EXCLUSIVE: Adm. Fallon Says 'We're Seeing a Sniff of Progress' in Iraq

ABC's Martha Raddatz has been on the road in Iraq with Adm. William Fallon, the new head of Central Command, responsible for U.S. forces in Iraq and the Middle East, as he tours the region to assess progress for the current troop surge. The following is a partial transcript of their exclusive conversation:

Martha Raddatz: One of the things I've noticed in the past couple of days traveling with you and listening to you is a real sense of urgency. Why is that?

Fallon: Well, as I've said many times in the last couple of months, time is of the essence for a lot of reasons. We've been at this a long time. We have a new approach that's in play. We have not been able to move the situation here to the place we thought we were going to be able to a couple of years ago.

We have casualty rates that are very high. We have an Iraqi government that's at a critical juncture in its young life. We have an American people that have been very, very supportive and resilient and steadfast, but I sense that they'd like something to happen. There's frustration, there's very clear frustration with Capitol Hill, although I haven't been following the detail as to what's going in the past week because I've been too busy out here. But there's lot of anxiety and lots of frustration, and so we're in the midst of teeing up this new approach. We got a surge in forces but more importantly, the way they're being used is very different.

We have new leadership, new military leaders. We have a new ambassador coming in tomorrow and frankly, we've just got to move this thing very quickly.

I can't imagine that we're going to enjoy the luxury of being able to drag this thing out so I'd like to pull every lever we can to make real progress, and we're seeing a sniff of progress right now in the last several weeks, but we need to really move it because I think we're not going to get another opportunity.

This is, we're going to give it our best shot. We've got a lot of things lined up right now to make us successful, and I think we're going to be unlikely to have this opportunity again. We've got to take it, make the best of it and be successful, but I think we can do that.

Raddatz: Why no other opportunity, this is it, this is our last chance?

Fallon: Well, we've been at this a very long time and I think you can read the tea leaves here for a host of reasons. I just don't believe we're going to have an opportunity given the debate in Congress.

It's going to be very difficult to be able to come back and say, "we got this wrong and we need another chance," we've got to get it right or decide that we're not going to get it right and that's what I intend to do is make the best assessment that I can sometime down the road here, not very long in the future and we'll see if we're doing as we think we're going to be able to do. But if we're not, we're going to say that's the way it is and then we'll have to come up with a different plan.

Raddatz: I think not only do you have a new plan, your approach seemed very different to me. It was results, results, results.

Fallon: Well, we have a lot of actions, we have a lot of activities, we have not gotten the results that we wanted. We're going to get them this time or we're going to end up in a different league, in a different ballgame.

Raddatz: How do you get results?

Fallon: Well you get results by first of all having great folks that are working the problem, and we have a tremendous team out here. We get results by using our heads, by having a baseline series of assumptions that we all agree so we understand where we are and we're not all over the page, we focus on results, we use realistic metrics and we drive the problem and we don't let up and if we believe that we're on the right track. We hammer it home.

We use the initiative and ingenuity and all the amazing skill sets and capabilities we have, but you really have to focus and drive it through.

Raddatz: OK, give me an example. We've had great people here in the past. We've had great military people, we've had good ideas. What's different now, how do you get results from the same people when you haven't had them before or not to the expectations?

Fallon: What I'm finding as I get around Iraq, we've got many people who have been here several times before, they're working their hearts out trying to do the right thing. But as leaders we owe them guidance, direction and we owe them and the American people a plan and a schedule that's going to get results.

And if you accept my going in argument that we don't have a lot of time, that before the end of this year is over, we had better be in a better place than we have been, then you've got to get moving. You've got to pull out the stops and get cranking so plans that might deliver a year from now or two years from now are interesting, and by the way, there are some things that are going to be enduring, we're going to have to follow on, are very interesting -- but its going to be too late I think next year and the year after.

We have to get things that are going to give the Iraqi people confidence in their government and in their future so that they're going to be able to carry on and we have a lot of things that we can do to help them. We have to make them feel that they've got the courage and capabilities themselves. There's some things they're not up to yet, fine, we'll help them along the way. There's some things in the security business right now that only we have the capability to provide the overmatch required and get the job done. But it's setting them up for success and we need to make them successful very soon.

Defining Success Could Mean Lowering Expectations of a 'Win'

Raddatz: What is success look like to you?

Fallon: Success to me is a number of things, and this is something we're going to have to agree here among the commanders, now that I've had my first detailed look at this and have a chance to think about this.

Gen. Petraeaus has been on the ground now for about six weeks. He's had a chance to get into the tactical detail, going around with Gen. Ordinero today, Ray and I had a chance to look at things in a lot of detail, we made a lot of notes, compared a lot of notes, we've given ourselves a lot of taskers, we've given our staff a lot to do.

Raddatz: So, what does success look like?

Fallon: A number of things and this is a moving target, because things are constantly in flux.

But, clearly, a reduction in the level of violence, things that are measurable, number of people killed, number of people that disappear, neighborhoods that are in turmoil, casualty rates, numbers of IEDs, obvious sectarian violence.

