Myers Discusses Mideast Terror, Iraq and the Way Ahead in Afghanistan
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 7, 2002 America's top military leader said there is probably an infrastructure behind the terrorist bombings in the Middle East and that al Qaeda is still a viable force.
Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on the April 6 CNN Novak, Hunt and Shields interview program that the events in Israel do not change the goals of America's war on terrorism.
"What we've said from the very start is the goals of the global war on terrorism are against international terrorist organizations, those nation-states or others that support them and against those who have weapons of mass destruction that might fall into terrorist hands," he said.
Myers was questioned about Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's statements linking Iran, Iraq and Syria to attacks on civilians in Israel. "I think what the secretary was saying was that beautiful young lady that was a suicide bomber ... didn't just wake up that morning and decide to put on a bomb costume," Myers said.
People or groups had to provide the money and the equipment to these men and women who launch these suicide attacks. "(The suicide attacks) aren't things people do capriciously," he said. “There's probably a system of support there.”
Myers said there is no plan and have been no discussions about putting American troops in the Middle East. He said any such effort would be very complicated and would require answers to many questions: "Is it a peacekeeping mission, is it a peacemaking mission? What are the rules of engagement you abide by? What are the command and control arrangements? What do both parties expect out of this? (What's the) duration? There are lots of questions that we haven't started to discuss."
Myers said that worldwide al Qaeda is a viable force. He said the terror organization is decentralized and compartmented, with very few key nodes of operation. Inside Afghanistan "there are these pockets of Taliban and al Qaeda that would just love to create instability," he said. Taliban and al Qaeda fighters will do this by taking on any security force - coalition or Afghan, the general explained. He also expects they will try to disrupt the interim administration in Afghanistan. The United States will continue to work against these pockets of terrorists.
Myers also said U.S. efforts to build an Afghan national army will take less than the five years forecast by some pundits. He said Hamid Karzai, the chairman of the interim government, told him that the national army - which will also include border guards - is a priority. "He realizes that ultimately Afghans are going to have to provide for their own security," Myers said.
He said it is important to continue support for the Afghan government. "This is the best hope the Afghan people have for a more normal and prosperous life," he said. "An interim administration has been stood up because we provided the environment in which it can flourish." He said a number of U.S. agencies, other countries and international aid organizations are supporting Afghanistan’s needs.
The capture of the No. 2 man in the al Qaeda organization, Abu Zubaydah, is an example of the type of cooperation needed. Led by Pakistan and aided by U.S. law enforcement and intelligence personnel, the capture illustrates that all instruments of U.S. national power are being wielded against terror. He said this type of cooperation is not limited to Pakistan, but is occurring all over the world.
Myers responded to a question about the United States going into Iraq. “Well, first, let's establish right up front that nobody has said that that's going to be a military mission, nobody has said we're going to do it, and certainly there's been no time frame set up for that,” Myers emphasized. He said that one couldn't overlay the Afghanistan template onto Iraq.
He said the military situation in Iraq has changed dramatically since Operation Desert Storm more than 10 years ago. "Iraq has about 40 percent of the forces it had during the Gulf War," he said. In contrast, the combat power of U.S. forces has grown. During Desert Storm about 10 percent of the weapons dropped were precision-guided. In Operation Enduring Freedom that percentage rose to 60. "Our capabilities have grown; Iraqi capabilities have diminished," he said.
Myers said some comments made by the regional commanders-in-chief - about troops being tired, overextended and depleted - were taken out of context and overplayed. "This is going to be a long war - this war on terrorism," he said. "We're in the first chapter of a many-chapter book. We do need to work our rhythm and our pacing to make sure we have the forces we need to do what the president needs us to do. I can assure the American public that we are as ready today as we were Sept 11. And we'll be that way for the foreseeable future as far as I can tell."
Myers said the United States clearly would like to eventually get al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, but in the meantime U.S. efforts have disrupted al Qaeda operations around the world. "We know we've disrupted four, five, six, seven operations they've had planned and probably more that we don't know about," Myers said. "We're going to keep the hunt on."