Abizaid: Staying Power Critical for Security in Middle East
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
SOUTHWEST ASIA, April 30, 2006 It's critical that the American people muster up the will to see the conflict here through to victory, the commander of U.S. Central Command told civilian business, civic and academic leaders visiting here yesterday.
Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, tells participants in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference it's critical that the United States complete its mission in Southwest Asia. Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Larry Chambers, USGC
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Military officials asked that the visit's exact location not be released.
Army Gen. John Abizaid told participants in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference there's no quick, easy answer to the challenges the nation faces in Southwest Asia. But leaving too soon, without accomplishing the mission, would hand victory to extremists, he said.
"This is a test of wills, and the enemy intends to stay in the fight for a long time," Abizaid told the group. That means the United States must have staying power, too, he said.
"We came into this war with a short-war mentality," Abizaid said. "But this is going to be a long war."
There's no way the United States can lose the conflict militarily, Abizaid told the group, noting that not a single platoon has been lost during four years of fighting. Rather, he said, terrorists hope to win by making Americans believe the challenges are too difficult or simply not worth the cost.
"They're killing our soldiers, not to defeat us, but to make you think this is too hard and to break our will," he said.
"The single most important thing we have to do in the region is to stabilize Iraq," Abizaid said. He noted successes since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime three years ago. Today, 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces are stable, and Iraq's security forces are growing in number and capability.
"But building a military takes a long time," Abizaid told the group. "It's not just a matter of giving them weapons and training and turning them into the streets." And although militias and sectarian violence cause concern, "Iraq is slowly but surely stabilizing," he said.
While working to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan, he said the United States recognizes other challenges in the region: keeping terrorists from establishing a safe haven in the Horn of Africa and preventing them from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. It's also keeping a close eye on Iran, which Abizaid said can't be permitted to dominate the region.
Stability in Southwest Asia isn't just in America's interest. "Everybody has an interest in stability in this region," Abizaid said, noting vast oil reserves that impact the entire world economy and new oil fields and gas lines emerging in Central Asia that flow through the region.
"Never has there been a more mutual interest in stability in the region, and that's why we have to internationalize the effort," he said.
Similarly, U.S. military power alone can't win the fight. It will take all elements of U.S. national power, international cooperation and support that enables partners in the region to help themselves, he said.
Achieving the objectives for Southwest Asia won't be easy, and difficult times remain ahead, the general said.
"But this is a historical battle we're engaged in," Abizaid said. "And we have to have the will to see it through."