqi cities by the end of June of this year.

But General Odierno, the head of U.S. forces in Iraq, now says that 20 percent of our combat forces are going to stay behind in Baghdad and Mosul past that deadline. Why is that, sir?

PETRAEUS: Well, what we are in the process of doing and have been doing is withdrawing the bases of our combat forces from Iraq cities and large towns. That process has been ongoing. It's gone smoothly. We still do have some of those bases in Baghdad and Mosul, but we think that they will be out.

What General Odierno was talking about were liaison elements, adviser elements, organizations that partner with Iraqi forces in the support of them, not in the conduct of our combat operations.

So certainly, there will be a presence, but there will not be the combat forces based in those cities as we have had in the past, and that is in accordance with the security agreement.

WALLACE: Finally, General, and we have about a minute left, let's turn, finally, to Iran.

President Obama has made several efforts to reach out to the Iranian regime. Whether it's its nuclear program or arming our enemies in Iraq, do you see any signs on the ground that the Iranian regime is moderating its behavior?

PETRAEUS: Well, I think there's probably been some small reduction in the assistance provided to Shia extremists in Iraq, although that continues, and again, it's very difficult to measure because sometimes you have to have some event that precipitates something to be able to determine how much is ongoing. Beyond that, we'll have to see as the weeks and months proceed. My deputy just accompanied Ambassador Ross in a swing through the region. There clearly — enormous concern out there about Iranian rhetoric and actions, but we need to see how these diplomatic initiatives might be able to moderate and produce some openness and transparency in Iran, particularly with respect, of course, to its nuclear programs.

WALLACE: General Petraeus, we want to thank you for giving us a tour of all your responsibilities in that part of the world. Thank you for joining us, and please come back, sir.

PETRAEUS: Thank you, Chris.

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