GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE, IRAQ: Goodto be with you, Alan.
COLMES: Appreciate it very much. You have an interesting pedigree. You have a PhD in international relations from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton. How does that inform what you do day to day?
PETRAEUS: Well, it's interesting because I've often thought that helped a great deal, particularly early on because it was one of those, what you call out of the intellectual comfort zone experiences and in many cases that's the kind of endeavor this is, it's out of our intellectual comfort zones, not strictly high-end, major combat operations. It involves a lot of other activities and endeavors and frankly, I guess a lot of other skills at various times. And I think that that has helped enormously over time. Even some ofthe basic concepts of economics and political philosophy were quite useful early on when we were in Mosul and some of the other places, so it has helped and I've drawn on that on a number of different occasions.
COLMES: Sir, we are heard this hour on Armed Forces Radio ...
PETRAEUS: I'm sorry. I can't hear you right now. Hang on asecond.
COLMES: All right.
PETRAEUS: My apology. I'm sitting outside and that helicopter ...
COLMES: What are we hearing in the background? What is - that is obviously a helicopter.
PETRAEUS: That is a helicopter.
COLMES: We are heard on Armed Forces Radio during this hour of our show. I wonder what you might like to say to the men and women listening on Armed Forces Radio to you right now.
PETRAEUS: Well, I would say that - will (ph) remind them that all of America appreciates enormously what they're doing and that they really should be very, very proud of what they're part of. Tom Brokaw, who, as you know, wrote the book, "The Greatest Generation" about the World War II generation was with us one day and after he saw all that our troopers were engaged in, he turned me to me before leaving and said to me, surely, this is the new greatestgeneration. I really agreed with that then and I still do very much. They're great Americans, special in so many ways and we're very fortunate to have them serving in uniform serving our country.
COLMES: General, is the surge working?
PETRAEUS: Well, it is. We are making progress. We have achieved tactical momentum in many areas, especially against al Qaeda in Iraq, and to a lesser degree against the militia (ph) extremists. We're also heartened by the number of Iraqi tribes and local citizens who have rejected al Qaeda. We cannot attribute that to the surge but the surge certainly enabled that to move much more rapidly, we believe, than it otherwise would have.
COLMES: Now you ...
PETRAEUS: Having said that, there are innumerable challenges. And obviously an enormous amount of hard work remains to be done.
COLMES: The surge strategy has been referred to by some as the Petraeus Doctrine and when you and Ambassador Ryan Crocker report to Congress on September 15, it would be unlikely for you to report that your own strategy isn't working, right?
PETRAEUS: Well, I have vowed that I will provide a forthright and comprehensive assessment and I'm not going to pull punches, and I have all along, frankly, reported setbacks as well as successes and we intendto do that when we go back and it will not be an unblemished report. The interim benchmark report was not an unblemished report. It's more of a mixed bag. There has been progress in certain areas. Certainly there has been tactical progress. There has been progress again in this sort of local reconciliation but there has not been comparable progress at the national political level here in Iraq.
COLMES: You've been - you've come under fire in the press in this country for a series of positive reports as far back as 2004 when you actually appeared with Charlie Rose and you talked with reconciliation and progress along those lines. In 2005, when you made a presentation, I believe it was at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, and you showed pictures of Sunnis and Shiites standing together. You talked about hugeprogress on November 7, 2005 being made in training Iraqi Combined (ph) troops. Do you still stand by all of those statements or has time shown in some of those cases the progress to which you were referring was not exactly as great as may have been implied?
PETRAEUS: No, I certainly do. And in fact if you go back and look at those you'll find that generally those reports of progress were also tempered by reports of caution and measured statements. Some of what we did was undone by a variety of different events thattragically transpired and I don't think anyone disputes that Mosul was moving along quite well when we were privileged to be up there with the 101st Airborne Division. Unfortunately, six months after we left the governor was assassinated, the political situation went into turmoil andfour months later the police collapsed under the weight of an al Qaeda offensive.
That was a huge setback and there were no bones made about it but itdidn't mean that there had not been progress in the year prior to that.I think, tragically, the progress that was made in the Iraqi security force arena, and again, I think if you look at what I provided at those times, that there was acknowledgements that it was literally always a term of qualified optimism or what have you and it depended on continuedprogress and continued efforts in certain areas but the sectarian violence of 2006 very sadly undid an awful lot of what had been achievedin previous years and as you know, it spiraled out of control to levels that were really horrific and tore the very fabric of Iraqi society in the latter part of 2006 and into early 2007.
