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Gen. Myers Interview with Al Jazeera

Presenters: Gen. Richard B. Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
November 05, 2001

Wednesday, October 31, 2001

(Interview with Al Jazeera.)

Q: General Myers, thank you for being with us and giving that much valuable time to be with our audience also in the Arab world.

Myers: Thank you for the opportunity.

Q: Let me start after the 25 days of the start of the military action. How do you see the progress so far? Or is there anything tangible that you can tell people about?

Myers: As you know, this is a war on terrorism and those that support terrorists. We think that the plan is progressing pretty much like we expected it to, and I would say so far we have been successful in our aims. The first part of the effort was against Taliban air defenses, and we have degraded those or destroyed those to the point now we can fly freely over the country and we're turning now our support to opposition forces and enabling their fight against the Taliban.

Q: After four or five days of the military operations we heard about now we have the sky for us and we can do it all over any time of the day. Why did it take much time after that and until now we are not talking about any ground troops?

Myers: I'm not sure I understand your question. But for the first part, remember this is a war against terrorists and those who support them. Part of it was to degrade the fairly substantial terrorist training infrastructure inside Afghanistan, so we worked on targets such as those. We also worked on some Taliban command and control facilities, and then we started to turn our attention more and more to the opposition groups. And it just takes time to get the right kind of liaison in place who want to free Afghanistan from the Taliban.

Q: Has the objective been changed or changed during that military action like we started with al Qaeda mainly. Are we now after Taliban and the fall down of their government, the main objective?

Myers: No, the objectives have not changed. Still the objective is the al Qaeda organization, because we know that they were behind the September 11th tragedies that occurred in New York City and here in Washington, D.C. So we've never wavered from that objective. The Taliban is also an objective because they're the ones that harbor al Qaeda in Afghanistan. So the objectives have not changed.

Q: So the minute they stop harboring or they stop supporting al Qaeda you could save them from any more bombing or fighting? Or it is too late now?

Myers: That would be a political decision. I think the president has offered on a couple of occasions the opportunity for the Taliban to hand over al Qaeda operatives and senior personnel. The Taliban has not seen fit to do that. They have continued to fight. And I don't want to go into the hypothetical world because it's really more of a political question, not one for a military man.

Q: We hear from the Northern Alliance about the beginning of the military actions before it was announced here in Washington, and now we hear from the Northern Alliance that they are ready in few days to move on to Kabul. How accurate is that assessment?

Myers: I don't know how accurate that assessment is. That will be up to the Northern Alliance and their leadership. We are going to try to help as we can, support their objectives, but any discussion of how fast they can move and where they're going to move I think are tactical decisions that will be made in the field and I don't want to speculate on how quickly they might do something like that.

Q: But you are willing to help them moving into Kabul and getting into Kabul?

Myers: We are willing to help the Northern Alliance with their objective of defeating their Taliban adversaries and I think for that matter, I think most of the Afghan people are as well because the Taliban has been such an oppressive regime in Afghanistan.

To talk about Kabul and whether or not that should fall into other people's hands or not, I'd rather not speculate.

What I would say, though, as you know the international community is working at a fairly good pace to determine what would be an appropriate post-Taliban Afghanistan structure for governing the country, and that is something that I think we all look forward to and it's a way to take Afghanistan and bring them into the 21st Century.

Q: Are you considering introducing or using Turkish troops in that process?

Myers: I think in that process they are looking at, they will probably need contributions from many, many countries. Turkey has been mentioned. Beyond that, I don't know what Turkey's view of this is so I'd let them speak for themselves. I've just heard them mentioned, but many countries have been mentioned in that regard.

Q: What kind of presence, at least it's been confirmed yesterday by the Pentagon that there are U.S. ground troops in Afghanistan. Could you shed some more light on that presence?

Myers: I can't shed much more than has already been said, but for several days now we've had U.S. troops on the ground with the Northern Alliance, and as liaison to the Northern Alliance. Their primary mission is to advise, to try to support the Northern Alliance with airstrikes as appropriate. They are specially trained individuals that know how to bring in air power and bring it into the conflict in the right way, and that's what they're doing. We think that will have a big impact on the Northern Alliance's ability to prosecute their piece of this war against the Taliban.

Q: According to the plan, when could you declare victory? The fall down of Kabul would be the watershed?

