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Shelton Interview with ABC "This Week with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts"

Presenter: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Henry Shelton
September 30, 2001 11:30 AM EDT

Sunday, September 30, 2001 - 11:30 a.m. EDT

(Interview with ABC "This Week with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts")

Ms. Roberts: And joining us now is General Hugh Shelton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Your last day in that role, General Shelton.

Gen. Shelton: My last day, Cokie. And delighted to be here with you this morning.

Ms. Roberts: Well, thank you so much for coming in this morning. You've just heard Mike Lee saying that there are still reports that some U.S. forces have been captured or shot at in Afghanistan. True?

Gen. Shelton: Well, Cokie, this is going to have to be a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional campaign and of necessity the operational security, the intelligence networks that we have, will be -- it'll be a very different type of operation. And so throughout this morning I'll have to be very generic in responding to some of these operational issues to include that much. So we won't have any comment about the reports that are coming out of the Middle East.

Ms. Roberts: Well, what about in this morning's papers the fact that 28,000 troops, two dozen warships, 300 warplanes are in the area around Iraq and Afghanistan? Are we positioning ourselves, if necessary, to get in?

Gen. Shelton: Well, I think that, as you know, for 50 years we've maintained a sizeable force in the Middle East in support of our partners, our allies in the region, as well as to protect America's national interests. And so, commenting on what types of forces we may have deployed or when we would do it, et cetera, is something that I think only serves to aid and abet the terrorist organizations that are the target of our efforts in this war on terrorism.

Ms. Roberts: You were head of the Special Operations force and we have had reports of Special Operations forces being in and maybe out of Afghanistan, doing some work there. But let me just ask you, aside -- since you're not going to tell us that, what the challenges are. The president has said they're going to go in and "smoke Osama bin Laden out." How do they do that?

Gen. Shelton: Well, first and foremost, I think, as you look at a terrorist organization, it is an organization that of its very nature requires a different approach. It requires a multi-faceted approach, a multi-dimensional approach, using all the elements of our national power - diplomatic, political, economic, as well as our military capabilities.

We have great capabilities across the whole spectrum of conflict, from -- ranging from peacekeeping operations, special operations, as well as conventional operations. This says that we'll use some parts of each one of these systems that we have and we'll take it to the enemy. We will, in fact, strive to eliminate, to defeat the terrorists that have brought about these very brutal attacks on our citizens.

Ms. Roberts: But there are particular problems in Afghanistan, however. There are land mines. Apparently, it's the most land-mined country on Earth. We in the United States supplied them with Stinger missiles when they were fighting the Soviet Union. Are those particular problems when you try to introduce Special Forces into Afghanistan?

Gen. Shelton: Well, first of all, there's an assumption that we're going to introduce Special Forces into Afghanistan, which I won't comment on one way or the other. But suffice it to say, we understand the nature of our adversary, the terrorist organizations. We have no war with the Afghan people and we will do everything we can within our power to make sure that we can help the Afghan people. But we also are going to go after those that harbor, that aid, that abet, that assist, or in any other way support a terrorist organization.

But if you remember back to the Desert Shield/Desert Storm days, many painted the Iraqis during that period as ten feet tall. We don't think the Taliban or those that are harboring the terrorists anywhere are ten feet tall. We've got over 100 nations now that are in support, an international coalition in support of going after these terrorist organizations. And so it'll be not only America and America's political, diplomatic, economic, military power that will be applied, but it will be an international effort that will also bring in the great capabilities of our partners, our allies, and our friends around the world.

Ms. Roberts: There's a question of patience there, though, general, and let me refer you to a quotation from a former member of the National Security Council: "The smart thing to do is wait until spring when you'd have tons of intelligence, forces set in place and ready to go, and eight months of uninterrupted good weather to run an operation. But it's unclear whether domestic and international politics would sustain such a long wait." You do have to keep people behind you. How do you do that and fight the smartest war?

Gen. Shelton: Well, I think, first of all, that the American people fully understand right now that we are going after the terrorists and that this will require a sustained campaign. This will not be a conventional war. It will not be a war in which you can show large formations of tanks or artillery or whatever. In fact, a terrorist organization by its nature are individuals, small cells, organizations that are very dispersed -- in this particular case, with just the one organization, with the al Qaeda, the Osama bin Laden organization, some 50-60 nations they operate in. They use fronts to support their organization. We're going to go after them. But again, not just with military. We have law enforcement, we have intelligence, et cetera.