We're still, frankly, dealing with that situation very much and it is a situation that has much more fear, as Ambassador Crocker has described rightly in a number of occasions than certainly we experiencedprior to the last departure from here in September 2005 for me, forexample.
COLMES: So when you made those statements in 2004 in 2005, and talked about great progress and some degree of reconciliation, there wasno way to foresee that there would be such sectarian violence in 2006 and early 2007 to kind of blow up some of those statements from earlier?
PETRAEUS: Well, I don't think anyone foresaw the Samarra Mosque, the third holiest Shia shrine being blown up the way that it was, nor the events that followed that over time and unfortunately that happened at a time when you'll recall - there were these moments of optimism, certainly, first of all following liberation, then with the elections, the new government, the transition from CPA to the Allawi government, the famous purple finger moments and I think it's very legitimate to feel some degree of optimism at times like that. I will tell you that I at this point in this endeavor will not say Iam an optimist or a pessimist, I will say that I am a realist. And I have a very realistic appraisal of the challenges that are here and the enormous difficulties that face this country in our endeavor.
COLMES: Jack Kelly (ph) in the "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette" reported in August of 2005. He said ever since Army Lieutenant General, at the time, you've been promoted since, David Petraeus took responsibility fortraining Iraqi security forces last year, the target date for beginning a major American withdrawal has been June 2006. What happened?
PETRAEUS: Well, what happened was in part the Samarra Mosque bombing, again. And the rise of sectarian violence that resulted in certain of the Iraqi units being actually hijacked by sectarian interests. Very sadly. Some of the units that were among the most courageous say in the fall, winter of 2004 and into early 2005 really became instruments of sectarian instruments later in Iraq's time and in fact, the minister of interior has replaced all nine of the brigade commanders of the nationalpolice and about 70 percent of the battalion commanders in the last fourto six months so things did take a turn, certainly for the worse and that sectarian violence did do enormous damage to this country.
COLMES: General Petraeus, "The Washington Post" reported on Monday of this week that the Pentagon lost track of about 190,000 AK-47s, assault rifles and pistols given to the Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005. The U.S. Accountability Office says U.S. military officials don't know what happened to 30 percent of the weapons and I quote from the piece that says, "The GAO says weapons distribution was haphazard and rushed and failed to follow established procedures, particularly from 2004 to 2005 when security training was led by General David H. Petraeus." What happened?
PETRAEUS: Well, what happened was we were in a period where, as you'll recall, the Iraqi units of April 2004 had really crumbled when they were ordered into operations during the first Fallujah uprising andwhen we came in a started standing up the train and equip mission that came to be known as the Multinational Security Transition Command in Iraq in the summer of 2004, there was not much in the way of structure.We did start to receive equipment, both from - ordered by the CPA initially and also by the Iraqi government and it was a tough situation. August was the time when Muqtada al Sadr took over the mosque in Najaf and again forces had to go into action. By that time we then had some Iraqi forces that were ready to fight but they didn't have equipment and that was the beginning of a number of decisions to help provide equipment top Iraqi forces, sometimes literally under fire. In one case actually flying into Najaf, into a helipad at night, a hot LZ, literally, in Chinook helicopters and actually kicking two battalions worth of equipment off the ramp and getting out of there while we still could.
That type of decision was something that we made at the time becausethose forces needed those weapons and that equipment. We weren't going to stay there in the dark and make guys do a serial number inventory andsign them up and that is what happened. We believe those weapons all certainly were given to Iraqi units. Those units did have advisors, butthey did not have the property book officer, they did not have the property book records that we would associate with normal procedures andyet they were units that needed to go into the fight, the Iraqi government was under enormous pressure. They made their request known to us and frankly it seemed to us that we needed to get the weapons intotheir hands and so that is what we did. And that's what resulted was an inability to track by serial number some percentage of those weapons that were issued during that time.
As we got into the - as we built slowly that new headquarters, the Multinational Security Transition Command and its subordinate elements, we were able to establish normal property accountability procedures, to get property book officers in to create literally a property book, as it's called, and to support the same with these new Iraqi units as they came online. But they were, frankly, building them faster, in fact, under pressure because of the Allawi government trying to get a grip on the violence that was rising during the fall of 2004 and staring elections in January 2005 squarely in the face, to do all that they could and again we had to decide whether to hold things out until we could get every single piece in place or again, help them out when they wanted to fight and confront al Qaeda, the insurgents and the other associated movements at that time and we decided to help them out.
