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Myers Updates Baltimore Audience on Terror War

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2004 – It wasn't a choice between combating Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq or going after al Qaeda, the nation's top military officer told members of the Council of Foreign Affairs in Baltimore Feb. 23. The United States had to do both.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers assured the audience that "nobody has taken their eyes off the al Qaeda ball" as operations in Iraq continue.

Myers disputed charges that the United States went after Saddam Hussein at the expense of chasing the real enemy al Qaeda. He told the mix of academics, business leaders, students and others interested in foreign affairs that terrorists fear the example a stable, democratic Iraq would pose for the peoples of the Middle East.

He stressed that the United States is a "nation at war," but it is a very different kind of war. The war on terror will require Americans to be patient and committed to win.

The chairman said he believes the terrorist threat is the biggest threat the United States has faced since at least the Civil War. "The stakes simply couldn't be higher," he said.

The cost of the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, was enormous. In human terms, the attacks murdered 3,000 people from 80 countries. In economic terms, the attacks cost "hundreds of billions of dollars" when totaled up. Another wave of attacks and, Myers added, terrorists are planning further attacks could be much worse. He said terrorist groups are striving to obtain chemical, biological radiological and nuclear weapons. An attack with such weapons of mass destruction could cost tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of lives.

"It doesn't take a lot of imagination to envision what another wave of attacks could do to this nation of ours," he said. "And as I see it, failure is not an option."

So the United States has put together a coalition against terror. He said there are 95 countries supporting the effort. "Whether we're talking troops on the ground, basing or logistics, or intelligence gathering, it is clearly, and has been for some time, an international effort," he said.

Winning the war will require a tremendous commitment from the American people, he said. "Despite the enormously high stakes, the impact on most Americans' daily lives is pretty minimal," he said. "We aren't rationing gas or planning scrap drives or planting victory gardens like we did during World War II.

"Daily life, in fact, for most Americans is unaffected by the fact that America is a nation at war."

Myers said now isn't the time to retreat and ignore what's going on in the world. Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden wants to reduce America to a shadow of its former self. "He really thought it would be easy," Myers said of bin Laden. "But he badly underestimated the resolve of our men and women in uniform.

"Bin Laden, al Qaeda and other terrorist elements are finding out just how strong our will is. There is no way we're going to lose this war because we know what's at stake."

To help win the war on terror, it is necessary for the military to change. Simply adding more troops is the old answer one Napoleon Bonaparte would understand, the chairman said. "It's tempting to say if we had one or two more Army divisions we'd be in great shape and all our problems would go away in terms of operations tempo," he said.

But this isn't the case. Rather than simply numbers, the military must add capabilities. The Army's transformation of the brigade structure is a step along that path. So is the Army canceling the Comanche helicopter program, he said. Different capabilities and technologies are coming to the forefront and those will be decisive in the military options against a constantly changing and adapting enemy, he said.

The governing portion of efforts against terrorism is also proceeding. In Afghanistan, Myers said, a "loya jirga" has written a constitution that has been approved by the interim government. Now elections are scheduled for a country that had little hope under the Taliban.

In Iraq, the process is also moving forward. The coalition is due to turn over sovereignty to Iraqis June 30. Local councils have formed in most of the country, even as military operations continue.

Economic efforts are moving forward, as well. In Afghanistan, projects to build roads, schools and other necessary infrastructure continue. There are now 12 Provincial Reconstruction Teams in the country helping to coordinate projects.

In Iraq, coalition military and civilian agencies are working on thousands of projects, from clearing canals to providing school supplies to rebuilding the electrical infrastructure.

"It's important, though, that we stay focused," Myers said. "We can easily mistake important milestones such as the transfer of sovereignty, an election or a new constitution for the finish line. But it's more than that and we have to stay and finish the job we've begun."

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