Myers: Actually I don't think the fall of Kabul would be the watershed. I think we have to go back to our objectives, and that is to eliminate or degrade al Qaeda to the point where it cannot effectively prosecute international terrorism as it did on September 11th. And there are other -- as you know al Qaeda is in over 60 countries, including people right here in the United States of America. So this is a wide conflict global in scale. Al Qaeda is not the only international terrorist organization that wishes to do freedom-loving people harm. So no matter who has Kabul that's not the real issue. The real issue is the leadership of al Qaeda and its the people that support them and taking away that support.

By the way, just to add onto that, this is not just a military action, which taking Kabul would be mostly perhaps a military operation. There are other operations that we have ongoing, and I say we in a very broad context. We mean all our partner nations. There are 80 to 100 to more than that that have joined in this partnership against worldwide terrorism. So there will be other aspects besides the military aspect. There will be the financial aspect. There is the criminal aspect of this. There is a commerce aspect to this. So there's a diplomatic aspect to it, and all of those will be brought to bear on this war on terrorism.

So just one faction or other in Afghanistan taking Kabul will not end this conflict.

Q: The reason I am asking about Kabul and I am focusing on the military issue, of course, with you because I am not going to ask political questions or --

Myers: I appreciate that, by the way.

Q: -- financial questions. And I am talking about the military actions that started October 7th. When would end? Of course you're not going to end it when you finish al Qaeda in the U.S. or Britain or any other place. Is there an objective that people would look for and then when it's achieved we would know that that night or that day President Bush would come out and say we finished that military action in Afghanistan?

Myers: I think one of the points would be when there is no more support for al Qaeda in Afghanistan. That would be one of the measures of merit. The other would be, have we eliminated or captured or whatever the al Qaeda leadership that we know is Afghanistan that is still in Afghanistan? So there are really two parts of it. It's the leadership and it's those, a government or a regime that supports them.

Q: Given the fact that the Soviets captured or controlled most of these cities, yet they couldn't end the war on Afghanistan and they lost it and it took them years because of the villages, the amount in them, the caves. Are you willing to stay for years as the Soviets did in Afghanistan?

Myers: I think we've said, and the president said, that in the broadest of contexts that the partner nations are willing to stay at this war on terrorism for however long it takes. I personally think that will be years. Whether that's years in Afghanistan or not, I don't know yet. Certainly it's going to be more than the 25 days that we've currently been engaged there.

We've got to go back to remember our objectives to eliminate the al Qaeda leadership and those that support them. So however long that takes.

I think there's a big difference between the current conflict in Afghanistan and what was the Soviet Union activity in Afghanistan. Many, many of the Afghans want the current regime, the Taliban, out of there. They have been repressed by this very terrible regime for a long time. In fact as we try to help with the food distribution we know the Taliban interrupts that. They tax the food to the people or they use it for other purposes, to bring power to themselves. I think they're ready for a change. So I think there are some big differences between the Soviet Union and what they experience and what we'll experience in Afghanistan.

Q: If it's going to continue after 25 days, is going to take much time and you are willing to give it that time, how about Ramadan? Do you consider a break, a halt during that time?

Myers: I would just remind people that this is a war on terrorism. If we go back to the events of 11 September of this year when innocent people were intentionally targeted -- people of all races, of all colors, of all religions died, innocents. They were not engaged in any war that they knew of. If we understand that that's what we're at war against -- we're at war against terrorism, the fact that we're coming up on Ramadan, this war will have to continue.

We're doing this to defend ourselves, and this is all of us and all freedom-loving people and all our partners. This is an effort and an issue of defense. We did not choose to do this. The folks that attacked the World Trade Center and attacked the Pentagon were the ones that chose this conflict. We will try to be as culturally sensitive as we can, but at the same time given that we don't know if the terrorists are going to take any pause during any particular time of year, in fact most likely they will not -- they have not in the past -- we should consider that we'll continue this war on terrorism through Ramadan.

Q: If they announced a truce from their side, a unilateral commitment not to do anything with the beginning of Ramadan, would you be willing to do the same or not?

Myers: That would be a political decision and I would not like to speculate on that. But it's certainly in the political sphere.

Q: And you consider it also a political decision that the consequences of continuing through Ramadan with your troops in Pakistan where people would be outraged or other places in the Muslim and Arab world, of course you know that President Mubarak and others called for this kind of a truce.