Ms. Roberts: So is it a mistake to call it a war?

Gen. Shelton: I don't think it's a mistake to call it a war. I think, in fact, what we saw delivered on our American citizens and, indeed, the international community, the 80 nations, was an act of war from a terrorist standpoint. And therefore, we've got to go after those that host, house, help, assist or whatever. And that's the world of terrorism.

Ms. Roberts: Time Magazine has taken a poll that comes out tomorrow asking people if the U.S. military action against Afghanistan would make terrorist attacks on the United States more likely in the next 12 months -- almost two-thirds say "yes." Is that a danger? That the American public is fearful that going after these people will bring further attacks upon us?

Gen. Shelton: I think that you always worry about organizations or worry about a response that you may receive from anyone. But that should not stand in the way of doing what is right and what is best for American citizens for the long term. And not only American citizens, but for the international community, for the civilized world. And as we've seen, tremendous outpouring of support from nations all over the world to go after these organizations.

Ms. Roberts: Do you think it's likely to bring more terrorist attacks?

Gen. Shelton: I believe that you always have to be concerned. And certainly, we must take that into consideration that a terrorist may try to respond. But that should not prevent us from doing what's right. And ultimately, we'll be much safer for the future if we go after those who harbor and support and carry out these terrorist acts, as we're seeing today.

Ms. Roberts: It's time for the quadrennial review of the military and now there are new realities. There is talk that maybe there will be new military roles. For instance, a "Homeland Defense" section in the Army. Is that something that you would support?

Gen. Shelton: Not only support, but is something that we've been preparing for for quite some time. We went back after the September 11th attack and looked at the Quadrennial Defense Review and, needless to say, we were happy when we looked at it that we had given it the proper amount of attention. But it didn't just start with the quadrennial defense review. In fact, two years ago, we recognized the need to start protecting our nation, our citizens against asymmetric or attacks to the homeland. We looked at cyber warfare and we stood up a command to deal with that. We increased our chemical and biological capabilities to deal with those types of attack. As well as an ability to respond in support of lead federal agencies of our government. And we envisioned that becoming even stronger in the days ahead.

Ms. Roberts: We're about out of time here, but I want to ask you a couple of personal things. One, what is it like to make these decisions in a Pentagon where there are bodies still in the rubble a few hundred feet away?

Gen. Shelton: Well, first of all, when you drive up to the Pentagon today, there's a reminder of the tremendous sacrifices that our men and women in uniform give day in and day out. Many of which, in the Pentagon, gave the ultimate sacrifice, as well as many of our other citizens in the World Trade Center. And as they do around the world almost on a daily basis.

But it also is a reminder of the great contributions that our armed forces make to peace and security around the world, to stability within the regions. And that increases the economic prosperity, the peace that our citizens, as well as others in the regions around the world enjoy. And we're very proud to contribute to that.

Ms. Roberts: As I understand it, you were flying back when this attack happened.

Gen. Shelton: Well, I was headed overseas that morning. And when I heard the second plane had hit the World Trade Center, it became obvious what was underway and we started trying to turn around. It took a little while to get the clearances to turn around, but ultimately made it back in.

Ms. Roberts: And you saw the World Trade Center from the air.

Gen. Shelton: I did. I flew over the World Trade Center. I saw the devastation that had been brought upon the international community in that attack. And then, of course, walked out that afternoon and looked at the Pentagon and realized that we had work to do. And that work is in progress as we speak.

Ms. Roberts: General, at midnight tonight, you hand over command to General Richard Myers. I've noticed that retired General Downing is going to join Tom Ridge on the Homeland Security. Retired General Zinni is going to the State Department as an adviser. Will you stay on in some advisory role?

Gen. Shelton: Well, my role in the future will remain -- is to be determined. However, I feel very good about turning over the job tonight at midnight to a great warrior, a leader, Dick Myers, a guy with great vision, who I am confident will lead our armed forces to victory in this latest challenge that America faces and I certainly feel good about the leadership that he brings to the position.

Ms. Roberts: Thank you very much.

Gen. Shelton: Thank you, Cokie.

Ms. Roberts: Thanks so much for joining us this morning, General Shelton.

Gen. Shelton: Thank you.