Teleconference between Gen. David Petraeus, MNF-I commander, and Associated Press reporters, May 8, 2007
MODERATOR: (In progress) -- changed the mission, added troops, bolstered the command staff by at least three Ph.D.s for strategy, insisted on local commanders working with local Iraqi leaders, and making himself, his top commanders and the military public affairs officers available to the press. General Petraeus also walked the talk, literally. He made several high-profile walking tours of important and strategic Baghdad neighborhoods.
General Petraeus will begin his report today with an assessment of where things stand in Iraq. He will then take questions from two AP journalists who have also walked the streets of Iraq. They are AP's international editor, John Daniszewski, and Washington-based Pennsylvania reporter Kim Hefling. Kim is something of a ringer. She was the first reporter to interview General Petraeus when he took command of the 101st Airborne at Fort Campbell, and she also covered General Petraeus in Mosul during the invasion.
So in addition to running the war, the general has had a tough travel schedule, having spent a week in Washington and face time with some very important people. We're especially grateful to have him with us today.
General, you're addressing a roomful of media leaders who are facing a few disruption challenges of their own, who are eager for any leadership lessons that might spill over. And I guess the first question that we might have is, why did you volunteer for this assignment?
GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, thanks very much for that kind introduction. I've wondered about the answer to that question a couple of times here in recent months. And I must say that after my recent week in Washington, I wasn't entirely reluctant to return to Baghdad.
I do appreciate the opportunity to address your annual meeting this morning. In fact, I noted that the theme of your conference is a year in transition. And that really doesn't apply only to your industry; as you noted, it applies to Iraq, as well, where we have, in fact, transitioned to a strategy that puts primacy on security of the Iraqi people so that their leaders can pursue reconciliation --
MODERATOR: General, excuse me. We have no audio coming in from Baghdad at this time. Give us one second. (Pause.)
(Pause due to technical difficulties.)
MODERATOR: Sir, we can hear you.
GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, great. Thanks for the kind words. Thanks for the kind questions. I've wondered about the answer to that question a few times over the course of the past month. And I can tell you that after a week Washington, I was not completely reluctant to return to Baghdad.
I do appreciate the opportunity to be with you this morning and to address your annual meeting, especially as I noted that the theme of your conference this year is the year in transition. And of course, that theme, as your introduction highlighted, doesn't apply just to the industry you're in, it applies in Iraq as well, where we have transitioned to a strategy that puts primacy on security of the Iraqi people so that their leaders can pursue reconciliation and come to grips with the tough political questions that must be resolved to achieve enduring progress.
This morning what I'd like to do is provide a short update on the situation in Iraq, explaining how we're working to help create an environment conducive to national reconciliation, and then briefly touch on my view on the role of the press before offering a recent example of the partnership between coalition and Iraqi forces. And I'd then be happy to take your questions and would like to make just a closing comment before we severe the link.
The operational environment in Iraq is the most complex and challenging that I have ever seen in service in Central America, Haiti, the Balkans and some other locations. The increase in sectarian violence in 2006, as you noted in the introduction, following the Samarra mosque bombing, did enormous damage -- literally tearing the fabric of Iraqi society, changing the demographics of Baghdad neighborhoods and displacing millions of Iraqis.
Members of al Qaeda, extremist militia members and Sunni insurgents seek to destroy what Iraqi leaders are trying to build. Political parties with ethnosectarian interests, limited governmental capacity and corruption add additional challenges. And on top of all that, exceedingly unhelpful activities by Iran and Syria, especially by Iran, compound the enormous problems facing the new Iraq.
The situation is in short exceedingly challenging. I will explain there has been some progress in several areas in recent months despite or in face of the sensational attacks by al Qaeda-Iraq, which have, without question, been significant blows to our efforts and have often caused psychological damage that was even greater than the physical damage they produced. Iraq is in fact the central front of al Qaeda's global campaign, an assessment shared by the commander of our Joint Special Operations Command, the organization that is -- (inaudible) -- for our country in prosecuting the campaign against al Qaeda, and also by the Defense Intelligence Agency director, among many others.
In fact, General McChrystal's special operators and the Multinational Force-Iraq devote enormous resources to the fight against al Qaeda-Iraq, and we have achieved some notable successes in the past few months -- detaining and killing a number of key network leaders, including the one we announced two days ago, discovering how various parts of al Qaeda-Iraq operates, taking apart a car bomb network that had killed 650 Baghdad citizens, and destroying several significant car bomb factories.
