Interview with Tony Snow, Fox News Sunday)
Q: This is the February 24 edition of Fox News Sunday.
Good morning. Our guests will join us in a moment, but first, the latest from Fox News.
Bush administration officials have told the New York Times that evidence suggests Osama bin Laden is alive and hiding in a remote mountain region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The same source estimates the U.S. military action killed about a third of bin Laden's top aides.
Pakistani authorities say the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl could be part of a larger plot to destabilize that country. The FBI also has released three e-mails addressed to Pearl in the days before his abduction. The friendly notes, some from jailed key suspect Ahmed Omar Sheikh lured Pearl to the meeting that led to his murder.
Israel has eased slightly its restrictions on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. He no longer will be confined to his office, as he has been for three months. But he still will not be able to travel beyond the West Bank town of Ramallah without permission from the Israeli government.
Military officials are wrestling with several vexing issues in the war on terror. What role should armed forces play in rescuing Americans taken hostage abroad? What must we do to prevent Afghanistan from becoming the breeding ground for a new war?
Here to take up those and other issues is General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Let's begin by talking about the case of Daniel Pearl. Here you had an American abducted in Pakistan, executed. You had the tapes sent out.
Is this kind of the new front of a war, where rather than taking on a formidable military, some of our enemies are going to try to single out citizens and create terror that way?
Myers: Well, Tony, I think we've already been in this new front of a war, I mean, for some time now, because people will not take on, in most cases, the U.S. armed forces directly. And we saw that, of course, I think on September 11.
There's obviously many asymmetric ways to take us on, whether it's cyber warfare or whatever. So I don't know that it's a departure. Of course U.S. citizens have been kidnapped before and, unfortunately, killed. And we have two, as you know, two other U.S. citizens we think alive and held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines right now.
Q: The administration now is thinking about adjusting its previous policy toward Americans taken hostage abroad. What they will do is have reviews by the Pentagon and the White House.
Does that mean there's a possibility for military action, a possibility, whenever an American is kidnapped abroad?
Myers: Well, first, let me say on the new policy, one of the -- probably the most interesting part is that now applies to U.S. citizens abroad, not just U.S. citizens abroad on official duty or official business, as the previous policy was pretty much articulated. So that's one of the changes.
But generally, we try to work through, if there's another government involved, we'd like to work through that government, provide whatever information or intelligence we have. Of course, you know, there's always the possibility we might have to use unilateral action, and we would do that in appropriate cases.
Q: In cases like Pakistan or the Philippines where we have friendly governments, would we do that with their cooperation?
Myers: Well, absolutely, and that's the track we're on. And as the president has said in the case of Daniel Pearl, that the Pakistani government had cooperated fully with us and we had shared information and we were working that as a team. And, of course, in the Philippines we're there to help advise and train the Philippine armed forces so they can go after the very group that has our two Americans.
Q: Do you think there's a possibility we still may get those Americans out alive?
Myers: Oh, I certainly hope so, yes.
Q: And that, again, would be with the use of Philippine military or American forces now training the Philippines?
Myers: We're in there at the invitation of the Philippine government. And we're there to help train and advise on things like command and control, communications, intelligence analysis. And this will be a job that the Philippine armed forces will do with our training assistance.
Q: You've just returned from Afghanistan. Are the warlords gaining power there?
Myers: Well, it's not obvious to me when I went there. What is on the interim administration's mind is to create, as rapidly as possible, an Afghan national army. And we had a team that was over there doing that assessment for General Franks down in Tampa, and he'll bring his recommendations up to Secretary Rumsfeld, who will take it to the National Security Council with recommendations on how we can help them do that.
When Chairman Karzai was here in Washington, that was his number- one issue, was creating this Afghan national army.
Q: Is that not likely to require the presence of American troops in a support capacity for a continuous period of time?