Myers: Right. And I would just say that we are, I think, very culturally sensitive. We go to the leaders at the political level and at the military level, and ask for their advice. So actions we will take I think will be consistent with that advice. But we're not unaware and we're not insensitive. These are important issues.

Q: Speaking of the threat of al Qaeda and people that could be in the U.S. or any other places in the world. Now we are in one of the highest status of alert in the U.S. because of potential, God forbid, terrorist attack, another terrorist attack. Do you have any idea about the nature of that attack? Or that threat at least.

Myers: No. That's one of the frustrations is no. One of the frustrations of living in a free and open society as we do means that somebody that is willing to kill innocents intentionally and terrorize the population can do so in many, many ways. So we do not have the specifics of what kind of attack there might be. All we have is indications that we should be on heightened alert at this time.

Q: So the orders of 10-mile no-fly zone around nuclear plants, that does not in any way indicate that that could be a nuclear attack or any type of --

Myers: No, it really doesn't. We look at our most critical infrastructure and we plan to defend that appropriately.

Clearly on 11 September the terrorists, al Qaeda, passed a threshold of the use of weapons of mass destruction. They killed over 5,000 people. And again I'd just point out, they were all innocents. But they intentionally killed over 5,000 people. So we have to be prepared for an attack that could introduce mass casualties, and that's exactly what we're trying to do is figure out what is that infrastructure that might do that. But no, it does not indicate that we have any specific intelligence that nuclear power plants are the target.

Q: The weapons of mass destruction have been, some countries have been accused of developing it or acquiring it. Iraq usually mentioned from U.S. officials or the U.S. media. Would that be considered the next target in the war against terrorism?

Myers: I'm not going speculate on the next target against the war on terrorism, but when we talk about our goals in that war, terrorist organizations, those that support them, and weapons of mass destruction that could possibly fall in the hands of terrorists, I think all those are legitimate targets for this defensive war on terrorism, trying to prevent future acts from occurring.

Q: How much cooperation, military wise, do you get from Arab countries, especially in the Gulf in that war?

Myers: I think we're getting tremendous cooperation. As you may know, General Tom Franks, the U.S. Central Command commander who is responsible for prosecuting the war that is currently focused in Afghanistan has just been through the region. His reports are very, very encouraging. We are getting good support. It varies from country to country, what kind of support and so forth, but we get very, very good support. And not just in the Gulf but from around the world.

Q: He was in Egypt for the Bright Star maneuvers also.

Myers: Right.

Q: Has the majority of the troops in the Bright Star moved to the area or just dispersed --

Myers: I think -- I have to think about that for just a second. I think the exercise is about over now. I think the end of this month it's supposed to be over. The majority of the troops involved there I believe are going to return to home station, but that is a bit of a moving target as we decide what we need in the region.

Q: The U.S. presence in the Gulf created tensions, bin Laden at least is one of the people who is using it as a pretext or to legitimatize whatever illegitimate actions that were taken against innocent people. Are we doing the same or creating the same potential problems in Central Asia by mobilizing too much U.S. military force in Central Asia for this war, or to stay for a long time?

Myers: I think we need to go back to our presence in the Gulf in the first place was at the invitation of the countries that, where we were stationed, and it was in support of U.N. resolutions currently that are, have us doing certain actions vis-a-vis Iraq.

Certainly the last thing we would want to do is to destabilize any particular region. We will be very sensitive to that, I think. At the same time, we can't forget why we're about this war. This is a very serious matter of defending freedom-loving people from around the world from the threat of terrorism, and we saw on September 11th exactly what that could be and what tragedies could come from that threat. So we're committed, we're resolute, we'll try to be as sensitive as we can to work through some of these issues and we do on a daily basis. But we're going to prosecute this war until we achieve our objectives.

Q: You are not worried about U.S. presence in Central Asia or in the Gulf as long as it serves the political reasons or political objectives?

Myers: I think we'll again, try to be very sensitive to concerns, we'll try to accommodate concerns where we will, but the primary thing, and I think all countries, even those that sometimes have some trouble with presence and some potential instability in their own countries understand that if we don't defeat terrorism, if we can't eliminate or severely degrade the threat then we're all at risk. Everybody who loves freedom, everybody who wants to walk down the street without being killed, that we've got to prosecute this war and we've got to see it through.