Now, the trends in the last couple weeks are tending in the right direction. That's a really good start. But there are a lot of pieces of what we're putting in motion that are not quite in play yet. And I think, frankly, there's a bit of a fear factor on the part of the extremists, the zealots that are perpetrating these horrific offenses against people.

They're kind of wary of us right now and so they've kind of backed off. That's OK. They may yet come out and decide to challenge us and as we get our forces in play and start to bring the other aspects of this approach into play, we're going to have to be prepared for that.

But we want to see success. I want people to be more comfortable to feel that they can come out of their houses, to get back into their neighborhoods. There are vast areas of this city now in Baghdad that are empty, virtually empty, because people have taken off. They're scared.

I'll give you an example. In Fallujah, a year and a half ago, the place was ripped apart and after the dust was beginning to settle, most of the people disappeared. I don't know how many were left, 10,000, 20,000. I was up there today and they tell me there's 250,000 people back in that city. Didn't see any explosions, didn't hear any bangs. It's rebuilding, a lot of activity going on.

This is a pretty good mark of success in that part of Iraq. There are a lot of other successes that we see outside. We want to see more in the city.

Raddatz: But, generally, what we have heard over the years is victory, we can win. Do we need to lower the bar?

Fallon: Well, I would suggest that, as I've said a couple of times in the past month or so, we need to be realistic and we probably need to adjust expectations to match a reality that is more appropriate to this situation. It's a little different, I think, than a few years ago. Now we Americans are wonderful. We have great institutions. We have this wonderful system of government and lots of things we love about the way we do things.

And the reality is that it's very difficult sometimes to take this image and to put it someplace else in the world and to be able to look in the mirror and say, "Gees, that looks beautiful, just like us."

This is probably, no doubt, one of these places. So the institutions of government that we enjoy are unlikely to be in this country anytime soon for a host of reasons, and we don't probably need to cover all those. It's just not going to be this way.

Security is relative. Given the awful past in this country and the many challenges, the level of security that we might enjoy in some of our places and towns and cities back home probably is not likely to be achieved immediately here, but certainly a lot better than it is now.

So what kind of governance is good enough to allow the people of this country to feel that they can go about their daily lives with a measure of security and safety, that gives them some hope for the future, gives the majority of people jobs, that they have confidence that their government will actually take care of them and will be interested in the majority of the people rather than some particularly narrow sect.

These are things that I think are appropriate for us to review. We're going to look at these kinds of things and set ourselves up for something that -- and, by the way, that we can be able to withdraw the bulk of our forces and allow the Iraqi people to provide their own security.

Raddatz: What do you see? How long do you see this surge lasting?

Fallon: Don't know. We aren't even there yet. And, remember, the surge is only one piece of a very complex series of actions that we're putting into play.

We have a force buildup that's got several months yet to reach the desired level, what's been agreed and what's been put in motion, and I think we'll have to have that force level play for some period of time.

I don't think, as I said earlier, we've got a lot of time. Clearly, I believe by before the end of this year, we're going to have decided whether this is working and we're going to be successful in achieving those expectations or that we're going to have to be doing something else.

Raddatz: So it's possible we could have the additional troops until the end of the year.

Fallon: I don't know, I'm not even going to go there. We aren't even there yet. Let's see how we're doing.

We kind of like the trends right now, but as I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of things at play here that we're going to have see how they work out.

Raddatz: One of the things you say -- we have to show results by the end of the year. If we don't, what happens?

Fallon: Well, we're not going to continue to do this is my expectation.

Raddatz: And what does that mean, to start cutting ties, to start drawing down?

Fallon: Well, I don't know how this goes about, but we're going to have difficulty sustaining this. You know that we've had an intense debate going on back home, but the key thing is how we're doing on the ground here.

If it looks like we're really moving in the right direction, a key aspect of that is that the Iraqi security system, the army, the police, can take care of business themselves. If that's the case, then clearly we would like to hand the majority of this over to them and begin to downsize our forces.

And I think it's interesting. Yesterday, I was on the street downtown, had a chance to actually interact with a couple of Iraqis. Nobody, nobody, not one of these people said, "Go away, we don't want you here."

In fact, to the contrary, most folks said, "We like the security. We want more of it. Do some more."

And that's really necessary now, but over time, we're not from here. We're different people from a different country. They're grateful now, but we need to have the Iraqis providing for their own security, and I think that's where we're going to go.

Pinpoint Areas for Progress

Raddatz: When you talk about progress, when you talk about wanting results, that seems to mean that you have to set priorities, but you also have to accelerate.

What do you prioritize by doing and by accelerating? What's cut out?

Fallon: Well, maybe like triage. There are lots of things you might like to do. I've gotten a lot of briefings, many PowerPoints in different places, and I would salute most of the good ideas.

But right now, a lot of these things are not likely to be able to deliver. We can't get the resources in place. We can't get the right capabilities, the right personnel, the right factors to give us a high probability of success.

Those things are going to have to go to the back of the line and one of the things that I've consistently asked the commanders here is to come back to me with their prioritization of the things that they think would be most useful in the near term, that is, over the next couple of months, as we get the increased force structure in place here that would, first of all, make the Iraqi people feel that they are more secure and give them a comfort level that would enable us to succeed, because some of these things have a dimension all their own.

