American Soldier as Time's Person of the Year 'A Fitting Tribute,' Says Myers
By K.L. Vantran
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 21, 2003 The American soldier, Time magazine's choice for Person of the Year, is "exactly right," the nation's top military officer told Sunday news shows audiences here today.
The magazine cover is a "fitting tribute to these young men and women who have volunteered to serve their country and are over there doing a superb job," Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers said on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."
The general just returned Dec. 20 from visiting 25,000 troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Bahrain and Djibouti. "The military in many cases stands between terrorists and their goal," the chairman said on "Fox News Sunday." "They're doing a terrific job. America ought to be proud of its military."
"These folks look like they're ready for inspection," Myers told the Fox audience about his overseas trip. "It's hard to tell the 101st Airborne (Division) up in Mosul, Iraq, have been there nine months and had to fight their way through Baghdad to get there. They look terrific. They understand the mission. They're confident in the mission. They take care of one another.
"They're making a real difference in Afghanistan and in Iraq," he said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"They're changing the scenery for the good."
Myers said the capture of disposed Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein is "a big step in the inevitable process of Iraq's march to democracy."
Upon Saddam's capture, Myers told CNN viewers, it was important for the security of Iraqi people, coalition forces and for all those who are trying to make a better Iraq to show that the former dictator was indeed captured. "He was such a powerful figure at one time, it was important to show the Iraqi people that he's no longer going to be an influence in their lives," he added.
Information obtained when Saddam was captured has led to a better understanding of the structure of the former regime, and subsequently more than 200 people have been detained, Myers said on Fox.
The general noted that since Saddam's capture more and more Iraqis have stepped forward with information on former regime elements. He said it's "probably because they're not afraid any more. (There's) a realization that the Baath Party is never coming back to power," he added. "The new Iraq will be based on democratic principles."
Myers said the plot to kidnap members of the Iraqi Governing Council and then offer them in exchange for Saddam is not unusual. "We know that they would love to stop the progress in Iraq," he added. "We've seen them go after the infrastructure. We've seen them go after (Iraqi) chiefs of police. They've gone after mayors."
The chairman talked on CNN about the possibility that insurgents have had access to inside information resulting in the attacks on the Al Rasheed Hotel in October and on coalition administrator Ambassador L. Paul Bremer's convoy earlier this month. Acknowledging that any breaches in security are a concern, Myers said "we have to work our counterintellgience people very hard to ensure that we maintain operational security and protect people the best we can."
Despite this, the general told the Fox audience the courage of U.S. and coalition forces, the Iraqi people and the governing council shines through. More than 100 Iraqis in security forces have given their lives to secure that country, he added.
When asked about recent al Qaeda threats concerning attacks against the United States, Myers said intelligence tips are taken "very, very seriously." "There's no doubt from the intelligence we pick up that they want to do away with our way of life," he added. "If they could cause another catastrophic event like the tragedy of 9/11 or if they could get their hands on weapons of mass destruction and make it 10,000 not 3,000 (deaths), they would do that and not just in the United States but in other parts of the free world."
The general said there are troops doing great work to mitigate these threats here at home as well as in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa.
Myers said he believes there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and it's only a matter of time until they are found. "It's going to be like finding Saddam Hussein," he added. "You need the right series of events, the right individuals to keep track and say, 'Here's where we think it is.'"
The same is true in the search for Osama bin Laden, Myers said on "Face the Nation." "We track down every lead. There are people in this government and in other governments who are dedicated to finding him," he added. "His options for hiding become less and less as we gain more and more intelligence. As we keep working this trail, it's like any good detective work, any good intelligence work: One lead leads to the next lead."
Since Operation Iraqi Freedom began in March, 461 U.S. troops have died and the chairman told CNN what a tragedy these deaths are. "It's a tough business," he added.
He said trying to change a country that had been in dictatorship and ruled by fear and terror to a democracy takes a lot of sacrifice. "It takes a lot of personal courage," he added. "Our soldiers won't back down from this. We have the resolve and the will to carry this through."