Q: Some people consider that (unintelligible) creates more terrorists other than counter terrorism.

Myers: That's an interesting point. I'd say let's take Afghanistan for instance. It's hard for me to believe that a regime other than the Taliban wouldn't be a much more, a regime much more conducive to people being freedom loving people and not raising their children in hate. Being able to educate women and taking care of children as we should seems to me to be making an addition to society that is one we would want as opposed to the oppressive and ruthless regime of the Taliban.

Q: General Myers, after September 11th are you considering or reviewing training of Arab Muslim pilots in the U.S. armed forces with the joint or mutual exchange of training exchange as it has happened before in the past?

Myers: I can't answer you specifically, but I'll give you a philosophical answer.

I have, obviously, many Arab friends. We will not change anything that we're doing fundamentally. Reviews probably will be required but we're going to continue operating like this country operates and like most free countries operate, and that is very tolerant of any religion. Skin color, race is not important. What's important is what you contribute as an individual. So I don't think where people come from or what cultural or ethnic background will make any difference at all.

Q: Speaking of that diversity in the American society, we see it in the armed forces. Let's talk about Muslims in the armed forces. Could you give us an idea about how many and what kind of participation do they have or some of them have in the war in Afghanistan?

Myers: The population, I think, the numbers are hard to come by because some join as Muslims and some convert once they're on active duty.

The first thing you can say is they're all volunteers in the United States because we're an all-volunteer armed forces. So you have to ask to come in. You have to request to come in.

The second thing we know is that when we take our oath we all affirm that we're going to support and defend our Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. So we know that everybody that comes in has to go through that oath. It's a very simple oath, but it's one that shows what the country's going to ask of them and what they're willing to stand up for.

I think we have somewhere, the numbers vary again, but somewhere between four and ten thousand, it could be up to fifteen thousand Muslims in the armed forces. We also know they can be in any unit. We do not segregate any religion out. Every religion is entitled -- I don't know specifically how many Muslims we have forward deployed, and that might be perhaps involved directly in the conflict in Afghanistan. I can tell you that the American Muslim Council, which is not just Americans. I understand it's made up of Muslims from all over the world, have said that to defend innocents as we're trying to do with this war on terrorism, to defend innocents is a just war according to Islam, and they are allowed to participate in that war.

Q: Innocents are also killed in Afghanistan, civilians. Civilian casualties. And so many footages that Al Jazeera put out from there, and I don't think that anyone questions the authenticity so far of the footage that we are playing, shows the civilian casualties. How do you explain that?

Myers: First of all, when I think of civilian casualties I think back to September 11th when we had over 5,000 intentionally targeted civilians. Intentionally --

Q: So an eye for an eye?

Myers: No, it's not that at all. It's to defend so that never happens again, to defend so it doesn't happen again, so it's not an eye for an eye. That's the last thing we want to do.

War is the last means to achieve an end I think in everybody's opinion, certainly in anybody that wears the uniform, that would be our opinion. War is not the first option that you come to. So after you've tried diplomatic or economic or other instruments of national power, when it comes down to war we know we're in a situation that is a terrible situation. And in war there are usually many casualties. In world history we know we can lose millions of people.

Having said that, we also know that we're going to have some unintended casualties and those will be innocents on the other side.

We plan very carefully, we have relatively sophisticated weapons that minimize civilian casualties, but in war we're going to have some. And we understand that. We regret that. It is a terrible tragedy, but I think it's the price that has to be paid to ensure that the world does not have any more 11 Septembers or events like that.

Q: If you feel that Taliban is using people as human shields or civilians, will you still continue to deprive them from that tactic and to kill or target human shields?

Myers: I think that would be on a case-by-case basis. We will not intentionally attack civilians, even though we know that the Taliban do use women and children as shields. We know that they park their equipment next to religious structures. We're aware of that and we will take great care, of course, not to let the war spill over onto innocents the best we can.

To go back to your earlier point on the footage of some of the casualties. Establishing ground truth in Afghanistan is very, very difficult. Every time there is an alleged incident of civilian casualties we go back and very carefully look to see what ground truth is. We know the Taliban have lied and exaggerated those casualties. We think they are very, very low.

We regret every one of them because, again, they're the innocent bystanders.

Q: One of the officials just said a day or two ago that we don't have a warehouse of civilian casualties that we bring them every day. These are pictures that speak for themselves.

