Military Reality and the ISG Report Gen. Jack Keane, former Army vice chief of staff, comments on recommendations for training and support of Iraq's military... and embedding U.S. advisers among Iraqi troops.

Military Reality and the ISG Report

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Now to the question of U.S. troops in Iraq and the Iraq Study Group's ideas for how they should be used. We're joined by retired General Jack Keane, former Army vice chief of staff. Thanks for being with us.

General JACK KEANE (Retired, U.S. Army): I'm glad to be here. Thank you.

BLOCK: General Keane, the Iraq Study Group says that by the first quarter of 2008 that all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq. How many would that be?

General KEANE: Well the combat brigades number about 15 and represent probably about 65,000 in terms of the size of the force.

BLOCK: Sixty-five thousand. And they're still saying that some of those should be left behind for force protection. Any idea of how many that would leave behind?

General KEANE: No, I don't know what they mean by that in terms of what number, you know, would be left behind for force protection.

BLOCK: And they're also talking about any number of other troops who would be left behind: support forces, rapid reaction forces, intelligence units, search and rescue units.

General KEANE: That's correct.

BLOCK: Do you get a sense of how dramatic a drawdown what they're proposing would represent?

General KEANE: Well I think they're really talking about something that's more than half of the force, for sure.

BLOCK: By the first quarter of 2008?

General KEANE: I think what they really intend is it would begin in the first quarter of '08.

BLOCK: What about the wisdom of that approach?

General KEANE: Well I think while it may be desirable, it is not militarily feasible if you believe that security is really the central issue in Iraq which is driving the political, economic and diplomatic challenges in Iraq, which I do believe. And to think that somehow between now and the beginning of '08, which is essentially a year from now, that the security situation will improve to such a degree that we'd be able to pull back our combat brigades - look at the reality.

Right now we have 457,000 troops in Iraq, counting the 157 coalition forces and the 300,000 Iraqi forces. And with the 450,000, we are not capable of providing security in four provinces, to include the city of Baghdad.

BLOCK: So you're saying reducing those troops would be a mistake. Are you saying you would need to add more?

General KEANE: I do not know what we're going to do in the next year that would so dramatically change the security situation, which would permit us to pull out. I think it's more of a face saving strategy, which sets the United States up in terms of our willingness to accept defeat. I think it has more to do with the lack of political will in this proposal than it does with the harsh realities that are on the ground in Iraq.

BLOCK: Well, one other idea that we've been hearing a lot about, including from the Iraq Study Group, is to turn more of our force over to training, in other words to increase, and the Iraq Study Group says increase the number of trainers from, say, 3,000 or 4,000 now to about 10,000 or 20,000. Do you think that would helpful?

General KEANE: I think that's very helpful, but let's look at the facts. If you're going to quadruple the size, and it's about 5,000 now, to 20,000, all of those officers and NCOs have to be identified. They're assigned at military bases around the world. They and their families have to be moved, and the principal will have to go to a place at Fort Riley, Kansas to conduct training for X number of weeks and months.

So even that solution that while it has a lot of merit, and myself and others agree with it certainly, even that would take much longer than the time that they're proposing.

BLOCK: If the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group are followed and U.S. forces were embedded within Iraqi forces, would that expose U.S. troops in Iraq to even more danger than they're in now?

General KEANE: Well, there would be some exposure, certainly, to be with the Iraqi units, particularly if they're not conducting combined operations with coalition and particularly U.S. forces, which is what the study group envisions in the future.

Now, they also say that you need to leave sufficient amount of force protection there. That's left unanswered as to what that truly is, because those forces clearly start to become more vulnerable in terms of being captured, using them as hostages, creating a, you know, catastrophic environment in terms of threatening those soldiers and possibly killing them in a horrific way to demoralize the American political will. All of that would have to be clearly thought through in terms of the size of our pullout and how fast that would take.

BLOCK: Well, General Keane, thanks very much for talking with us.

General KEANE: All right. You're quite welcome.

BLOCK: That's retired General Jack Keane. He's former Army vice chief of staff.

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