Myers: It could quite likely require American trainers in there for a period of time, small numbers. Because we've done this, we do this around the world and it doesn't take a lot of troops to do the training missions. So it would be relatively few. And how long to be debated, because some of that work could be done by contractors as well once you get it started.
Q: Now, there's a so-called peacekeeping force right now in Kabul. And the United States is going to have a small complement of troops there now, correct?
Myers: Well, not as part of the Interim Security Assistance Force, as it's called. No, we're not part of that. Although we have some liaison officers with them and personnel and we help them as we can with logistics. But no, they're pretty much self-sufficient.
Q: Now, let me tell you what somebody who works for a foreign military service told me. He said, you know it's all well and good to have all these various forces, but it's not going to count until the Americans are there.
Don't we need to stay in Afghanistan so that we send the message that we're not merely there to win the war but also to preserve the peace?
Myers: Well, I think everybody's very, very concerned that this chance that Afghanistan has to provide the services that the citizens of that county deserve after decades of upheaval and turmoil, that we all have to do what we can.
I think the U.S. role will be, as we talked about earlier, the establishment of the Afghan national army is one of the highest priorities. It brings security to that country and includes also the border security, which is very important. So this will all come under their interim minister of defense and then presumably under a future minister of defense.
Q: Speaking of border security, this war, I think, it certainly exceeded the expectations of those of us sitting on the sidelines -- it may even have exceeded your expectations -- in terms of the swiftness and effectiveness.
That being the case, did we not have the troops on the ground that we probably should have had to close off the border and prevent al Qaeda people from filtering back into Pakistan?
Myers: Are you --
Q: I'm talking about in the combat portion of the war. After the war, it appears now that a substantial number of al Qaeda have escaped.
Myers: Right. And that's probably right. The border there, I mean, it's only -- I mean, it's a border on a map. But when you get down to looking at the terrain, there are lots of ways to cross between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The idea you can seal a border is a notion that is very hard in reality to make come true.
So what we ask, we ask the Pakistan government to provide troops along their side of the border. We have reconnaissance and so forth along the border as well, and through that means, trying to stop the infiltration. We got very good cooperation from the Pakistanis in this case.
Q: Now, I want to back up. We were talking just a minute about keeping the peace and the warlords. If there should be friction and tension and fighting among warlords, would that be an appropriate thing for the United States to say, "OK, we're going to step in and try to calm this down before it gets worse"?
Myers: I think that's really something that the Afghan interim administration needs to work. That's really...
Q: So that's not our fight.
Myers: That's really their issue, and that can be solved many ways. I mean, it doesn't need to be solved with force. It can be solved diplomatically or with their internal politics inside that country. I think the notion of an Afghan national army would be one of those functions of the government that could help stop those inter- warlord fights.
Q: OK, because Al-Kalizad (ph), the envoy to the region, has said that it might be conceivable that we might have to commit some sort of troops there to try to prevent warlord factions from fighting.
Myers: Yes. I can tell you from visiting there in Kabul just a few days ago and talking to many members of the Afghan administration that they really want to do this themselves. They want whatever help we can provide to get them started, to get them going, but after that they want the responsibility.
Q: Is al Qaeda reconstituting itself?
Myers: Well, I think we have to realize that al Qaeda was spread in many pockets, in many compartments around the world as we begun this war. We think there are probably a couple of significant pockets left in Afghanistan, and we continue to develop intelligence to go after those particular pockets.
Surely, they'll try to reconstitute somewhere else where they can conduct the kind of training and operational planning that they were doing inside of Afghanistan.
Q: I gather you think bin Laden is alive, but the intelligence is shaky, so you're not willing to say so with certainty?
Myers: No, I think -- well, since we don't know, we can't say one way or the other. I mean, it's possible that he is no longer alive, but I think the odds are he probably is alive.
We will get bin Laden, but he's not the only one we're searching for. There are several lieutenants yet and higher authorities in al Qaeda that we're very...
Q: You getting close to them?