None the less, al Qaeda-Iraq remains a formidable foe with considerable resilience and a capability to produce horrific attacks. This group's activities must be significantly disrupted, at the least, for the new Iraq to succeed. And it has been heartening to see Sunni Arabs in Iraq's westernmost province of Anbar and several other key areas in the country turning against al Qaeda and joining the Iraqi security forces to fight against it.
Extremist militia elements in Iraq are also a substantial problem and must be significantly disrupted. There can be no sustainable outcome in Iraq if militia death squads are allowed to lie low during the surge, only to resurface later and resume their killing and intimidation.
There have been some significant successes in this arena as well, including the detention of the heads of the Sadr secret cell network, the Khazali brothers, and more recently -- (brief audio break) -- the Iraq leader of an explosively formed projectile network, the network that brings these very lethal improvised explosive devices in from Iran; the former deputy minister of Health and his Facility Protection Security Force brigadier, individuals that had hijacked that ministry, essentially; and a national police officer accused of torture, with several of these detained by Iraqi forces, which is quite significant, given that they are Shi'a and the government is, of course, led by Shi'a.
Sunni insurgents and the so-called Sunni resistance are still forces that must be reckoned with as well. However, while we continue to battle a number of such groups, we are seeing some others join Sunni Arab tribes in turning against al Qaeda-Iraq and helping transform Anbar province and other important areas throughout the country from being formerly assessed as lost to actually being quite heartening today.
The progress in Anbar province has in fact been breathtaking, and the level of attacks in recent weeks has been the lowest in anyone's memory, with more arms caches being found in the Ramadi area of operations in the first four months of this year than in all of 2006.
Building on this success, we will continue to engage with Sunni tribal sheikhs and former insurgent leaders to support their newfound opposition to al Qaeda, ensuring that their fighters join legitimate Iraqi security force elements to become part of the fight against extremists, just as we reach out to moderate members of all sects and ethnic groups, and try to drive a wedge between the irreconcilables and the reconcilables, to help the latter become part of the solution instead of a continuing part of the problem.
There are also a number of challenges in the area of governance that the U.S. embassy and Multinational Force Iraq are helping the Iraqis to address. It is important in this regard to recall that Prime Minister Maliki's government is Iraq's fourth in as many years. Moreover, it is not truly a government of national unity, and Prime Minister Maliki is certainly not the Tony Blair of Iraq. Rather, his government is one comprised of political leaders from different parties that often default to narrow agendas in a zero-sum approach to legislation. That is one reason that progress on key laws has been slow, though they are starting to make headway, having recently passed a budget law and more recently selected the members of the independent Higher Electoral Commission of all sects and ethnic groups. And I do believe that Prime Minister Maliki and many other Iraqi leaders are committed to achieving more in the months ahead.
Though its institutions are slowly developing, Iraq still suffers, unfortunately, from a lack of the governmental capacity needed to put Iraq's substantial oil revenues to work sufficiently for all its people. In view of this, we are working hard, together with the embassy, to help strengthen institutions by doubling the number of Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Iraq and increasing emphasis on ministerial mentorship, so that we can better advise the Iraqis on all levels of governance.
We have also helped establish a law-and-order task force to assist with the impartial conduct of trials and developed an energy fusion cell to work towards greater production in the electricity and oil sectors.
The Multinational Force-Iraq's main focus, though, is of course on the Baghdad Security Plan and overall security in Iraq. The Baghdad Plan was launched in mid-February and focuses again on improving the level of security for the people. This objective is rooted in our belief that if we and our Iraqi counterparts can improve security for the people of Baghdad and the rest of Iraq, to be sure, then Iraqi leaders will be provided the time and space needed for them to come to grips with the tough political issues that must be resolved in order to achieve national reconciliation to truly move the country forward.
Our new approach is also based on a firm conviction that in order to provide security, we must do more than just clear neighborhoods of terrorists and extremists. We must then help our Iraqi counterparts hold these neighborhoods and help build them back up to a sustained, visible presence of Iraqi and coalition forces. And if you're going to ensure security for a neighborhood, you have to live in it. You can't commute to this fight.
We are now executing our new plan. Four out of five Army surge brigades and two additional Marine battalions are now on the ground, and the remaining combat forces -- an additional Army brigade and a Marine Expeditionary Unit -- are scheduled to be operating in their areas by mid-June.
