Departing Myers Discusses War in Iraq The outgoing chairman of the joint chiefs of staff joins us to discuss the situation in Iraq and other issues affecting the U.S. military.
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Departing Myers Discusses War in Iraq

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Departing Myers Discusses War in Iraq

Departing Myers Discusses War in Iraq

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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At the end of this month, General Richard B. Myers will end his term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He's held that position since October 1st, 2001. Prior to that he was acting chairman, which means he's been in the job through the attacks of September the 11th, the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, and most recently the response to Hurricane Katrina. If you have questions about the term of office and what has been accomplished and what remains to be done about the future of the American military, give us a call: (800) 989-8255, (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address is General Myers joins us today from a studio at the Pentagon.

And it's good to have you on the program, sir.

General RICHARD B. MYERS (Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff): Neal, thank you for the opportunity.

CONAN: If I could begin with the war in Iraq, as you look back over the past, well, I guess two and a half years in Iraq, I wonder, has the definition of success changed?

Gen. MYERS: No. The mission statement--if you look back to what the mission statement was when military forces went in and what the mission statement is today, it is virtually the same, and that is a free and democratic Iraq, democracy not defined as US democracy, but democracy where the rights of minorities are protected, a nation that is not a threat to its neighbors, and one that is a partner on the long war, the global war on terrorism. And those have always been the objectives and have stayed the same. Now as you get into the strategies, the strategy over time has changed as events on the ground have changed as well.

CONAN: Adapting to adaptations by insurgents, for one thing.

Gen. MYERS: Right. And I just have to add, by the way, on my previous definitions, also a nation that respects the rule of law. Left that little piece out.

CONAN: All right. Public and political support for the war continue to dwindle. Given the lessons of Vietnam, are you worried about the difficulties of sustaining a conflict without the support of the American people?

Gen. MYERS: Well, for the military to be effective, of course, we need the will of the American people and coalition forces need the will of the international community. People have tried to draw parallels between Vietnam and Iraq. I don't think many exist. There may be some, but not those that are pertinent to the discussion that we're having right now. But it is true that will is very important in all conflicts. In this conflict, the long war, the global war on terrorism, of which Iraq is a piece, will plays a very, very important part. That's what our adversary is counting upon. That's why the al-Qaeda show us beheadings of individuals. While they try to subject people to these horrendous acts of murder and terror, is to discourage those that would oppose them so they can have their way. And they work on the will and they know, based on experiences in Lebanon, in Somalia, the USS Cole, other events, that they believe that we will be easily discouraged. And so they're counting on that. I mean, they use a trillion, million dollar, whatever it is, information technology infrastructure to their benefit and they use it very, very well.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. The president says that as Iraqi forces stand up, American forces can stand down, and everybody's full of praise for Lieutenant General Dempsey, who took control of the training program earlier this month. Here, though, is a clip of a BBC interview with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani just a couple of days ago.

(Soundbite from BBC interview)

President JALAL TALABANI (Iraq): Let me be frank. Our security forces is not so well trained that they'll be able to face this new kind of war. You know, this new kind of war, it's not regular war as it were.

CONAN: `Our security forces are not trained for this new kind of war.' Well, how long is it going to be before the Iraqi forces are ready?

Gen. MYERS: Let me give you an example, and I think a template that might be useful for people to have in mind is the template in the city of Tall'Afar. We went in there around September 10th, and the way we did this is the US and coalition forces worked with the central government in Baghdad, worked with the local government in Tall'Afar--that's a city, by the way, in northwestern Iraq that is on the--is one of the main conduits of foreign fighters and weapons that come into the country. That's where they come into. It's just short of Mosul. It's out by the Syrian border but up in the northwest of the country. And then we went in with US, coalition and Iraqi forces. As I mentioned in a press conference today, the Iraqi forces currently have 126 battalions in the fight. Last year at this time, there were five. There were five. And then also in Tall'Afar what's gonna happen is now that we're in there is that reconstruction money is going to flow, and most importantly the local government in Tall'Afar has asked Iraqi security forces to stay, and the Iraqi government is going to have forces stay, so we don't lose ground once we gain--when we gain ground. There have been--I think it's over 600 enemy combatants up there that have been either captured or killed in this--since September 10th, and we think this is a very good template for the way Iraq will go.

Most of Baghdad is under control of Iraqi security forces. All of Najaf, which used to be a hot spot, is under the control of security forces. We are standing back and are available if we're needed, but we're not the primary face on that. Now there are some places in the country where coalition and US forces are still in the lead, but there are very few places where we don't do it with our Iraqi partners. So over time, Iraqi security forces will become stronger, will be better and will be able to take the fight to this enemy, as President Talabani says, a very different type of enemy than your security forces are normally equipped and trained to fight.

CONAN: We know that ultimately a positive outcome in Iraq depends on politics and economic development, but obviously military forces have an important role to play. You were talking about the most recent offensive, Tall'Afar, but there were other offensives before in that same area. The Al Anbar province is a heavily Sunni--Fallujah, Qaim, all hailed as tactical successes, yet the political and economic follow-up didn't seem to happen. Iraqi police and military were not able to control those places. Insurgents returned. And, General, I think part of the frustration that many Americans are feeling is over what seem to be empty victories.