Myers: Well, we all know, even though it's the business you're in, that pictures aren't always truth. And you can be deceived. We don't know if that was an errant bomb or was that some fighting between the Taliban and their adversaries, the Northern Alliance or Pushtan tribes? So it's never easy to say. I mean you can show somebody that's been injured but you can't say why they were injured. It's always very, very difficult.

Q: People could say that about --

Q: So if what they put out there might not be the truth or the places that they allow the camera to be in might not have presented the whole picture could we say the same also about the Pentagon? That the kind of pictures or footage that you allow us to release is also tailored in order to serve what you say?

Myers: Well I'd say no. We're not in the propaganda business. And as you know well, at least in this country, our media have good noses for that. They work that issue very, very hard. It's one of the great things about living in a democracy. You have many checks and balances. We don't have a propaganda machine. We have the U.S. media. They're free to go and travel where they want. We have facilitated them going to some of our military operations to talk to our people. They have some people inside Afghanistan and are reporting from there.

Q: Have they given you any rough estimate of civilian casualties so far?

Myers: No. We do not have a rough estimate. My guess is that it's very, very low.

Q: In the tens, in the hundreds?

Myers: I don't know. I just can't give you a good number. Again, establishing ground truth has been very, very difficult. We know when we hear of alleged incidents we'll go out and look at it and if there are not bomb craters in places where they say you've bombed people, if you see no evidence of damage, then you have to say that is somebody's imagination. That is not the truth.

Q: After 25 days of the military actions, roughly how many missing targets that you can admit or have been admitted officially over there for civilian --

Myers: I don't know if we've totaled those up, but if my memory serves me right it would be a handful. It would be five or six. Five or six targets that we admit. And that's another good point I think you bring up. If we do have a bomb that is off target for whatever reason, then we admit that. We'll be the first ones to say yes, we did that. And we're very sorry for that.

Q: I think we are almost covering most of it. If I would just conclude, I have just a follow up on something, General Myers, you mentioned about when we talk about the Pentagon releases footage we're not talking about propaganda. But we're talking about (unintelligible) of the past in the Gulf War, 1991, we were talking about smart weapons and accurate targeting, and later on other studies showed that the targeting was not that accurate as it was actually broadcast or announced at the time of the '91 Gulf War.

Myers: Well, one thing we know about any weapon system is that it's not 100 percent effective and there is no perfect weapon. We just can't afford perfect weapons.

We also know that during the Gulf War that it was only about 10 percent of the weapons used in the Gulf War were precision, what we call precision or highly accurate weapons. In this conflict that number will be much, much higher, therefore lessening the chance of what we call collateral damage or damage unintended and not related to the target.

I think we've done, the United States has done a very good job, it's something that we plan, that we work, and that we try to execute in a way that minimizes any damage. That even means sometimes putting our own pilots at risk for delivery profile perhaps, a delivery run-in heading that might put them more at risk but it might save unintended damage. We'll do that.

Q: My last question is, have you, do you have any knowledge that the U.S. military used in the war in Afghanistan any weapons that could be considered controversial or forbidden internationally? Cluster, concussion, chemical?

Myers: Absolutely not. We will not use any illegal weapons in Afghanistan. We don't have chemical weapons that are in our inventory. So this is... No.

Q: Cluster weapons?

Myers: We used some cluster weapons, but my understanding is they are not illegal.

Q: Concussion?

Myers: I don't know what you mean by concussion.

Q: I mean gas bombs or --

Myers: If we used any of those they will all be in accordance with what is international norms.

Q: Any concluding remarks?

Myers: Well, the only concluding remarks, I thank you for the opportunity for this interview to remind people that might be watching that this is a war on terrorism. That on September 11th the United States was directly attacked, that innocent people -- men, women, children, many religions, many nationalities -- lost their lives due to an intentional attack on them. And this is a war on that terrorism.

It's broader in scope than Afghanistan. It's broader than just military action. What we're seeing right now of course is the visible part and that's the military action. What you don't see are the invisible actions that are taking place, be they in criminal channels or in financial channels or in diplomatic channels or in information channels, to try to thwart this war on terrorism.

And I think if anybody takes a hard look at how they want their children to grow up, I think they want them to be able to grow up in a world that is free from terrorist acts.

Q: Thank you very much, General Myers.

Myers: Thank you, sir.

Q: General Richard Myers --