Many of the forces already deployed have moved off big bases and into the neighborhoods they're securing, occupying joint security stations and combat outposts with Iraqi forces and conducting daily joint patrols in their battlespace. The presence of coalition and Iraqi forces and their increased operational tempo, especially in areas where until recently we had no sustained presence, have begun to produce results, though admittedly it is still too early to gauge the strategy's potential for success, and there is no shortage of challenges, as I have highlighted. Still, Iraqi and coalition forces have helped bring about a substantial reduction in the rate of sectarian murders in Baghdad each month, from January until now; in fact, a reduction of some 60 percent in a very important category, as those murders are a cancer that tear at the society that I've mentioned has already become frayed. Actions by our soldiers have also resulted in increases in weapons caches seized and the number of actionable tips received. Block by block and neighborhood by neighborhood, we are endeavoring to re-establish security.
But security, while critically important, is not enough. We understand that we must also help improve Iraq's neglected infrastructure and services. Thus, the Provincial Reconstruction Teams I talked about, our ministerial mentors and our conventional forces are aggressively undertaking a variety of projects.
In Baghdad alone we have over 600 million (sic) sewer, water, electrical, trash, fuel, health and education projects under way, with $99 million in sewer and water projects alone scheduled to be complete within the next 90 days. And in an effort to revitalize industry, a recent meeting between Iraq's Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Industry and Minerals resulted in an additional 20 million (dollars) in loans from Iraqi state-owned banks to restart 24 additional factories, including eight in Baghdad province.
Overall in Baghdad, we are seeing a revival of many markets, many of which we have hardened through the emplacement of cement barriers to prevent vehicles in them during the day; a renewal of commerce; the return of some displaced families; and the slow resumption of services, though there is vastly more work to be done across the board. And I again note that our new effort is only now beginning to achieve some momentum, and it is obviously being carried out in the face of periodic suicide car bomb attacks like the one that tragically hit a market in West Baghdad yesterday.
I'm well aware in fact that the sense of gradual progress and incremental achievement that we feel on the ground in many areas is often eclipsed by sensational attacks that overshadow our daily accomplishments. While the enemy's effectiveness in carrying out such attacks has been reduced by our operations to some degree, there clearly are still far too many of them. And we obviously are focusing heavily on actions to identify and dismantle the networks that carry out car bomb and suicide vest attacks, and the networks and the infrastructure that support them.
Our achievements have not come without sacrifice. As I told your correspondents in the Pentagon Press Corps two weeks ago, in fact it is likely to get harder in Iraq before it gets easier. The increase in operational tempo, the greater number of forces on the ground, the location of those forces in the population they're securing and the conduct in operations in areas where we previously had no presence and where we are literally fighting to achieve a presence, as well as the enemy's greater use of certain types of explosive devices, all of this, has led to an increase in our losses in the past month.
Our Iraqi partners have sacrificed heavily as well, with losses generally two to three times ours. Indeed while some Iraqi forces remain a work in progress, there should be no question that Iraq's soldiers and police are fighting and dying for their country. And a number of them have impressively shouldered their part of the burden in the fight against al Qaeda and the other enemies of the new Iraq. In fact in many cases our partnership with the Iraqi security forces is quite robust, as the story I'll relate at the end of my comments will illustrate.
The situation in Iraq is, in sum, exceedingly complex and very tough. Success will take continued commitment, perseverance and sacrifice, all to make possible an opportunity for the all-important Iraqi political actions that are the key to long-term solutions to Iraq's many problems. In the end, success will depend on those Iraqi actions, as military actions alone, though absolutely necessary, will not be sufficient. We can provide the Iraqis the opportunity, but they must exploit it.
I'd like to transition now and just briefly talk to you about the critical role that your organizations and reporters play in this fight. First off, you should be rightly proud of the reporters in your organization. Many are absolutely first-rate, and they endure tough conditions as they soldier alongside and share risk with our troopers.
As you know, I'm sure, since the war began, over 100 journalists, including at least eight this year alone, many of them foreign nationals, have been killed while carrying out their duties in Iraq. And that number does not begin to account for the scores more who have been injured, sometimes severely. Why do they continue to report then? I think in fact it is because they too are patriots, committed to preserving the fundamental right of free people, that of a free press. And in preserving that right globally, they are also assisting us locally, building the fourth estate here in Iraq and in the greater Middle East region.
