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Friday, April 06, 2007

RCP Interviews Gen. Caldwell

This is a copy of the interview/report from Iraq by Real Clear Politics. It was posted by Blake Dvorak. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Have a great day.

Yesterday I took part in the Defense Department's Roundtable, a weekly event that allows members of the new media to talk directly with defense officials. Wednesday's spokesman was Major Gen. William Caldwell, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Effects in Iraq. Printed below are some interesting parts of the discussion.

RCP: I was wondering if you could shed any light on when you are going to start getting worried about a lack of funds.

Gen. Caldwell: You know, it's interesting you asked that question. I just walked out of a press conference that we do -- we started to do at least one a week over here. That question was not even asked, and I really had anticipated that probably being a primary question.

It's interesting. I link up with you all, and you all -- right away, that's the one thing that -- (laughter) -- and I'll tell you, if you watch the debate back in the United States, you know, I'm an Army guy. My chief of staff, you know, taking off my Joint hat, the chief of staff of the Army back there has stated that, he's been very clear on when that's going to start having an impact on the United States Army. And that's relatively soon, according to him. And I think he has always been a very straightforward caller, like no-nonsense kind of guy. So I would put a lot of credence into whatever he said back there.

Again, I don't know because I'm not back there. But I can tell you from over here, it's going to have an immediate impact in the sense that the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq element that we have is charged with building, equipping, helping to develop the Iraqi security forces, and that is going to have an impact on them. Now to what degree? You know, we can get into a lot more specifics, but they are already starting to feel the effects of not having this funding.

Again now, from the U.S. combat forces on the ground, it has not had an impact on us. We still have what we need to conduct our operations. But MNSTC-I, which is charged with, the Title X responsibilities associated in very simplistic form with the Iraqi security forces -- it does have an impact today and will only get more pronounced with time.

Victoria Coates: Just to follow up on that quickly, the idea of the Iraqi Security Force bearing the immediate brunt of the funding lack -- I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about their performance over the last two months, and how integral they've been to the Baghdad security operation, and how effective you think you can be if their readiness starts to deteriorate.

Gen. Caldwell: I've been here almost a year now. And I can tell you that from a year ago when I first got here to now, and I'm out, you know, every week someplace, having the ability to get out and go around the country -- that, you know, they continue to get better all the time.

From better equipment, more capable leadership and the quality of their young soldiers as they develop the professionalism inside their force, it's going to still take time, but is beginning to take hold. Obviously, they're not going to be anywhere near the capabilities and the professionalism of our force any time soon, but they're moving forward, which is the important thing, and they are getting better all the time.

Obviously, we count on them very much. As part of this Fard al-Qanun, they brought into the city about 4,500 extra troops, nine battalions, with some headquarters, but they brought in nine additional infantry battalions. And again, when I go back a year ago, the idea of even trying to move one Iraqi battalion was unheard of. About six months ago, if we attempted to move Iraqi army battalions, it was a significant challenge and we were not always successful; and when we did move them, it was very painful and it was unsustainable.

Today they've moved nine battalions into the city, as they said they would. They got them there. They've come in at varying levels of overall strength, some very good, some needing additional troops brought in to bring it up to strength. But they've moved all nine, and they're already starting to work the plans on how they would do the rotation out of those nine and bring nine more in. I mean, that is just an incredible step forward, to have developed that capability over the last year from non-existent last year this time to today they've moved nine in and they're going so far as now talking about rotating those nine in and out, which is just an incredible step forward for them to have that planning, discussions, mapping it out and then going and executing it.

Obviously, we would like to see the Iraqi security forces continue to grow and develop. There's plans on the shelf, as you know, to kick it up. You know, the prime minister has some initiatives out there that he's going to grow the size of the Iraqi security forces, and that's all been funded and planned for, and everybody's moving out on that.

But at the current moment, because of this lack of funding, MNSTC-I is unable to continue at the pace they were in the developmental process of the Iraqi security forces. And, you know, obviously we're looking at that real closely and it is starting to have some -- an impact today and will only, you know, have more of an impact over time.

RCP: I read a story in The New York Times that Ayatollah al-Sistani has come out rejecting, the sort of re-Ba'athification of the government. And this has been interpreted a number of ways. One is that this is a severe setback in the political sphere. I was wondering if you were able to talk at all about that element.

Gen. Caldwell: I can. We read the same over-the-source reporting that Sistani had supposedly said that. But the method and the means by which it was done is not really consistent with how we have seen it done in the past. It was done a little differently, which -- I don't know what that quite means. But it could mean that perhaps it wasn't quite as interpreted or transmitted as accurately if it was in fact from him as it normally is. Because they've got -- he actually has a very set process he uses when he puts messages out that you can track back and say, yeah, that probably is actually from him.

And I say that like we're experts. We're not. But even the government of Iraq officials that I've engaged with and asked have a little bit of a question about what may or may not have been said. And I think everybody's just seeking a little further clarification at this point because how it was done was not normally how it's done.

RCP: So it's unclear whether Sistani actually has [denounced re-Baathification]?

Gen. Caldwell: That's correct. We're not -- and I say "we" -- many members of the government of Iraq, too, because we obviously went to them first and said, "Do you think this is accurate?" And they'll be the first to tell you, well, that's not normally how it's done, and so I would question perhaps if it is accurate and we probably need to seek clarification.

RCP: Thank you very much, General.

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