COLMES: You say you have a sense of where those 190,000 weapons areor is there a good chance that some of them fell into the hands of the insurgency and how do you prevent this from happening again?
PETRAEUS: Well, we did in fact take measures, Alan, again, startingin the spring of that year as we got these warrant officers in, these property book officers and so forth and created first our own logisticalstructures commensurate with a task of that magnitude and it was an enormous task. We occasionally likened it to building the world's largest air craftwhile in flight and while being shot at. But we gradually starting putting those procedures into place.
Got them really established, I'd say in the summer of 2005 and then built from there and continued gradually to build the Iraqi depot system, their own property accountability systems and all the rest of that, keeping in mind, again,that this is being done while these units literally were fighting. They went from the parade field the battlefield in very short order and that was the order of the day and again, over time, those procedureswere put in place and I think the GAO acknowledges that and notes thatfact.
COLMES: How many of those weapons do you think would be in the hands of our enemies?
PETRAEUS: I don't know. Again, reestablished accountability for the vast majority of them, certainly, they are on property books. Over time what we now have is a procedure that actually has biometric data associated with every serial number but again, when this started out, this is a very, very tiny organization, initially, as were the logistical structures. And there was no logistical structure of the Iraqi Army. When we stood up the organization in the summer of 2004, the Ministry of Defense did not exist. Their joint headquarters was literally a handful of officers with cell phones and so forth and so there was an enormous amount of building that had to be done to rebuild the institutions that we would associate with any normal kind of armed forces.
COLMES: Do you anticipate the same level of troops after the fall?
PETRAEUS: Well, I think, Alan, it's very well known and the secretary of defense and others have all been very clear that the surge has always been viewed as something that is temporary and the Army, the Marine Corps cannot maintain the surge levels of forces. That is well known and so the question is really how and when do we begin to drawdownfrom that surge and I expect we need a bit more time, certainly, to havea sense of where we'll be a few months hence but General Odierno, the Multinational Corps Commander and I have been working for some time already to do what we call the battlefield geometry, to figure out as all of the troop rotations take place starting in the fall, because there is a large number of brigade rotations that will be ongoing in thefall, the winter and into the spring. Where is it that we thin out? Where do we want to keep what we haveright now and so forth? We obviously want to do this in a way that doesnot surrender gains that our soldiers have fought very hard to achieve as you would imagine.
COLMES: You know, Admiral Mike Mullen who is testifying before Congress as he is up for chairman of the Joint Chiefs said no amount of troops, no amount of time will make much of a difference in Iraq. Do you concur with that?
PETRAEUS: I think he said something beyond that. Could repeat that.
COLMES: No amount of troops in no amount of time will make difference in Iraq, and I think he's talking about unless you have reconciliation.
PETRAEUS: I think he said no amount of troops in no amount of time will make a difference if there is not commensurate progress on the political level ...
COLMES: Right. It was reconciliation.
PETRAEUS: To eventually lead to national reconciliation. And I have said the same thing. I have said repeatedly that military action is necessary, very necessary but it is not sufficient and I think he is absolutely right. Long term national reconciliation, the achievement of what we term sustainable security, is only possibly if the Iraqi national leaders canresolve some of these really tough issues with which they've been grappling, issues like the reform of the de-Baathification law, the oil revenue sharing law, provincial powers and provincial elections and so forth.
COLMES: What is your relationship like at this moment with Prime Minister Maliki?
PETRAEUS: My relationship with Prime Minister Maliki is quite good. We talk typically several times a day and meet several times a week. Usually, I -- with Ambassador Ryan Crocker, my diplomatic wing man here and a real consummate diplomat and Arabist. This is his third tour in Iraq. We are absolute partners in this endeavor, and the campaign plan is a joint campaign plan between Multi-National Force Iraq and the U.S Embassy with the British and Australian embassies and others contributing to it as well.
COLMES: You probably are familiar with ...
PETRAEUS: Again, we have a good -- a very good relationship with Prime Minister Maliki, and that's contrary to some reports that were putout by some political figures in Baghdad ...
PETRAEUS: ...who were trying to throw sand in the gears of that relationship I believe because he courageously and publicly came out against militias that are associated with some of the political parties of these individuals.