I know that you and your reporters share a desire to communicate to the people at home the situation on the ground. And we appreciate the demands that you are under, especially in an era of constant communication and 24-hour news. That being said, we owe it to our servicemen and women and the Iraqi people about whom you report, and to the citizens who read the reports, to ensure that the story has achieve three goals that I know are familiar to you but which I feel obligated to restate. They should be accurate; they need to provide sufficient context. And they need to appropriately characterize situations. Accuracy, proper context, and appropriate characterization. And in fact, if you ever want it, I actually have a briefing that has all kinds of good and bad examples from personal experience during my several years in Iraq that I'd be happy to give to you.
As I conveyed to you through my update, the situation here is tremendously complex and difficult to understand, let alone to correctly describe or report. While the conditions make it harder to tell the story, they also make it more important. And again, we have to ensure that when telling the story, the audience gets the full account, the full picture. And we appreciate what you are doing to develop the mosaic of stories that is played out here every day. There are countless narratives taking place simultaneously, tales of heroism and sacrifice, progress and setbacks, success and failure, and we know that you are working hard to sample them all, understanding that one new development or the status of one individual unit is just that -- one piece of a complex picture.
I'd like to close my formal comments by highlighting one recent case of heroism and sacrifice that probably didn't receive the recognition that it might have. It's one more event in a day in Baghdad. As I stated previously, many Iraqi security force units are solidly in the fight side by side with coalition forces. To be sure, not all are where we would want them to be, but some are very impressive and have truly become partners in arms. The story of U.S. Army Major Jim Gant from the Iraqi National Police Battalion that he advises is an important piece of the mosaic depicting the battle we're waging in Iraq.
Several months back, in mid-December 2006, Major Gant and his men made up a convoy of three armored humvees and 23 national police trucks. On that day, Major Gant and his men, a few U.S. Army soldiers, alongside over 40 Iraqi national policemen, heroically fought through multiple complex enemy attacks, including many instances in which Major Gant selflessly put himself at increased risk, including to clear a hot landing zone so the medevac chopper could land to pick up a wounded Iraqi soldier, in order to save an innocent Iraqi civilian severely injured when an improvised explosive device went off near her civilian vehicle, and in order to have IEDs, improvised explosive devices, detonate on his up-armored humvee rather than near his Iraqi comrades' pickup trucks.
In describing that day later, Major Gant said, "There were no Americans, there were no Iraqis, no whites, no blacks, no Sunnis, Shi'as, Christian. There was just a group of warriors working and fighting together, and I would gladly and without hesitation lay my life down for all of them."
A few days ago, Major Gant received the Silver Star, the Army's third-highest award for valor in combat, for his actions on December 11th. He asked to be awarded the medal in front of his best friends -- his fellow Iraqi brothers in arms -- as I hope you can see in the picture in front of you now -- saying, "We, both American and Iraqi, we have to do this together; neither of us can do it by ourselves."
The story of Major Gant and the Iraqi National Police Battalion he advises is a small but important part of the many stories in Iraq. We'll continue to have daily progress and daily setbacks in Iraq. Stories like Major Gant's are principal reasons why I feel privileged to serve again in Iraq with our men and women in uniform and our Iraqi counterparts.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
MS. HEFLING: Good morning, General Petraeus. It's been a while since we've seen each other. This is Kim Hefling with AP. It's nice to see you today.
GEN. PETRAEUS: Good to see you, Kim. Good to hear you.
MS. HEFLING: It has been said that while soldiers are at war, America is at the mall. In some communities, residents don't know someone in the military, let alone someone fighting overseas.
How has this disconnect affected your decisions in how you carry out the war?
GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, Kim, I think the biggest thing that we've done in response to that -- and it's obviously something that we all recognize -- is that we have tried to do what you remember us doing in the 101st Airborne Division, and that is, be open to the press; understanding that not every story that comes from being open to the press is going to be one that you're going to want to read; understanding that, as I mentioned earlier, those reports will accurately depict failures as well as successes, tragedies as well as triumphs, and all the rest.
But I think we have an obligation to the American people to let them know who is leading their -- who are leading their sons and daughters, and to let them see what their sons and daughters are doing, and what the situation is on the ground. And we've actually worked very hard in recent months to be open to the press, to embed as much as we possibly can, to do what you remember us doing, I think, in the 101st Airborne Division during your time with us during the fight to Baghdad and beyond. And it's something that we will continue to do.
And the word has gone out to our leaders. They have responded, frankly, positively. We're all happy to show off what our men and women are doing, recognizing that, again, sometimes what they're doing is complaining and that's okay. You know, it's every soldier's first right to complain; it's mine as well. But, you know, our young men and women, as I will talk about at the end, truly are extraordinary, and as I'll mention at the end, truly do deserve the title that Tom Brokaw gave to them when he was over here with us -- that of the new greatest generation.