We can do the physical security. We can bring things to bear that should be able to reduce the overall level of violence and that's a very positive thing.

But there are many needs in this country. I saw lots of kids out of school yesterday. What are they doing walking the streets? These are youngsters, grade school kids. This is not good and people know this.

And when you ask them what they'd like, they mention these things. They want jobs. The unemployment figures I've seen here, I have no idea what's really accurate, they're all over the place, but none of them are single digits or anywhere close to it.

So people want a future. We need to try to get them in this position where they can actually do things for themselves.

So there are a lot of things that I was briefed that in two years, three years, we'll have this going for us, that's pretty interesting, but we don't have time for that. We've got to move.

So what falls out? Probably the nice to have things. We've got to discover or bring to the surface the must have things and I believe that some of them are level of violence, clearly, sense of security, basic functions.

We've been struggling with some of these things for years. We'll work on some of the larger things, but basic things are some of these neighborhoods that I've been through that look like dumps. Why is that?

And some of our people have already figured this out. They've come back to me and said, "If we can fix this thing," one commander told me today, "Get this pumping station fixed and this neighborhood is going to be very happy," because their scan of the folks that are still left there is if there's one thing you can help us have said, "If there's one thing you can help us with, it's get the sewers fixed in this area."

So we might be able to do that.

Raddatz: You say we might be able to do that. I think you said at one point to me on the trip that you think it is salvageable.

Fallon: Absolutely.

Raddatz: It may be salvageable.

Fallon: Sure it is, sure it is. There are so many things that are on the favorable side of this ledger, basic fundamentals. They don't lack for money, they don't lack for resources, they don't lack for agriculture and food.

They don't lack for people that have been educated. They don't lack for people that are gung-ho. They've got security forces that are actually pretty good. They've got some leaders I've seen that are take-charge leaders.

We're here and we're working hard and we've got about 150,000 coalition forces that are working this one every day. They have institutions. The people, remember, that are against them are people that are folks that hate life. They're amoral about life. They'll kill men, women and children.

Fallon: If I could maybe pinpoint.

Raddatz: Go ahead.

Fallon: We're faced with a dilemma here in that we have not been able to move the situation where we need it. So when other institutions and organizations are faced with problems that require a huge amount of effort, the No. 1 item that's usually identified is a sense of urgency. It has to be imbued in the minds of all of those that are working a problem.

And so that's what this past week has been about. Meeting with our commanders and all the people that are working with this problem, make sure they get it. Time is of the essence. It's now, now, now, not doing stupid things, but making sure that everything is focused on results in the near term.

We have to do it, we're going to do it.

Raddatz: When you look back, what went wrong?

Fallon: Lots of good intentions. The situation's changed, it's evolved. It's complex. … Some things we do and continue doing a really good job, others not and factors at play, our enemies, the terrorists, the insurgents, the other various factions that have had a dog in this fight have continued to play out their hand of cards, if you would, in this game and they have changed everything from tactics to probably objectives.

There's a continuous swirl of political activities. There's been a decided lack of interest, it seems, certainly involvement by the neighborhood, other nations. That's one of the things we're going to work real hard.

There have been some contributions …

Raddatz: Iran and Syria?

Fallon: Negative contributions certainly from Iran and Syria and not only passively allowing bad things to happen, but in the case of Iran, red-handed, clearly contributing to the mayhem and murder here.

And so all these factors have evolved over time and some judgments that didn't pan out and some things that people have -- people are human, they make mistakes and they've made some errors and some of those are errors of judgment, some of them are commission and omission, and some just haven't gotten there.

Raddatz: When you say Iran red-handed.

Fallon: Well, there's no doubt …

Raddatz: The government of Iran?

Fallon: Who knows? But from Iran, there are -- and after a while, when you continue to discover their hardware and their fingerprints and their people over here that are clearly up to no good, aiding and abetting the terrorists …


Fallon: What do the American people need to know right now? … We need some more time to put in play all of those things that we're bringing to this new approach.

I had some very interesting meetings with the leadership, many of the senior leaders in the Iraqi government over the last several days and I was left with a positive impression.

They understand the problems. Their site picture matches pretty well with what mine is becoming. They seem well intentioned and, frankly, they've made some decisions in the last several days, last week or so, that are the right decisions, at least from my point of view.

And if they continue to make those decisions and work, and this is very tough and very complex, there's little experience. Most of the people in these positions have never had anywhere near this kind of responsibility before.

They're coming from narrow political bases, on and on, a lot of political issues and security issues, totally new approach. We need some time to let these things play out.

So all I would say is let us play this hand. I think if you go back and look at the data over the last three or four weeks, a lot of things are tending in the positive direction.

This is really early in the game and I'm certain that, again, as I said earlier, they've probably been scared off, a lot of the zealots, they're probably going to come back and test us and see if we're really serious, and we are, and then we'll see down the road here in a few months whether we still like the trends.

I think we're going to like them. I think we're getting the kind of decisions we need and certainly the people are working this problem and they have a sense of urgency.

So we're going to be cranking up the power and moving out.