COLMES: Well, "Stars and Stripes," as you're familiar -- as you just alluded to, printed an AP story on July 30th, claiming that Maliki wanted you removed from Iraq because of the strategy of arming Sunni militias and quoted you as saying, I'm going to speak up, and I have on occasion, and you said, another couple of occasions, have demonstrated the full range of emotions in your conversations with Maliki.
PETRAEUS: Well, I think it's important in a hugely important endeavor to our country and when you're representing 160,000 great youngmen and women as different coalition countries to be very clear at timeswith your counter-parts. I can assure you that the full range of emotions is a very rare occasion, and in fact, it -- they haven't been in evidence with him (ph) in some number of months. And it certainly isnot over the issue of the form -- arming of former Sunni insurgents.
In fact, we -- the ambassador and I met with him the other day, and he has just approved what was really a very tough decision for him, and that is to accept some 1700 or so individuals from the Abu Ghraib area, some of which are clearly former members of the Jashaislami (ph), which was an insurgent group, but which is now decided to oppose al Qaeda Iraq, it rejects the Taliban-like ideology of al Qaeda Iraq, and wants to be part of a legitimate government security forces. And you know, we sat down with the prime minister and we all agreed that reconciliation is done between former enemies, not friends. That's what makes it so tough.
But his office has an organization, the Reconciliation Committee, we have engagement cell (ph) in the Multi-National Force headquarters, it has both diplomats and senior officers in it, and they work together on these types of issues. But that is what transformed Anbar Province. It was sheiks and tribes who, at best, turned a blind eye to what al Qaeda Iraq was doing before, but then came to some of our commanders and said that they had decided that they were tired of the violence, tired of the demands of this, again, Taliban-like ideology which is really foreign to them in which they had only supported because of their feelings of having been, at least in their perception, dispossessed and really disrespected, if you will, in the wake of liberation.
They came to our commanders, they asked if we would support them if they turned their weapons on al Qaeda, and instead of, in some cases, probably having them turned on us. And I think understandably we applauded, said that we would support them. And in fact, that has transformed Anbar province from one that was described in an intelligence document last year as lost to one that is now just remarkably different. Peace has broke out in much of Anbar province. There is certainly still some clearance of al Qaeda needed in the area north of Fallujah in the far eastern part of Anbar province. But Ithink it has been literally months since Ramadi, for example, once the capital of the new caliphate under Zarqawi, was -- has even had a mortarattack.
COLMES: Can the Iraqi security forces and police be trained? I know that when you were promoted to lieutenant general, you were chargedwith the task of training the new Iraqi army and security forces as commander of the Multi-National Security Transition Command. How well is that going? Can they be trained? Is it a matter of more numbers? Are you confident that the time will come when they will be able to take over security for their own country?
PETRAEUS: Well, they have actually taken over security in a number of different places, Alan. If you Samawa (ph), Nasiriyah, Najaf, Karbala, we hardly have any forces in those locations at all. Occasionally they will ask the Special Forces team in the area for some assistance. And we are happy to bring in close air support if needed, if the militias get -- act up or something like that. There are other areas that have serious al Qaeda threats like Mosul,by the way, which has come back impressively, and which has army police forces that have now proven quite resilient.
In fact, just a few days ago, it was an Iraqi army element that killed the emir of Mosul, the al Qaeda emir of Mosul. That same day they found and cleared I think it was four car bombs. Certainly al Qaeda has the ability to continue to conduct car bomb attacks, suicide attacks that are trying reignite sectarian violence. But our soldiers and Marines and other forces have done enormous damage to them in recent months in particular, and especially since in the pastseven weeks of this surge of offenses that has been possible by the surge of forces.
Certainly, as I mentioned earlier, look, Alan, there is no two ways about it, some of these Iraqi forces went off the rails during the height of the sectarian violence. And some of that started to appear inthe late 2005 period. And it went through 2006. And in the wake Samarra mosque bombing again, because a major concern, which is way, as I mentioned, the minister of interior has replaced all of the brigade commanders of the national police, the unit most suspected -- actually shown to be -- to have been an instrument of sectarian violence. And we still have concerns about them. And so you have elements at that level -- or at that end of the spectrum. And then you have others that are very much fighting either in the lead independently or alongside our forces.
