Myers Explains U.S. Position in Iraq to Arab Audience
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
MANAMA, Bahrain, Apr. 13, 2004 Events in Iraq dominated the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff's news conference following meetings with Bahraini leaders here.
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers spoke to a group of mostly Arab journalists following meetings with the king of Bahrain, the defense minister and the chief of staff of the Bahraini Defense Force.
American embassy officials said that Iraqi civilian casualties are a concern to many people in this Persian Gulf nation. Their concern was sparked, in part, by a front-page newspaper picture of a dog eating from a dead body in Fallujah.
Myers said the United States has taken great care since Operation Iraqi Freedom began to minimize civilian casualties. "We have been very careful in how we have used military power to achieve the ends we have achieved in Iraq," he said. "That continues today. You have seen in numerous accounts that not only U.S., but other coalition forces, will often put themselves in harm's way to avoid causing innocent civilians harm. That continues today."
He said the ceasefire in Fallujah is a case in point. The U.S. Marines there are not conducting offensive operations. "The offensive operations, it turns out, are being conducted by those people in Fallujah who don't want a free and prosperous Iraq," he said.
Those elements are firing on Marines from many areas normally off-limits for military operations, including mosques and schools. If an enemy uses a protected site such as a mosque as a fighting point, it loses its protected status, Myers said. "But in the U.S. view, that's not enough," said he added. "Even though it may have lost its protected status, we still consider it a very serious matter if we're going to attack a protected facility."
The chairman said he doesn't think anyone knows the number of casualties in Fallujah. "Certainly any loss of life, whether it's coalition forces or innocent civilians, no one likes that," he said. "We go to great lengths to spare lives. What the coalition wants to accomplish in Iraq is not helped if the coalition is reckless, and I guarantee we are not reckless. We are as careful as can be, given the security challenges."
Myers also spoke about charges that Syria and Iran are trying to influence Iraqis as the June 30 Iraqi sovereignty date approaches. Syria still sponsors terrorist groups, and many of the foreign fighters who find their way to Iraq do so through Syria. "We know Iran is also attempting to influence events inside Iraq," he said. "If the Iraqi people are going to have a fair chance a decent chance to decide their own future, it needs to be free of outside influences."
Myers said that U.S. Central Command chief Army Gen. John Abizaid has asked for the capabilities brought by two more brigades of U.S. soldiers. He expects an answer to that request soon. But the long-term goal remains not U.S. troops, but Iraqis defending their own country. "Our task is to ensure that Iraqi security forces the Iraqi police, the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, the border guards, the Iraqi army and the Iraqi Infrastructure Protection Force be appropriately equipped, trained and manned for the duties that we ask them to do," he said. "We're not there yet in terms of training and equipping."
But, he said, security is only one pillar that needs to be put in place. An economic pillar helped by $18.4 billion appropriated by the U.S. Congress is important to the country, as is the governance pillar still on track for turnover of sovereignty on June 30, he said. The change from a dictatorship to a free Iraq is not going to happen over one year or two years, the chairman said.
Myers said the U.S. military relationship with Bahrain is key to stability in the region. He used his visit to thank Bahrain for its support over 60 years and specifically to thank leaders for their support in the global war on terrorism. "The United States is committed to maintaining a strategic partnership with Bahrain, a major non-NATO ally, so we can assure the stability of Bahrain but also the stability of the Middle East," he said.
The U.S. Navy has had some presence in Bahrain since just after World War II. Myers said he doesn't know what the U.S. "footprint" will look like in the future. "I don't have a good crystal ball," he said, "but a couple of fundamentals apply. We think our presence in the Gulf has a stabilizing influence, and so there will probably be some form of presence. I can't tell you what that presence will be, but I can tell you we won't be anywhere where we are not wanted."