MR. DANISZEWSKI: General Petraeus, this is John Daniszewski. We had a rough day yesterday, and I know you did too -- eight American soldiers killed in Diyala province. General Lynch told reporters there on the ground that he had assessed that the troop casualties escalate in the coming months.
Do you agree with that assessment? And what are you doing to hold down the number of U.S. casualties?
GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, I think it is, as I said, likely to get harder before it gets easier, and I've been up front with that assessment to folks in Washington, as I mentioned to the Pentagon press corps, and obviously to you here today.
Having said that, I mean, we're obviously working very hard to try to ensure adequate force protection. I mean, we are putting our soldiers at greater risk to some degree by having them live in the neighborhoods they're securing. Frankly, it's the only way to accomplish the mission, so you have to do it. And we certainly are trying to ensure that there's adequate force protection.
Having said that, the enemy will continue, as he has done a couple of times in the past, to run these joint security stations and the combat outposts, checkpoints and so forth, and we have to continue to try to ensure adequate force protection against the worst-case kinds of attacks, which are, of all things, two massive suicide car bombs, which is what has been attempted successfully -- tragically, in one occasion -- in the last few months.
Beyond that, we are obviously always going to school on how to improve the ability to find improvised explosive devices rather than have them find us, and we do find between -- it's about -- 43 percent has been the amount that we find, rather than have blow up on our troopers. Right now it does fluctuate; we were almost at 50 percent about a month ago, and then it just went down for some reason.
There's an enormous effort ongoing to ensure that we all have the right vehicular protection. And in fact, we've just asked for an upgrade to that to over time replace our up-armored humvees with V-shaped hull vehicles that can absorb some of this a bit better than can flat-bottomed and flat-sided vehicles, although the up-armored humvees, especially the ones that we're bringing in and have been bringing in, are an incredible improvement over the earlier ones.
There is a very active lessons learned process. The Center for Army Lessons Learned has individuals embedded with every single unit that's over here and shares those. We have, if you will, virtual communities that are active and that share these lessons, using the military Internet. We also have another organization called the Asymmetric Warfare Group, which has very highly trained former Special Mission Unit members in it who are embedded with the units and actually then go back to the States and embed with units as they prepare to come over here.
Having said all that, this is a barbaric enemy that we face. And you have no idea -- or some of you do, because you have been over here -- but there is no environment as challenging as one in which the enemy is willing to kill himself or herself -- there have been some female suicide bombers -- to kill you. And so any vehicle coming at you and any individual now with the advent of suicide vests can be a suicide bomber. And again, the challenges for our soldiers are enormous, and we work very, very hard to do all we can, again, to prepare them for those challenges in training and equipping in the establishment of force protection and so forth, John.
MS. HEFLING: General, last week military researchers found that long -- said they found that long and repeated deployments were increasing mental health problems for soldiers. Now that deployments have been increased to 15 months, how will you deal with the resulting additional stress on them?
GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, first of all, let me just say that when I reviewed that survey, which, as you probably know, was done back in the fall of last year, I was very concerned by the results, because they indicated a willingness on a fair proportion of soldiers and Marines to not report the illegal actions, if you will, of buddies. And also, it indicated that some relatively -- a very small percentage believed they might have actually mistreated civilians or detainees.
And so the first step is we need to redouble our -- basically our education effort. And I've actually been writing for the past two days a memorandum to our leaders and to our troopers to discuss these kinds of issues and to note that we can never sink to the level of the enemy. We have done that at times in theater, as you know, and it has cost us enormously. It has been a strategic blow to have an Abu Ghraib, as an example. If we believe as we do that our values in a sense put us above the enemy, and we certainly hope that that is the case, we certainly believe in those values and we believe in observing the lay of all of land warfare and the norms that civilized nations have adopted governing the conduct of land warfare, then obviously we have to live that. And so the first step is that we have got to revisit those and make sure that folks remember that, you know, that's the foundation for our moral compass. And we just -- anything we do that violates that is done at considerable peril.
There's some practical issues, too, by the way. It turns out that the interrogation standards that are in the new field manual for Human Intelligence Collector Operations -- this is a pretty celebrated case. You may recall, there was a good bit of help back in Washington to those in the Army who were writing that manual.
