Myers: Military Bearing Pressures 'Extraordinarily Well'
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 9, 2004 The military is bearing a large share of the global war on terrorism and military personnel are handling the pressure "extraordinarily well," the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here Sept. 8.
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers said during an interview that military members remember the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and that the sense of purpose they felt in the days after the attacks in New York and Washington is still fresh in their minds.
Myers said the servicemembers involved in the global war on terrorism "clearly understand what the stakes are and what this is all about."
The chairman said servicemembers also know that they brought hope to more than 50 million people in Afghanistan and Iraq. Myers also cited American aid to the Philippines to defeat Abu Sayyaf in Basilan Island, and efforts to secure the Horn of Africa with 1,400 U.S. troops based in Djibouti, as other examples of the missions American military members are doing.
Military members and their families know the United States is a nation at war, Myers said. And they know the coalition against terrorism is making progress. Myers pointed out that in Afghanistan, presidential elections will be held Oct. 9. Under United Nations supervision, more than 10 million Afghans have registered to vote in the first free elections in more than 30 years. What's more, he said, about 42 percent of those registered are women.
Under the Taliban, women couldn't go to school or receive medical care, let alone vote.
The chairman admitted that security will remain a challenge and that he expects violent factions in Afghanistan to try to disrupt the elections and try to stop progress.
Contrasting Iraq today vs. Iraq in March 2003 also is useful, the chairman said. Before major combat, Saddam Hussein used brutal tactics to keep the population under control. U.N. officials estimate that Saddam and his Baath Party compatriots killed outright at least 500,000 people. Other estimates put the number higher.
Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and used them on his own people mostly the Kurds in the northern part of the country and against its neighbors against Iran during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, the chairman said. He defied the United Nations resolutions put in place after the first Gulf War and treated the oil-for-food program as his own private bank. Saddam Hussein never gave up the hope that the 19th province in Iraq would be Kuwait, Myers said, and he was shooting at coalition aircrews every day as they enforced the Northern and Southern No-fly zones. "And now he's in jail and will be on trial very shortly," Myers said.
The Iraqi interim government is "pretty much accepted as legitimate by the Iraqi people," the chairman said, and the United Nations is shepherding the political process. Elections are scheduled for January, with final elections set for December next year. Schools and clinics are open and working and the coalition is working with Iraqis to repair the infrastructure Saddam neglected. "Iraq sent a soccer team to the Olympics," Myers said. The team did well in the games and "wasn't beaten for not winning a medal," as when Saddam's son ran the country's sports program.
The chairman said that things are changing in Iraq, and the troops who have contact with Iraqis understand how much they appreciate the changes. But Iraq "is still a very challenging environment and unfortunately we still have a lot of tragedies over there both for our troops and innocent Iraqi citizens."
Myers said leaders understand the troops are fighting in tough nasty conditions. He said forces in Iraq fight in 120- and 130-degree temperatures while wearing full protective gear. Still, servicemembers know it is "better to fight extremists in Fallujah than it is to let them fester there and fight them somewhere else," Myers said.
Myers thanked military members and their families for their sacrifices. He said Americans need to understand the sacrifices that American military members and their families are making. "There are parts of America that understand pretty well," Myers said. "There are others probably where every day goes on and it's just another nice day in the United States of America. They don't have a good appreciation for the sacrifices made by others on their behalf."
But if those Americans think about it, they will understand that what's standing between them and "perhaps the severest threat our country has ever faced" is the United States military.
Myers said all Americans are counting on servicemembers. "Our children and grandchildren are counting on them and I'm very confident that they will do the right thing," he said.
Myers said that when he travels in the United States he always reminds Americans that this is a nation at war. "I think people need to be reminded," he said. "There are no Victory Gardens like World War II. We're not saving scrap metal or rationing rubber and gasoline. It's pretty much business as usual for most of the population.
"On the other hand, the most important thing that we have when we go into combat is the resolve of the American people," he continued. "With the American people resolved, there's no issue at all."