Myers: 'The More the Iraqis Can Do, the Better'
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 21, 2004 "I'm of the school that the more the Iraqis can do, the better," said Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers to the House Armed Services Committee today. "And the faster we can get them to do that, the better as well."
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that all in the Defense Department are in agreement that the coalition needs to turn Iraq over to Iraqis. But, he cautioned, "there's always risk in that."
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker and Marine Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee joined the chairman in testimony to the committee.
Myers spoke specifically about the Fallujah Brigade and applied that to Iraq as a whole. The brigade is an Iraqi unit cooperating with U.S. forces in the city of Fallujah. Commanded by an Iraqi officer, it is patrolling with Iraqi police and U.S. Marines. Myers said there are risks in the Fallujah situation, "but it is a risk we must take."
He said the situation in Fallujah is working out "OK." He cautioned, however, that the success does not preclude U.S. forces having to use force in the future. Hagee told the representatives that the partnership has done well. He said Fallujah has been quiet.
Both Myers and Hagee spoke about the Marines spreading reconstruction funds around in the city. "We have our goals in Fallujah, and so far the people of Fallujah seem to be responding," Myers said.
"I would say the trend is going in the right direction," said he noted. "We need to know when to use force, when to back off and when to let the Iraqis help with the solution."
Myers told the representatives that the coalition in the global war on terrorism remains strong.
He said that in Afghanistan, the Army's 25th Infantry Division has replaced the 10th Mountain Division, and the Combined Joint Task Force 180 continues combat operations in the south and the east. "We're seeing steady progress in the destruction of the al Qaeda and Taliban, and continue to focus on the killing or capturing of high-value targets," Myers said.
He said that enemy attacks have been aimed primarily at the Afghan government and at nongovernmental organizations. The coalition in Afghanistan is focusing on elections set for September, which, he said, anti-government elements will attempt to disrupt or influence. U.S. officials are working closely with the Afghan government, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and the United Nations "to develop a comprehensive security plan to ensure the safety and legitimacy of those elections."
The chairman said that he believes the continuous presence of the provincial reconstruction teams is having a positive impact on security in local areas of the country. The coalition plans to expand the effort to more regions.
In Iraq, the coalition continues to plan and work toward the June 30 transfer of sovereignty. "The Iraqi people, understandably, want to know that their efforts are in support of their own country and their own government," Myers said. "Iraqi security forces also want to work under an Iraqi chain of command and put their lives on the line for their own country."
The United States is working with coalition partners and the Iraqis to ensure the June 30 transition is as smooth and effective as possible, Myers said.
But the transition will not mean the end of coalition activities in Iraq. The security field will be especially challenging, officials said. The United States will maintain forces in the country to establish security and maintain stability as Iraqi security forces gear up to take over the mission.
Myers anticipates former regime sympathizers and foreign fighters to try to sabotage the transition. He called the May 17 bombing death of the Iraqi Governing Council president an "assassination" and "a terrible blow." "There will be people that will try very hard with tactics like that and other tactics of intimidation to keep from having political progress in Iraq," Myers said.
But, he noted most Iraqis understand the stakes and will continue to make political, economic and military progress. "There is reason for great hope that the Iraqi people will run with this," he said.