Terrorists Who Would Target America Are Dangerous Enemies, Myers Says
By Kevin Gilmartin
Special to American Forces Press Service
HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass., Apr. 8, 2002 The nation's top military officer told a Harvard University audience April 4 that the fight against terrorism is the most important assignment given the U.S. military in his 37-year career.
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to several hundred students, professors and guests at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government in nearby Cambridge.
The terrorists who would target America, including al Qaeda, are "a very, very dangerous enemy," Myers said. "If terrorist organizations like al Qaeda could get hold of weapons of mass destruction -- chemical or biological or nuclear -- they would use them. All you have to do is look back at 9-11, and you understand what their standards are."
Myers said America has had some success in its war on terrorism, but "this is going to be a long, long fight, and it's not going to be just the military that's going to be engaged. It's going to require all the elements of our national power, and all those of our coalition powers, our allies, and all different facets of our government."
He attributed the initial success to several factors, including civilian leadership, clear goals, bipartisan support, the recognition of the need to build coalitions, cooperation among agencies in Washington and "most importantly, our people."
"Our civilian leadership has set a course for us that is very clear and has never wavered," the chairman said.
He described how civilian and military leaders met in the White House after Sept. 11 and developed three goals for the war on terrorism: to degrade and destroy international terrorism, make it difficult for countries to shelter or harbor terrorists, and ensure that weapons of mass destruction do not fall into the hands of terrorists.
"Obviously it is very difficult to achieve goals like that," Myers said. "That is why it is going to take some time."
The general asked for the American public to be patient. "We cannot expect that, every three months, we're going to have an event like the Taliban falling in Afghanistan," he said. "That's just not how this different kind of war is going to be fought. It will probably take us years to get to the end of this."
Talking about the importance of coalition building, Myers pointed out that roughly 80 countries have joined the U.S. in its war on terrorism.
"Some of them actually have combat troops inside Afghanistan. Some of them provide assistance in kind or other things that they can do within the limits of their constitution or their resources," he said. "People are amazed at how far we've come with our Russian partners in the sharing of intelligence and information as it pertains to the war on terrorism."
The general pointed out that there have been peaks and valleys in the Afghanistan war, and quoted Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. Central Command, who said watching this war is "kind of like watching baseball.
"There are moments when it is pretty exciting, and there are longer periods where, maybe it appears that not much is going on, but nevertheless, things are always moving and strategies are always being implemented."
As an example, the chairman cited Operation Anaconda, where the United States suffered some casualties while defeating a large pocket of al Qaeda, which was followed by a quiet period. "The next thing you hear, in Pakistan, they arrested over 50 al Qaeda personnel, to include a fairly high-ranking al Qaeda member."
Myers paid tribute to America's military members, reporting that, despite serving under tough conditions, "morale is uniformly high" among the troops. "We have put our troops in some pretty bad places where the health issues, sanitation, water, food become really a critical issue," he said. Despite these challenging conditions, "you never hear a complaint."
"The most important asset we have going for us in this war, from a military perspective, is our people. I know who does the work, it's the people out there in the field, not those of us sitting behind a desk, I guarantee you."
Myers also spoke about homeland security, and how that has changed since the events of last year.
"After the Cold War was over," he said, "We went from 22 alert bases with fighters on five- or 10-minute alert to seven (bases) never anticipating events like Sept. 11. Since then, we've had a very busy air defense posture in the United States." NATO Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft have been patrolling U.S. skies, freeing U.S. AWACS planes to continue high-demand missions around the world.
The general said the Department of Defense is working closely with Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and is waiting for final presidential approval of a new military command that will focus just on homeland security.
Myers, who spent time at the Kennedy School as a student in the National and International Security Program, implored all the students to consider careers in public service.
"There has never been in recent memory a more important time for people to go into public service, to help contribute, to try to make a difference, in what is one of the most important tasks we've ever had before us," he said. "There's never been a time when you could be more proud to be in public service and make such an important difference on such an important matter."
The general said he's often asked if he is having fun in his job as chairman.
"I'm not sure becoming the 15th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff a week before we go to war is exactly described as fun," he said. "But I will tell you that it is probably the most fulfilling thing that I have done in my life. I think that people going into public service today will find that it is the most fulfilling thing you could ever do."
(Kevin Gilmartin is deputy public affairs director and chief of media relations at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass.)