Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, insists the U.S. effort in Iraq is moving in the right direction. CBS News anchor Katie Couric spoke with him about the pace of progress in Iraq, his frustrations there and Iran's role in recent battles.
Katie Couric: How frustrated are you?
General David Petraeus: We are frustrated but we have enormous national interest in trying to get this as right as we can and that's what keeps us pushing forward obviously.
Couric: There's been a spike in attacks against Americans recently - 16 combat deaths this month. April is on track to be the deadliest month since September. You told Congress yesterday you had evidence ready to show that Iran is supporting the recent violence. What roles specifically are they playing and where is the evidence?
Petraeus: Well the evidence is in the videotapes of interrogations of detainees who were trained, equipped and paid by the Iranian force and in some cases directed by them as well. The evidence is in the form of rocket fragments in some cases, and some cases entire rockets, that we have captured in weapons caches or interdicted the smuggling of. So this is not about intelligence this is about evidence.
Last month, the Iraqi Army surprised the United States by attacking militant strongholds in the southern city of Basra. The operation was badly planned. Some Iraqi troops stopped fighting - and ultimately U.S. air power had to be sent back to the Iraqis. But, to Petraeus, the important thing is that Iraq's prime minister decided to fight.
Petraeus: Look this is a sovereign prime minister in a sovereign country. We have been after him to make tough decisions for years. He made a tough decision, he moved out. There clearly are areas in which this could have been done better, we are not bashful.
Couric: In our latest poll, 54 percent of Americans think the war is going badly. More than half obviously. How can you sustain this effort without more popular support here at home?
Petraeus: The fact that there has been progress. That the trajectory which was down 15 to 18 months ago, even nine or 10 months ago in our view has been one that has been on an upward slope. It's never as fast as we would like but it has turned in that regard and it's something we obviously want to sustain. But ultimately you have to leave that to the American people, who have to be the judge ultimately, who have to weigh all the different consequences along with of course our leaders.
Couric: Army leaders are very concerned, General, as you well know, about the mental health of our troops. One in four of the soldiers being sent back to Iraq for the third or fourth time is suffering from a significant mental health disorder, some form of post-traumatic stress. How concerned are you about this, because I think to the American people it is very upsetting to see so many soldiers suffering?
Petraeus: It weighs very heavily on my mind. Again I am the commander of these great young men and women and I've been downrange with them on well over 3 tours in Iraq and I know the strain that is incurred. It is something again that the draw-down of the surge forces will allow.
Gen. Petraeus also revealed for the first time that he's been engaged in secret diplomatic efforts. In recent months, he's quietly visited several Middle Eastern countries, including Jordan, Kuwait and Turkey, hoping to convince those governments to stop the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq.
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