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CNN LIVE SATURDAY

Interview With Pat Lang

Aired July 19, 2003 - 12:36   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN ANCHOR: Some of the U.S. troops in Iraq have been in the region since September. How are they holding up? To get some idea on the troops' morale, we turn to retired Colonel Patrick Lang. He was a Defense Department analyst who specialized in Iraq, and now joins us live from Washington. Colonel, thanks very much for coming in.
It's unusual to hear this kind of blunt talk coming from some troops, no matter how they may be feeling, isn't it?

COL. PATRICK LANG (RET), U.S. ARMY: Well, especially in an all- volunteer professional army. It's rather a remarkable thing, and I share General Abizaid's disquiet about that which he expressed the other day. Everybody out there in this force, which was recruited and trained with great effort over a long period of time, understands fully that some of the things that were said to the media are, in fact, violations of military law, not just administrative rules of the Army.

But having said that, I think I should say that I think the Army has to balance here several of its own interests. One is the fact that it has to maintain really solid discipline among these men, who you have to remember, fought magnificently in the campaign to capture Baghdad. And on the one hand -- on the other hand, it has to be careful not to damage the possibility of retention of these men in the volunteer force in the future. Soldiers like this don't grow on trees, and they take a long time to train and they're hard to recruit, and you have to keep them in the force. So these two interests have to be balanced in some way.

CALLEBS: And Colonel, a lot of these troops have been there for quite some time during scorching heat. Let's hear what some of these soldiers and troops have to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We would rather just get to go home and maybe let some other international force or peacekeepers come in and take over for us, but until that time comes, unfortunately we're stuck here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The soldiers that are here that have been here forever, like 3rd ID, who have really been through the combat, should be home as soon as possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CALLEBS: You talked about the head of CENTCOM being disappointed with these comments coming out. Do you expect that the U.S. military, government is going to take some action to not only rotate these troops out, but to try and put them in a position where perhaps they aren't in the kind of danger daily that they keep running into?

LANG: Well, I don't think the comments by those two men were particularly damaging in any way and I don't find them surprising. What I did find surprising was to hear senior non-commissioned officers making disrespectful remarks about the secretary of defense and the president and things like that.

That's not -- that can't be allowed. But in fact, the 3rd Infantry Division I think is long overdue for rotation, and should be taken out of there as soon as they can, so they can refit and prepare for further action. But in fact, it's not possible to disengage the U.S. Army from the situation in Iraq, because it is the glue that's holding the security situation together. It's going to be a long time before Iraqi police and military forces are available to do that. So it really is not going to be possible to shield people from their daily contact with the Iraqis.

CALLEBS: What about the Internet? Can that be almost a double- edged sword? On the one hand it's a way for the troops to talk with their loved ones back home, but secondly, it may also make those homesickness pangs a little more intense.

LANG: You have to remember about this army that this army was recruited specifically to be made up of stable, family-oriented, middle-class people. They either were middle class or they are in the process of becoming middle class Americans, and these people have very firm roots in the communities they come from.

And so when they hear every day how the children are doing and how their progress in school is and how things are going in the church and things like that, that does affect them, but I think it's probably better than being in the situation I remember of going three weeks without any mail and then getting two dozen letters. I personally would prefer e-mail.

CALLEBS: I'm sure a lot of people would. Colonel Lang, thanks very much. We appreciate you joining us here today. Thanks for the comments.

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