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Gen. Myers Interview with ABC This Week

Presenters: Gen. Richard B. Myers, CJCS
February 24, 2002 12:00 PM EDT

(Interview with Sam Donaldson, This Week, ABC-TV)

(Joined in progress)

Myers: -- this will be decided on a case-by-case basis is the way the new policy is.

Q: General, do you know where Osama bin Laden is?

Myers: The answer is no, we do not know where he is.

Q: Well, you know the New York Times story this morning says administration officials believe he is on that Pakistani-Afghan border. Is that reasonable?

Myers: I think it's very reasonable. But again, you know, given that we don't know where he is, any speculation about where he might be would be somewhat foolish because we simply don't know. He has been very quiet since early January.

Q: Is getting him still one of your prime missions?

Myers: I wouldn't call it a prime mission. Obviously, we want to get the al Qaeda leadership; we want to get the Taliban leadership. Bin Laden is part of that leadership, so we'd like to get him and we will get him. But it's -- I wouldn't call it a prime mission, though.

Q: Why not, General? I think the majority of the American people still see it as something that's essential; talk about closure for September 11.

Myers: I think closure for September 11 is going to take a lot more and a lot longer than just getting bin Laden. We'll get bin Laden for sure. And we've gotten several of his lieutenants so far.

But it's not -- it's not the end. We shouldn't think this war on terrorism is over when we get bin Laden, because there's too many al Qaeda operatives in compartments that still have great capability. And while he was the leader, it won't end when we get bin Laden.

Q: The president may decide to go into other countries. He's already said we'll rout out terrorists wherever we find them. And there is a lot of belief that Iraq and Saddam Hussein could be, down the line, one of those targets, and not just to change the regime, but if necessary to use the U.S. military. Are you ready?

Myers: Sam, the United States military is ready for anything our commander in chief asks us to do. And that's precisely the point -- this is a decision the president would make. And he has, of course, not made that decision at this point.

The one thing we do know, is we do know that Iraq regime has been very oppressive and repressive on its people; that they continue research and development in weapons of mass destruction; that terrorist organizations want to get their hands on weapons of mass destruction.

Myers: And so, from that point, it's a dangerous regime.

Q: When you say you're ready -- let me show you something. The Washington Post has on its front page this morning. I'm sure you must have seen it.

"Pentagon planners say it will take six months to produce enough joint direct attack munitions" -- smart bombs -- "to contemplate an attack on Saddam Hussein's Iraq."

Is that right?

Myers: Well, I'm not going to comment on our readiness. I'll stick by my earlier statement, that we're ready to do whatever our commander in chief asks us to do.

In reference to the joint direct attack munitions, our global positioning system satellite-aided weapon, if you would, it is one of the preferred weapons. We used a lot of these in Afghanistan. It is a relatively new weapon, so in terms of supply, we didn't have a lot of these on hand when we started the effort in Afghanistan.

Some of the money that was appropriated by Congress for the war on terrorism back in September, some of that money has gone to facilitate more production of these weapons. And that's ongoing right now.

Q: Well, is six months a reasonable time period to think that we have to take that time to get weapons in place?

Myers: The fact we either have or don't have JDAMs is not going to dictate any time, and that will be up to the president. And we have other weapons, as well. This is the preferred weapon, but we have other weapons as well, so...

Q: So if he said to you, "General Myers, we need an attack plan for the next few days or weeks," you could produce one and execute it?

Myers: Let me just say this: We're ready to do whatever the commander in chief asks us to do, and we will be ready. We may not have all the preferred munitions, in terms of JDAMs, that you would want, but we have other munitions we can substitute.

Q: I'm going to come now to the village of Hazar Qadam in Afghanistan. The secretary of defense said on Thursday that there were apparently no al Qaeda or Taliban fighters in that village among the 16 people killed by U.S. forces in January and, yet, said there was no error. Now, how can that be?

Myers: I think the secretary explained that very well. We did a lot of intelligence collection on that area and decided that it was a worthy target.

Myers: But there was enough doubt that we didn't want to put airstrikes in on it, so we put people in on the ground.

There were two separate compounds. Where they didn't fire back, only two were killed, some captured. In the other compound, for whatever reason, they decided to start firing right away. They began the firing. As our rules of engagement allow, we returned fire. And then realized at the end that they weren't the Taliban or the al Qaeda that we were after.

Q: General, I think many people would agree that U.S. forces have the right to defend themselves when fired on. But I think the secretary also conceded that if these people were sleeping and an unknown force, happened to be Americans, came down on them, they might fire in self-defense themselves.

Myers: Well, I think the important thing for the American people to realize is that we regret any loss of life in this conflict, particularly innocent civilians. And we take great pains to make sure innocent civilians aren't part of this conflict. I mean, that's what it's all about. I mean, the victims of September 11 were innocent civilians. So that's what -- those are the freedoms that we're fighting for basically. And it applies in this case too.

Q: General, I think people accept that, or many people will. But I'd just like to read one more sentence or two from what I understand is an unclassified portion of the summary of the investigation as printed in USA Today.

It says, "Despite the fact the mission was determined after the fact to have been against friendly Afghani forces, there were no systemic errors in the targeting process, mission planning or mission execution."

Do you stand by that?

Myers: Sure, I'll stand by that because these are -- this war on terrorism, as we've said and the president has said and everybody has said, this is a very different war. It's a very difficult war. It's particularly difficult in Afghanistan. The difference between a normal Afghani citizen and Taliban is just razor thin.

Myers: In fact, they can change -- they can change their allegiances very, very quickly. The same is true for some al Qaeda as well.

So, I mean, this is just very, very difficult, and so we do our very best. And that's why it took weeks to develop the intelligence for this target, why we decided to put our forces at risk to go into these two compounds.

And we have to remember that what we're hoping to find are people that know about future terrorist actions. And that's still a possibility, and it's something that ought to be our prime concern is the security of, not only the American people, but our friends and allies around the world.

Q: Well, if in fact we killed the wrong people and you say there are no errors, that means you're not investigating what happened to determine -- so that it wouldn't happen again?

Myers: Oh, no. We always, as the secretary, I think, said, Secretary Rumsfeld said lessons learned are very, very important to us. So that all goes into the process.

I happen to have just returned from the area. I was at the Intelligence Fusion Center at Bagram where a lot of this intelligence is worked out. I mean, it's living mechanism, and they learn as they go forward.

Q: Did you say to them, "Gentlemen and ladies, let's not do this again. Let's work on that intelligence. We understand it can't be perfect, but let's sort of tighten it up"?

Myers: I think that goes unsaid. I mean, these are professionals. These are professionals not only from the military but from other agencies of our government and some of our allies. And they're well aware of that, absolutely.

Q: General Myers, thanks very much for joining us.

Myers: Sam, great to be here. Thank you.

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