Austin Bay’s Deep Background podcast series resumes with an extended 30-minute long interview with General David Petraeus, who called Austin from Baghdad on Monday. An edited version of this interview was also featured on this week’s edition of PJ Media’s PJM Political, on XM Satellite Radio’s POTUS ’08 presidential election channel.
A transcript of the interview follows:
AUSTIN BAY: Welcome to Pajamasmedia.com’s Deep Background.
I’m Austin Bay, your host. You’ll find my website and blog found at austinbay.net. You’ll find PJ Media at pjmedia.com, the blog collective of over 100 of the most active and interesting web logs on the Internet, and linked to XM Satellite Radio.
This special edition of Deep Background is also linked to The Arena USA.com and its Austin Bay channel found at http://austinbay.thearenausa.com/insight/
Let’s go straight to our guest, General David Petraeus, Commander of Multi-National Force – Iraq. And later this year, General Petraeus will become commander of U.S. Central Command.
A graduate of West Point, he also holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from Princeton in international relations. And he commanded the 101st Airborne Division in Operation Iraqi Freedom I in 2003.
General Petraeus, thank you for joining us.
GENERAL PETRAEUS: Good to be with you, Austin. Thanks.
MR. BAY: Sir, I also noticed that you commanded Multi-National Security Transition Command – Iraq, MNSTC-I, as we call it, in June 2004 through September 2005. What is MNSTC-I, sir, and what part does it play in the Coalition operation in Iraq?
GENERAL PETRAEUS: Well, the Multi-National Security Transition Command – Iraq is the ‘train and equip’ organization, to use the shorthand. It is the organization that has been charged with helping the Iraqi Ministries of Interior and Defense to organize, train, equip, build, in the form of bases and infrastructure, and advise the Iraqi army, navy, air force, marines, and, on the Ministry of Interior side, the Iraqi regular police, station police, patrol police, national police, emergency response unit, and, also on both sides, a variety of special operations forces, these elements and so forth. It’s a very, very large mission.
MR. BAY: So it plays an absolutely fundamental role in the transition to Iraqi control and with Iraqi security forces.
GENERAL PETRAEUS: It does indeed. It helps the Iraqis perform that mission of standing up. And, of course, that enables us, over time, as the enemy’s situation is improved, in other words, as Al-Qaeda, as Sunni extremists and as the Shia militia are reduced in capability, it allows us to reduce our forces and to transition to more of an advisory role and to allow the Iraqis to increasingly take the lead. And that’s something that’s been going on really for quite some time.
MR. BAY: Well that that leads to my next question. It does strike me that we are in a moment of – strategic change. The military uses the term posturing reposturing–it’s a process but it’s a change from what coalition forces have been doing more of in the past to coalition forces doing less and Iraqi forces doing more.
In Iraq, are we at a time of strategic change?
GENERAL PETRAEUS: Well, we’ve been at moments of strategic change. I don’t think — these are not light-switch moments, Austin, and what you have is more of a rheostat — many, many rheostat moments where, in small areas, local areas, districts and eventually provinces, there is an ongoing transition, and has been an ongoing transition, for the Iraqi forces to step more into the lead and for the Coalition forces to step back and to provide support and enablings. And this has been ongoing for some time.
In fact, there’s no way that we could have achieved, and by “we” I mean now the Iraqi and Coalition Forces together, that we could have achieved the security gains of the past year, eighteen months, but particularly since we began reducing the surge forces.
The fact is that we’re at the lowest level of security incidents, and have been now, for over two months, since March of 2004, despite the fact that we had drawn down our forces by the five army brigade combat teams of the surge and the two marine battalions and marine expeditionary units and a handful of smaller units as well.
And what has enabled that is the damage done to Al-Qaeda, Iraq and its extremist allies and to the militia and so-called special groups and the steady growth in not just number but capabilities of Iraqi forces.
And it’s very important to remember that the Iraqi surge continues, and their surge was many multiples of our surge. They’re at 140,000 additional soldiers and police since we began the surge back in early 2007, and continuing to grow, and, more importantly, growing in terms of professionalism, in terms of capability and so forth.
Again, I don’t want to overstate this at all. First of all, the enemy remains lethal, resilient and very dangerous, and we’ve seen instances of that in recent weeks. And Iraqi forces remain uneven in many respects. But, over time, that unevenness is, frankly, less so, and what you have is many more Iraqi units doing a credible job and many of them actually doing quite well.
In fact, our leaders assess that over 110 of Iraq’s army combat battalion, this is just the army now, but including their special operations forces, over 100 of those battalions are actually in the lead on the ground. And that’s quite a considerable change over the years.
(Transcript continues on next page.)