That turned out to be something that is working. It is -- it enables certainly more than adequate techniques for interrogation, but they are humane, and there's nothing nefarious going on, and for what it's worth, our experience is that they do work. And I think that many of you know that the experience with -- there are countries that have at times allowed some forms of torture, and there is a very mixed result from that. You can get somebody to talk, but whether or not it's worth listening to is very much in question. So that's a practical issue as well, and so again, we have to look at that.
And then you have the issue of the extended deployment and, you know, there's just nothing easy about three extra months. I will tell you that the three extra months though do buy the Army a guarantee. And the Marines have their own version, but it buys a guarantee of a minimum of a year back in the states. It buys some predictability. And I have to say that it's a heck of a lot better to announce it way in advance than it is to announce it when the welcome banners are already hung back at the arrival airfield at home station. And you know, a hundred of the advance party and the return are already there.
So in that sense there is a real plus to Secretary Gates's decision. It was one candidly that we were going to recommend, had discussed, that we were thinking we were going to recommend but actually hadn't. We were going to discuss it with him when he came out in the middle part of last month. He ended up announcing it ahead of time and again, we thought that that was a very good move in terms of the operational flexibility that it gives us, in terms of the predictability for our units and our soldiers. And frankly an awful lot of them had already been aware that they were most likely going to spend 15 months.
But again, you've raised a very big issue, Kim, that is of concern to us big-time. And it's one that you have to take on with leaders addressing it and sitting down with soldiers and then also living it.
MR. DANISZEWSKI: General, I know you're still evaluating the Baghdad security plan and it's not even fully implemented yet. But what would it take for you to tell the president that it is time to get out of Iraq?
GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, I mean, first of all, and just to give you the status and where we are, as I mentioned, there's five additional Army brigades coming in. There are also some enablers: a combat aviation brigade, some additional MPs, intelligence, logistical elements. And then there's an additional Marine Expeditionary Unit coming in. We're still just getting the 4th brigade actually into its area of operation. In fact, we're very keen to get -- one of its battalions is going to go into one of the three or four remaining areas in Baghdad where there have been these so-called extrajudicial killings, sectarian murders if you will.
So we are really still in the fairly early stages. We don't have, you know, all the concrete walls and population control measures and markets hardened. It -- I mean, this stuff takes quite a while. And that's why I, you know, began right up off the bat back when I had the confirmation hearing with the Senate Armed Services Committee, saying that it would be late summer, early fall. And as you know, what we've settled on is some time in early -- probably first or second week of September, Ambassador Crocker and I will link arms and come back and provide an assessment.
I have said that, you know, if I really don't think that it can work, for a variety of reasons, and they could be, you know, it could be a number of different reasons. But you've heard me say what is necessary. And I think you have some sense of the long poles in the tent, which really are those actions that will build on what it is that we are trying to do.
Again, our action is necessary, not sufficient. The sufficient piece is the genuine demonstration of a willingness by all parties to reconcile with one another, to truly embrace what is enshrined in the Iraqi constitution -- one Iraq, minority rights, no safe haven for terrorists and a government that is representative of and responsive to all Iraqis, and "all" is underlined. I mean, that's, I think, where we're all sort of focusing like a laser beam. That is what Ambassador Crocker is increasingly over time -- and as you know, he's just been on the ground now about a month or so. We have a very good partnership. And that's where we're focusing. And again, that is the long pole in the tent.
Now, what I think is -- there are lots of possibilities out there, and I don't want to get too hypothetical. But if you look to the future, what you can also come up with is that you have to modify objectives. You know, if I just put the normal -- you know, the way it works for a commander -- the way it must work for a combat commander is he's got to very clearly understand the mission he's been given and he has to ensure his boss and their bosses all the way, really, in this case, to the president, we all have the same understanding of the mission.
Then you have to sit down and figure out what do you need to do it. You need to request it and not worry whether or not, you know, it's going to cause some real challenges back there. That's their problem. And I came from that world. I just came from the Army, from the service. But on the other hand, in this job my job is, again, to tell the president what we need; their job is to provide it. If they can't provide what we need, then we have to tell them what the risk is to the achievement of the objectives, the accomplishment of the mission. And at a certain point, if you don't have enough and the risk is too high, you actually have to go back and say let's relook at the objectives.
So again, there's a lot of possibilities out there. And without getting, you know, too hypothetical and giving you a big headline or something like that or walking into a political minefield, I'd like to sort of leave it at that if I could.
MR. DANISZEWSKI: Okay. All right. Okay, that will be fine, then. (Laughter.) All right.
