MS. COURIC: On Close-up this morning: Remembering those who have fallen. On this Memorial Day, we pay tribute to all U.S. military men and women who have served and died for their country.
General Richard Myers is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. General Myers, good to see you.
GEN. MYERS: Good morning, Katie.
MS. COURIC: You know, I know that Memorial Day was first created back in 1868. Back then it was called Decoration Day. Now, 137 years later, countless Americans, of course, have lost their lives in the line of duty. Some 1,600 of them have died in Iraq.
One hundred and thirty thousand are still serving there. So what would your message be for those men and women this morning, General Myers?
GEN. MYERS: I think Memorial Day is the day where Americans come together and realize that, while not uniquely American, one of the important things about our character is that we value freedom dearly and we think it’s worth fighting for. So behind me is the World War II memorial. Obviously hundreds of thousands lost their lives, were wounded.
And we’re engaged in conflict again today, and a very important conflict, in this war against violent extremism, of which Iraq and Afghanistan are a part. So I guess what I’d tell people is the struggle today is just as important as the struggle that’s symbolized by the memorial behind me and that we’ve got to have the resolve to see this through.
MS. COURIC: I know that on Sunday some 40,000 Iraqi troops began a new effort called Operation Lightning to deal with the insurgency. Recently, General Myers, I know you said insurgencies can last anywhere from three to four to even nine years.
Given the fact that there were 21 suicide bombings in May, compared to 25 for all of 2004, is the insurgency gaining steam or losing steam at this point in time?
GEN. MYERS: Let me try to put it in perspective. The insurgents originally thought, a year and a half, two years ago, they could go after the coalition and they could intimidate the coalition into leaving Iraq. Obviously we haven’t left.
Then they went after Iraqi security forces, particularly at recruiting stations. And yet Iraqi police, Iraqi army recruits, are signing up in record numbers. And, of course, during the election period, in the run-up to the elections in January, they tried to go after Iraqi civilians very hard. And, of course, Iraqis went to the polls, very proud of that, and 85 percent of Iraqis today say they’re going to vote in the constitutional referendum.
So they are not going to be successful. They can’t be successful. These are the people that are cutting off people’s heads. They put it on TV. They shoot a Japanese man. They put that on their web site. These folks are savages, mass murderers. There’s no reason the international community should ever think about anything but winning.
MS. COURIC: But General Myers, having said that, when you hear nine years, a prediction of possibly nine years, it’s pretty chilling.
GEN. MYERS: That was never a prediction. It was talking about insurgencies in general. And some take as little as two years; some take as long as nine. The point is, I think, with the political progress we’re seeing in Iraq, that’s going to be the key. And as the current government reaches out to Sunnis, which they’re doing, trying to make them more a part of a constitutional process, that progress in the political front is going to be key to progress against the insurgency. And it’s happening.
MS. COURIC: Meanwhile, earlier this year, General Myers, some of your top military leaders suggested the possibility of reducing the number of troops from Iraq by the first half of 2006. Do you agree with that, and do you still see that as a possibility?
GEN. MYERS: Katie, that’s something we look at all the time. Every week we go over the analysis there. General George Casey, who’s doing a great job of leading our troops in Baghdad and in Iraq, and General Abizaid, who’s responsible for the area over there, are reviewing that constantly.
The key is getting Iraqi security forces out front. And they are out front. You know, the offensive that’s going on in Baghdad, in good coordination between the ministry of interior, the ministry of defense, the fact that we have 35 operations going on right now, five of which are being conducted by Iraqi security forces without any help from the coalition, 30 of which are in combination with the coalition, this is in contrast to just a few months ago, where the Iraqi security forces weren’t so much in the front. But that’s occurring as we would have hoped it would have occurred. And we’re very optimistic that we’ll be able to look at our force structure in the future.
MS. COURIC: And General Myers, I’d like to close on a personal note, because I know in September you’ll be retiring after 40 years in the military, two terms as chairman of the Joint Chiefs. What are your thoughts as you plan to move on with your life? And is it difficult to not stick around to sort of see what’s going on in Iraq through? Do you have – it must be sort of mixed emotions for you.
GEN. MYERS: Well, of course, you like to see some things come to fruition, and there’s still some very bad actors out there that need to be brought to justice. But I think it’s been a real privilege to serve. I’m not worried about leaving. I was at a place pretty close to you on Saturday at West Point giving the graduation address to 911 cadets, soon to be that day new second lieutenants in the United States Army. And as you shake their hands, you look into their eyes, wow, what a generation we have coming up.
So, nope, I’m not worried about leaving at all. As they say at West Point, there’s a long gray line, and that line is out at the Air Force Academy, Annapolis, around colleges and universities, the folks that are stepping into the breach, not to mention the folks that are enlisting today to help defend this country, just like the folks memorialized behind me in World War II.
MS. COURIC: Well, General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, hopefully we’ll be able to talk with you before you retire certainly. But in the meantime, thanks so much for your 40 years of service.
GEN. MYERS: Thank you, Katie. I hope we do have a chance to speak.
MS. COURIC: All right. Thanks, General Myers.