Myers: Well, we haven't heard a lot from him since early January.
Q: Actually, I'm talking about the lieutenants. Are we getting close to them?
Myers: Well, we have gotten close to them. And some of the interrogations that we're doing both in Afghanistan, at Kandahar, and up at Bagram, and the interrogations we're doing down in Guantanamo, we're linking this together with civil law enforcement authorities from not just this country, but all our partners in this coalition against terrorism.
And it's pretty effective. We're able to piece things together. And you've probably read over the weekend, there have been several arrests in other countries of al Qaeda operatives.
Q: Same for Mullah Omar?
Myers: Same for him. I think we have a little more intelligence in that area, and we'll get him as well. He stays on the move. He's not getting a lot of sleep right now.
Q: OK. Axis of evil, that has created considerable consternation. Let me ask you about Iran's role right now in Afghanistan. Is Iran busy trying to put its own stamp on the new government? And if so, is that a problem?
Myers: I think it remains to be seen. But the key point is that the Afghan government -- the interim administration and then whatever follows -- must be allowed to try to develop their own capability to rule their country and to provide the services for their citizens without undue influence from any outsiders, including us, including anybody that might have interests there. So, the countries that are trying to influence events inside Afghanistan, it's just not very helpful at this time.
Q: When it comes to Iraq, a lot of people here have been talking about action against Iraq. There are press reports that we're six months away from having JDAMs, the direct munitions.
Let me ask you, if the president said tomorrow, we've got to do it, will we be able to do it tomorrow?
Myers: Let me assure you and the American people that, if the commander in chief asks us to do it, we're ready, we're a ready military. And we're ready to do whatever the commander in chief wants us to do.
Q: That's a vague answer. I want to try to pin you down. If the order came down tomorrow, when you say you're ready, you could go ahead and take whatever action was necessary effectively tomorrow?
Myers: Oh, this is very hypothetical, so I'm not going to talk about any particular country. But certainly we have a very ready military.
Q: Saudi Arabia, do they want us there?
Myers: We are only there because they want us there, and we're there at their invitation. We've been there -- of course, we've had a strategic relationship that goes a long way back. That relationship is still valid, still working.
Q: So you don't expect to have to leave any time soon.
Myers: Well, that's up -- you know, the Saudis could always ask us to leave.
Q: But there are no signs at this point?
Myers: We have no signs at this point that that's the case.
And as you know, the vice president is on his way to the region, and I'm sure he'll be working on our strategic relationship. We've had confluence of interest between the Saudis' strategic interests and our interests for a long time. It seems to be -- to continue to go -- to bear focus there. And I think that we can be there for some time.
Q: The Air Force chief wants to stop doing F-15 overflights to secure the air space, and that, you know, it's tough on personnel, it's tough on equipment, we need to cut back. Is it time to do that?
Myers: You're talking about the combat air patrols over the United States here specifically?
Myers: We are always evaluating that. The first thing we have to do, of course, for our skies is provide the appropriate amount of security. So we think we're doing that with our current posture, but we're always looking at that. There are other ways to do it.
The one thing we want to make sure is that we provide the security. The second thing is that we do it in an efficient manner that's efficient for our forces and for the taxpayer.
So we'll continue to evaluate that, and it -- there are other ways to do it besides having airborne CAP. You can have ground alert postures that are essentially as --
Q: So we may scale back on those flights that are --
Myers: It's possible. That is being discussed right now. And we'll have to discuss that with Governor Ridge and his folks after we brief the secretary of defense.
Q: All right. General Richard Myers, thanks for joining us.
Myers: Thank you, Tony.
THIS TRANSCRIPT WAS PREPARED BY THE FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE INC., WASHINGTON, D.C. FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE IS A PRIVATE COMPANY. FOR OTHER DEFENSE RELATED TRANSCRIPTS NOT AVAILABLE THROUGH THIS SITE, CONTACT FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE AT (202) 347-1400.