Myers: U.S. Got 'Very Close' to Zarqawi

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," Feb. 22, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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BRIT HUME, HOST: On a day of intensive fighting in Iraq, we're pleased to be joined by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers.

General, welcome.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, CHMN., JOINT CHIEFS: Thank you, Brit, good to be here.

HUME: Tell me about this operation that's ongoing that's out — I guess that's out in the Al Anbar Province ...

MYERS: It is.

HUME: … west of Baghdad.


HUME: Right. Why the need for it? What's going on?

MYERS: Well, it's part of the ongoing operations where if there are areas where we think there are insurgents that are intimidating the population, that we work with our Iraqi partners. I don't know how it's been reported, but these are U.S. Marines because that's the province they work in with their counterparts in the Iraqi armed forces that are doing this operation. So it's a combined operation.

HUME: What was the situation like that they are trying to counter?

MYERS: Well, these are places where they know there are insurgents that are intimidating the local population.

HUME: Insurgents gathered in some numbers?

MYERS: Well, you've seen the numbers that have been detained. I think it's around — just short of 100. So no, not large numbers, nothing like a Fallujah, it's not that sized operation, but it's an operation nevertheless where you try to establish good governance, the rule of law, and this is one of the first steps.

HUME: And has this place been a kind of refuge — turned out to be kind of a refuge for insurgents?

MYERS: Well, I don't know that. That whole province, as you know …

HUME: It's a problem.

MYERS: It's a problem. Did not participate heavily in the voting. All the way out to the Syrian border (UNINTELLIGIBLE), it's been a problem area. So this is just one more of those areas.

HUME: Is this part of a sweep through that region or is this an isolated operation?

MYERS: No. It's part — well, I'd characterize it this way. It's part of ongoing operations and General Casey, the commander in Baghdad, General Sadler, the Marine commander, will make those determinations where they go next.

HUME: Based on the latest information you have, how would you characterize the insurgency, its nature, its size, its identity?

MYERS: Two primary threats, I think, one from the Zarqawi-type folks, which are the really extreme folks, the jihadist ties, I mean, part of Al Qaeda. So, they're about as extreme as you get. Not a large number.

But they have …

HUME: Do you have any sense of the number?

MYERS: No ...

HUME: A few hundred, thousands, what?

MYERS: Several hundreds, probably. But, you know, numbers vary. And I'll get to numbers here in just a minute. The other part is the — what we call former regime elements, Sunni extremists that are another big part.

There are lots of others though that participate. Some participate for economic reasons. They have no money. They can't support their family.

They're attracted to getting money for shooting the coalition or those sorts of things.

HUME: Hired guns.

MYERS: Hired guns. And that's probably a pretty large number.

HUME: Thousands?

MYERS: I don't know. It can ebb and flow. Some days …

HUME: Do they constitute — legitimately be called a militia?

MYERS: No. I don't think — no. It's still not a — it's not the kind of — that's part of the problem in estimating numbers, it's not the kind of organization that has organizational charts or wiring diagrams. It's a very …

HUME: They are military units.

MYERS: … cellular structure. The cells are small, and you don't — it's hard to get those kind of insights. But — and then criminals make up a large part of this as well. So — but if you look at the capability, I characterized it in testimony last week as limited, and if you look …

HUME: What does that mean? They seem to be every — we never stop hearing about them.

MYERS: I know. Well, that's — we always report the bad news. So — but if you look at the traits over time since this insurgency really got going in 2004 — in the spring of 2004, the number of attacks per week, per day and per week, per month, has remained fairly constant except for a few spikes. So when I say limited, it looks like they're capable of 50 to 60 attacks per day, over half of which have no effect, and many of which are thwarted by coalition and Iraqi forces. So they seem to have limited capacity and capability. And that's what we focus on.

HUME: When you say — let's assume that means 25 or 30 a day occur that have some effect. Are they having less effect than they did? How do you measure their effectiveness?

MYERS: I think they are having less effect than they did. I think Iraqi forces, as they did in elections — you know, it was Iraqi forces that provided for inner and outer ring security for the polling places. No insurgent penetrated those rings. And as you've heard the stories, there are at least three instances where Iraqi security forces threw themselves on either suicide bombers or — and died protecting their fellow Iraqi citizens. So yes, they're becoming much more effective in stopping vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, Iraqis are getting much better at protecting their police stations and their other government institutions.

HUME: How much coordination and how close between the Zarqawi elements, I guess, heavily populated by outsiders, and the old regime elements and their allies?

MYERS: I mean, there's some cooperation at a tactical level, certainly not at a strategic level. And in the end, I think they feel — I mean, the Zarqawi people are not compatible even in vision with the former regime elements, as bad as they both are.

HUME: How close have we been and are we now to getting Zarqawi in your estimation?

MYERS: We spend a lot of effort on that. We have some of our best intel people, knitted together all the different intel agencies.

HUME: Have we been close?

MYERS: We've been very close.

HUME: How close?

MYERS: Very close. Very close.

HUME: So you've mounted operations where you've got there and he'd gone or what?

MYERS: We've been very close.

HUME: All right.

MYERS: And he's — my guess is he's checking into lots of different motels every night. He's got to stay on the move.

HUME: Is there any indication that his effectiveness as a sort of a noted leader of this mob has diminished?

MYERS: I think he personally is undaunted, but a lot of his lieutenants, people that he trusted, I mean, lots and lots of them, have been rounded up and are now detained in Iraq by Iraqis and by us. And so, his effectiveness has to have been diminished somewhat. But, you know, as part of Al Qaeda, he gets outside help. He doesn't have to just rely on the resources that he can put together …

HUME: And where is that outside help, in your estimation, most coming from?

MYERS: Well, it comes from Al Qaeda and it can come from different means, I mean, it can come from a couple of different directions. It can come from some of the strongholds that are still …

HUME: Syria?

MYERS: It could. More likely from the Afghan-Pak border region.

HUME: And how are we doing trying to choke that off, or is that nearly impossible?

MYERS: No. I don't think it's impossible. And I think we're doing better and better. Al Qaeda has been dealt, over the last several years, a very serious blow, and the intelligence will tell you that they need more money, they're having trouble getting the resources, their movements are strained, their communications are constrained. And I think due to the great cooperation we're getting from the Afghan government and the Pak government — Pakistani government, we're doing OK.

HUME: And this issue of the Iraqi forces themselves, I guess the number depends on what kinds of forces you're talking about. How many forces — Iraqi forces in your estimation — are kind of not elite forces but fully capable military units ready for whatever military undertaking you might give them?

MYERS: Out of the 140,000 that we've equipped and trained…

HUME: Right.

MYERS: … and then need to be nurtured and mentored and go out and become fully operationally capable, there's probably 40,000 or 50,000 that are of the — more of the high-end variety. But, you know, it doesn't mean that the policeman on the beat somewhere or at a checkpoint is …

HUME: Is useless, I understand.

MYERS: Yes. Right. So …

HUME: But 40,000 or 50,000 battle-ready troops is a fair amount.

MYERS: Right. And it's gaining momentum. I mean, they came away from the elections (UNINTELLIGIBLE) said a couple interesting things the other day on the phone, our commander …

HUME: Go ahead.

MYERS: He said that Iraqi security forces have a lot of confidence themselves, and they also notice that the Iraqi people have a lot of confidence in these security forces, police and Iraqi army.

HUME: General, it's good to have you. Thank you for coming in.

MYERS: Brit, thank you for having me on.

HUME: My pleasure.

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