And they are losing -- their losses are three times our losses in anaverage period. So they are definitely fighting and dying for their country. Again they are uneven in quality, but there are dozens and dozens of very good units out there. And their high-end units are truly very fine elements. Their commando battalions, their counterterrorist force, their national emergency response unit, their special tactics unit and so forth. Theseare truly legitimate high-end forces that rank with the best of the Special Forces in this region.
COLMES: We only have moment left. I want to ask you, when the president says the same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September 11th, and that is why what happens in Iraq matters for security here at home, is that a nuanced enough understanding of exactly who the enemy is in Iraq? Is it truly al Qaeda or is it much broader than that and much more complex than that?
PETRAEUS: Well, the enemy in Iraq is very, very complex. And as I have mentioned, it is not just al Qaeda Iraq. We tend to see al Qaeda as public enemy number one. But it is probably not the enemy in Baghdadright now even that is conducting the majority of attacks against our soldiers. That would be these different militia extremist elements that may beconducting as many as two-thirds or so of the attacks. However, having said that, the attacks that have the most strategic significance, the --again, the car-bombings, the suicide vest attacks and so forth that cause such significant damage to the psychological fabric of Iraqi society and as well as just sheer physical damage, those are conducted by al Qaeda Iraq.
And they are very clearly linked to the so-called AQSL, the al Qaedasenior leadership, located in the Pakistan/Afghanistan border tribal areas, without question. I mean, we -- you have seen released on a number of occasions communications between them. And I can assure you that that does go on. We have been able to damage very seriously the media operations of al Qaeda in Iraq and their communications ability. In fact, we even killed the three al-Turki brothers, who were former -- in Afghanistan area al Qaeda who were sent over to al Qaeda Iraq to help shore up the situation in northern Iraq, which has been under particular pressure in the last several months. As we have cleared Baquba, taken al Qaeda out in most of Anbar province, pushed them out of neighborhoods in Baghdad and so forth. Butagain, there are also still some insurgent groups that are disconnected from al Qaeda. There are other that we call al Qaeda affiliates, if youwill. And so again, this is a very, very challenging endeavor, and that isbefore we even talk about the violent criminals and others who are taking advantage of the absence of the full rule of law in many parts ofIraq.
COLMES: As you know, there is great political pressure in this country and a great debate that goes on here about whether we should stay or leave or get out or whether this was ever a good idea in the first place. How does that affect you? And do you see us any time soon doing what it seems like an increasing number of Americans want, which is to bring men and women and wrap this up?
PETRAEUS: Well, as I mentioned, first of all, some are going to come home because, again, the surge is a temporary measure. Again, the duration of our involvement is up to the policy-makers at one end of Pennsylvania Avenue, and to those who provide advice and consent and resources at the other end. It is not up to Ambassador Ryan Crocker or myself. Our job is to provide an honest, forthright and comprehensive assessment of the situation, to provide recommendations on the way ahead when those are called for and needed, and we will do some of that in the near future. And also to provide our assessment of the implications of various courses of action that might be entertained. And that is what we intendto do when we are back there in September.
COLMES: General, what do you miss most about not being home?
PETRAEUS: My family.
PETRAEUS: This is my fourth year or longer deployment since 2001. That includes now over three years in Iraq and on top of a year in Bosnia and a lot of other time away from home. And just like every other soldier over here, you know, I'm not applauding the fact that I'm here, but I know that this is a hugely important mission. I'm proud andfeel very privileged to be soldiering with the great young men and womenwho wear the American flag and the coalition flags on their right shoulders. And I'll tell you that on the Fourth of July we had a particularly special moment when there were 588 of those great young men and women who raised their right hand, and I was able to administer the oath of enlistment to them as they re-enlisted for another tour of duty in America's Armed Forces, despite knowing the sacrifices that would be required of them by signing on for another hitch.
COLMES: How long do you think you'll be there?
PETRAEUS: I don't even think about that. (LAUGHTER)
COLMES: Well, listen, sir, I certainly appreciate the opportunity to talk to you. It's a privilege and I wish you great safety and tremendous success in guarding over our interests and our men and women who serve you and serve our country.
PETRAEUS: Well, thanks. It's been a pleasure to be with you, and thanks for what you do as well.
COLMES: Appreciate it, and thanks for standing up to some direct questioning here. Appreciate it very much.
PETRAEUS: You bet. OK, Alan. Bye-bye now.
COLMES: Thanks, General Petraeus. Thanks very much.