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Myers Discusses Transformational Effect of Elections

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

INDIANAPOLIS, Nov. 30, 2004 – The Oct. 9 elections in Afghanistan were a "transformation" for the people of Afghanistan, and there are lessons that can be applied to Iraq as its elections approach, said Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers today.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters here that the people of Afghanistan "really get it." He said they understand the key role that the election of Hamid Karzai has played in the country.

More than 10 million people registered to vote and more than 8 million actually cast ballots. "Afghanistan has gone through a major transformation, but we have to remember it is just one step," Myers said.

Afghanistan has elections for parliament in the spring and the country faces severe economic problems. A further problem is posed by the fact that opium poppies provide more than 50 percent of the gross national product of the country, Myers pointed out. Still, the elections further discredited the former Taliban rulers of the country to the point that they are considering joining the political process.

"But as far as elections go, that was a very important step for the people of that country," Myers said. "They showed that democracy was not an alien concept to them."

While Afghanistan and Iraq are very different places, the elections in Afghanistan can serve as a template. The whole process in Iraq has been toward elections and creating a thriving democracy that respects the rights of all and does not threaten its neighbors. From the Coalition Provisional Authority to the Iraqi Governing Council to the interim Iraqi government, "each step you have a more legitimate Iraqi government," Myers said. "That's important."

He said there are more than 200 parties already signed up for the Jan. 30 election. "There is a lot of enthusiasm is the country for elections," he said.

He said all ethnic groups should participate in the election because it is important for the country's future. "(The election) is one more step but a big step to 'delegitimatize' the insurgents and legitimize the Iraqi government," he said.

Coalition forces are working to provide security for the election, Myers said. Some 6,500 American soldiers have already been extended in the country to help protect the process. He said the Iraqi security forces while doing better need the capabilities the coalition brings to the picture.

In addition to protecting the election process, coalition forces are working to maintain pressure on the insurgents. Commanders in the region are looking at the troop-to-task requirements now, Myers said. The number of troops needed to complete these tasks is "to be determined," he said. There are currently 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

Myers also addressed the immediate future of the reserve components. He said the way the components are structured, "the Guard and Reserve will have to continue to play the role they are playing."

The reserve components play important roles in combat support and combat service-support roles. They must continue to perform these roles as well as combat roles for the war on terror to succeed. Myers said DoD is aware that the reserve component manpower pool is not bottomless.

"We've used about half (of the reserve component)," he said. "We've got to be innovative in the way we put units together and perhaps retrain units out of their normal specialties to the kind of specialties we need on the battlefield, whether its truck companies or military police."

More than 9,000 guardsmen and reservists from Indiana have been deployed in the war on terror. "They are very important to the fight," the chairman said. "We could not be doing what we are doing in Afghanistan, Djibouti (or) Iraq without the reserve component."

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Gen. Richard B. Myers, USAF

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