Video: Troop numbers in Iraq

In a speech to the nation Tuesday, the president says his military leaders have all the men they need and urged people to consider a military career while thanking those who have recently enlisted.

General Barry McCaffrey (RET), recently returned from Iraq and joined Keith on Wednesday's program to analyze the situation on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Below is and excerpt of his interview.  You can watch the entire segment by clicking on the launch video button above.

On insuregents in Iraq:
Bush said on Tuesday: "If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them.  But our commanders tell me they have the number of troops they need to do their job.  Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight.  And sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever, when we are, in fact, working for the day when Iraq can defend itself, and we can leave."

OLBERMANN:  General, how does that jibe with what the commanders have told you?  And is it really a question of how quickly Iraqi forces are going to replace American forces who will be, one way or the other, leaving?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, my own judgment, this fellow we got in command, General John Abizaid, the CentCom commander-in-chief, is about as good as we‘ve ever had.  You know, Arabic speaking, Olmstead scholar, Harvard master‘s degree, a Ranger commander himself.

Murad Sezer  /  AP
U.S. Marines with the 2nd Battalion 1st Marine Regiment stand guard at a railway in the outskirts of Fallujah, Iraq,
I think the bottom line is, we don‘t want more Americans there right now.  We want to build the Iraqi security forces.  That process looks to me, Keith, as if it‘s under way, and likely to continue to produce more and more Iraqi-trained and -equipped manpower.

Having said that, U.S. Army and Marine Corps cannot surge any more troops into Iraq, to speak of.  We might be able to produce a brigade or two more for the December elections, but we‘ve shot the bolt.  Half that force is National Guard or Reserve.  The Army and the Marine Corps are stretched beyond their elastic limit. And so it‘s a moot question, at best.

On recruiting shortfall:
Bush said on Tuesday "I thank those of you who‘ve reenlisted in an hour when your country needs you.  And to those watching tonight who are considering a military career, there is no higher calling than service in our armed forces."

OLBERMANN:  So that‘s not incompatible with what he said earlier, essentially, we have all we need, but we need more.  Is that explained by the need to overcome the attrition?  In other words, just to keep current numbers of boots on the ground, we have to reverse the recruiting shortfall?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, we got a problem.  You know, we got a very high reenlistment rate for units in combat.  They‘re very proud of what they‘re doing.  They‘re very tough soldiers and Marines and sailors, airmen, Coast Guard, over there, no question.

The problem is the recruiting shortfalls are enormous.  And I think we need our political leadership, including the president of the United States, to say, Look, we need your boys and girls to come forward and fight for us.

But Keith, it‘s not to consider a career in the armed forces.  We need 19-year-old young men and women to come in and carry a gun in military police battalions and infantry battalions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So I must admit, I would have liked to have seen a much more direct statement that we‘re asking you, American parents and educators and pediatricians, send your boys and girls to the color.  We‘re in danger.  We need somebody to fight for us.

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