GEN. PETRAEUS: You know, the satellite can always go down again, John. (Laughter.)
MR. DANISZEWSKI: Well, we don't have too much time. We wanted to ask you a little bit about the article by Colonel Yingling in the Armed Forces Journal, where he's very critical of the general officer corps. He said they didn't prepare well for the war, they weren't truthful with Washington about what was needed. How do you take that criticism?
GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, you know, I could quip and say I hope he's not talking about me. Actually, I know Paul, and Paul's a good guy. And he did a -- particularly in his second -- I think it was his second tour over here, the tour that when they were up in Tall Afar, his unit did really a superb job.
Look, first of all, I mean if you go and look at my submission for the record and questions to the Senate Armed Services Committee, I thought there were a number of things that we didn't get right, there were mistakes, there were decisions that, you know, caused enormous challenges, and they were made by all kinds of different people. And it's all there in a list and you can go research it and see it. So I think there has been enormous discovery learning.
I guess I wish that Paul might have observed what the Army and the Marine Corps in particular have done in the last two years. You know, when I got back, went back to the States in September '05 after my second tour in Iraq, we overhauled what we called the -- they actually call it the engine of change.
In the job that I had before this, I oversaw the noncommissioned, warrant and commissioned officer education systems, all the different courses and so forth, the Combat Arms Branch Schools, about 18 different schools and actual training centers, combat, including the big ones out in the operational side of the big one in the Mojave Desert, Fort Polk, Louisiana, I mean even organizations like the Defense Language Institute and a bunch of others, the Center for Army Lessons Learned, the people who write doctrine, the Counterinsurgency Center, the Command and General Staff College, School of Advanced Military Studies, on and on and on.
And we looked at this and said, okay, how do you change an institution? Because frankly, look, we recognized that we had not gotten it right at the outset, and so we set about trying to get it right. And I think there ought to be some recognition of the fact that we completely overhauled our doctrine. If you think about how do you change a large organization, first you start by changing the big ideas that drive that organization, and in our case that is doctrine, it is our field manuals, our lessons learned papers, and so forth.
And we overhauled the major capstone operational manual of our Army to say that all operations include some mix of offense, defense and -- and the "and" is actually underlined in some of it -- and stability operations. That is a huge -- that is a paradigm change, the nod in that direction. And we then did, of course, the Counterinsurgency Field Manual, we did the Human Intelligence Collection manual that I talked about, and a host of others -- the Army Leadership Manual, and on and on and on.
Then, having changed the big ideas, you then have to go to the next cog in the engine of change and that is the education of your leaders. And as I mentioned, we oversaw from my headquarters all of the different commissioned, non-commissioned, warrant officer education system, civilian as well, by the way, we took on during that time. And so now you're changing the entire curriculum. And so you take, for example, the Command General Staff College, which I was -- I had four hats in that job. One of them was as the commandant of the Command General Staff College. We started out with 5 percent of the material was related to stability operations, which is, of course, what is so prominent in counterinsurgency operations, and we went to about 40, 45 percent, depending on the electives that a student takes. That's, again, just a true paradigm shift. And that echoed and re-echoed throughout all of our different education system courses.
Then, having done the big ideas, educated the leaders, you now have to practice them. And so then the next cog is the combat training centers, really the crown jewels in our training system, these massive training centers the size of a small state, out at Fort Irwin, California, the National Training Center; the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana. And out there, you know, two and a half years ago, at the National Training Center you still had the big tank armies colliding -- we called it the clash of the Titans. Well, that was about as relevant to what we're doing out here as was, you know, Napoleonic tactics. And so we completely overhauled that. It now looks like Iraq. We added all kinds of villages, we added native Iraqi speakers as citizens in those villages, about 400 or 500 of them. We had another 1,500 soldiers that replicate suicide bombers, plant improvised explosive devices, are Iraqi security forces. We have an Afghan scenario, by the way, takes them up into the hills. So really created a very, very realistic scenario. In fact, just yesterday in my office, I had some of the folks from the Virtual Training Center that we do. We also, for the higher headquarters division corps -- in fact, that was under me as well, the Battle Command Training Program. We revamped that. And they were over here to get tweaks to that program. And we changed that as well as the actual so-called dirt combat training centers.
Then we changed what we're doing actually here. And, of course, you mentioned in your introduction, you know, the most recent change, which is this focus on security of the population, which is the center of gravity. And again, we continue to learn. We have the lessons-learned teams out there. We're trying to capture that. I mean look, you know, one of my first actions as the -- again, I also oversaw the publication of a journal called "Military Review." And on sort of a whim, thinking nobody would ever read "Military Review" anyway, we published -- right after I got out to Fort Leavenworth, an article by a British brigadier that was quite critical -- I mean, it was sort of Paul Yingling's argument, albeit a couple of years ago. And low and behold, Tom Ricks of The Washington Post read it, and so all the sudden did -- it had the most hits on "Military Review" we've ever had. But be that as it may, I would stand by that and I'd do it again. And I think that, again, perhaps what we should do is recognize that there's been enormous change made. We're constantly trying to learn, and we constantly must continue to do that.
MS. HEFLING: According to a recent ABC News poll, about 80 percent of Iraqis oppose the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq. What can you do to make the U.S. military presence more welcome to the Iraqis?
GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, what we've got to do, Kim, is of course convince them that we truly are there for their good, and it's interesting because the poll numbers actually vary greatly by where you are, as you would imagine. There are certainly many areas of Iraq -- I mean, you know, in the nine southern provinces, we have very, very few U.S. forces at all. They're largely overseen by Iraqi forces. And they have a sense of sovereignty that is palpable, and they think they think they can get on with it and they can.
In other areas, interestingly now, Sunni Arab areas, which early on we became an occupier after being a liberator, they now actually welcome us back, and it's not necessarily a good thing. It's because they see us as more of an honest broker than they do certain elements of their own Iraqi security forces, and that's something we have to work on as well.
But again, it's about convincing them that our intentions are pure. You know, the mythology and the rumor is a very tough thing to deal with over here. I mean, I had a question one time, you know, "Well, surely, we know you invaded for the oil." I said, "Hey, look, if we were after the oil, we would have stayed at home. We could have bought this oil, you know, I don't know how many times over with the $500 billion that was spent on this war." I mean, Iraq's only producing 30 to 45 million -- or billion dollars worth of oil a year. But again, it's hard to break some of the rumors about that stuff.
We are trying again also to engage the pan-Arabic media, as it's called, to be as open to them as we have tried to be with the Western press, and to do the same with Iraqi political leaders.
And Kim, with that, let me go ahead, I think we're getting to the close, and if I could, I would just like to end with a couple of final remarks -- noting again it really has been a pleasure to talk with you this morning, and especially with you, Kim, recalling all the great memories from the times together with the great Screaming Eagles.
But before signing off, I really feel an obligation to say a few words about the great soldiers, sailors, air men, Marines, and even Coast Guardsmen, and civilians with whom I'm privileged to serve here in Iraq. They have not all been perfect. It is absolutely true; there have been missteps, some serious missteps, by a few of our troopers or units at various times.
But for each trooper who has failed to live up to our country's expectations, there have been thousands of others who have selflessly gone about their mission, doing what they've been asked to do; enduring separation from loved ones; soldiering in crushing heat, terrible sandstorms; battling a truly barbaric enemy; grappling with the complexities and frustrations of working in cultures that are very different from our own; and in some cases giving the last full measure of devotion in carrying out their assigned missions.
As I mentioned earlier, when I was the commander of the 101st Airborne Division in northern Iraq, Tom Brokaw spent some time with us. And before getting back on a helicopter after a particularly good day, seeing the myriad tasks in which our soldiers were engaged, he grabbed me, and over the noise of the helicopter he shouted into my ear, "You know, that World War II generation may have been the 'greatest generation,'" he said, "but surely these troopers here are the new 'greatest generation.'"
I agreed with him then, and I still very much do. Repeatedly in Iraq, I see the concept of our old Army recruiting slogan, the "Army of one" concept, played out -- a concept that holds that each soldier can be the most important person in the life of another soldier at some critical point.
In fact, I've often wondered -- especially while observing soldiers rendering a final salute to a fallen comrade after a memorial ceremony, I've wondered where our country finds such young men and women, who, despite the personal flaws that we all have, serve so selflessly and in the face of enormous challenges, repeatedly demonstrate impressive initiative, determination, innovativeness and courage.
I raise this today because as the discussion over Iraq continues, understandably, it is my hope that our country will never turn its back on those in uniform who have done what their country asked them to do, even though that duty required enormous sacrifices and entailed substantial hardships.
And so today, before this impressive group of editors, writers, publishers and others, I want to express my hope that our country will never forget and never fail to honor the sacrifices of those who wear and have worn our country's uniform.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
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