Gen. MYERS: Right. And that's why I used the template and why I went into some of that detail on Tall'Afar.

CONAN: Yeah. You're saying it's gonna be different now.

Gen. MYERS: Well, it's different because you have different capabilities now. You have--like I said, you have 126 Iraqi battalions, where last year at this time you had five. And, of course, there are those that say, `Well, we'll just put more US and coalition forces in the fight,' but the problem with that, of course, is that you become the object of the enemy action, and it appears to the local populace that this is indeed an occupation, not a liberation, and that the Iraqi government is not in charge, that it's the United States or others that are in charge, and that incites violence just because of those facts. And so, yes, I'm saying it is different as Iraqi security forces are developed.

You mentioned the political and economic development. We've always--we've said for a long time that--and part of the national security strategy for Iraqi combines all those elements plus one of strategic communications and--as the bedrock of what has to go forward if we're gonna have progress in Iraq and if we can get Iraq--Iraqis can get themselves up on their feet where they can sustain themselves.

CONAN: At the same time that the coalition forces, the United States-led forces and the Iraqi government forces are in this fight with al-Qaeda elements and former regime elements, is it fair to say that there's a low-level civil war going on in Iraq right now?

Gen. MYERS: I think--I don't think I would--I don't think you can characterize it as a low-level civil war or civil war in Iraq at this point. People have opined that that is a potential, and it's certainly, of course, always is a potential when...

CONAN: Does seem to have been a fair amount of sectarian violence.

Gen. MYERS: Well, but it's hard to tell--you know, it's probably been a little bit on both sides. Zarqawi, the al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, you know, year and a half or two years ago said, `We can't beat the coalition, so maybe the only way we can win in Iraq is to create the sectarian violence, incite civil war.' So there is--there are efforts to do that, but so far it's been pretty much one-sided. The Shia have been very moderate in their response, and so I don't think you can call it a civil war at this point. And, of course, that's the aim of the constitution and the new political process is to provide a way forward for Iraqis that--a way to participate in the future of their country without resorting to violence.

And let me just say that the al-Qaeda in Iraq is a dangerous threat, not just to Iraq, but to the world. I mean, there are clearly indications that a part of Zarqawi's charge from Osama bin Laden and others is to take this al-Qaeda violence and terror to Europe and the United States.

CONAN: Let's get some listeners involved in the conversation. This is Daniel. Daniel's calling us from New Jersey.

DANIEL (Caller): Hi. I have a question for General Myers. I would like to know, how is the military planning on responding to the changing face of war as we move from the post-Cold War atmosphere to a more nebulous war on terrorism? How are we changing the training of our military?

CONAN: General?

Gen. MYERS: That's an excellent question. It goes to the transformation issue, and--I guess in general let me just say that almost every process that goes on in this building, the Pentagon, or in the Department of Defense, we've looked under every one of those processes, every one of those rocks, turned them over, and tried to say, `OK, is this a process or a capability that we need to sustain in this new security environment?' as the person who called in talks about, or is this a relic of the Cold War and has to go away? And so almost everywhere you turn, we are making big efforts to reorganize ourselves.

A couple of examples. We no longer talk about threat-based strategy. We talk about capabilities, both in terms of what we need, in terms of our--and what potential adversaries might have. So we talk in terms of capabilities, not specific nation-state threats or threats from non-nation-state actors. We're--we know that our National Guard and our Reserve are--were organized for the Cold War, not organized for this new security environment that we're in, and we've taken steps to rebalance, to remix, to organize, train and equip them differently.

In our active forces, there are several things we're doing. In the Navy, one of the biggest transformational efforts has been the ability to surge naval capability. So, in fact, with fewer capital assets you can have more effect in the battle space because you're able to have more presence with fewer capital assets. And then the Army is undergoing lots of transformation, but one of the big ones is moving away from the division as the unit of maneuver into the brigade as the unit maneuver, and then give the brigades more indigenous capability to deal with security situations that we think will be more characteristic of the future battlefields, which is the environment we find ourselves in.

Of course, we've given special operations command, or unified command in our parlance, a responsibility to look globally at this war on terrorism. Which is a whole new responsibility...

CONAN: Brigades being roughly a--brigades being roughly a third of the size of a division.

Gen. MYERS: Right.

CONAN: OK. Daniel, thank...

Gen. MYERS: And I know that's a lot of detail, but that's...

CONAN: Right.

Gen. MYERS: ...there's--a lot of that's been going on.

CONAN: Daniel, thanks very much for the call.

DANIEL: Thank you.

CONAN: We're talking...

Gen. MYERS: That's a good question.

CONAN: We're talking today with General Richard Myers from the Pentagon, and you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Let's get another caller in. This is Emile. Emile's calling us from Charlotte, North Carolina.

EMILE (Caller): Hi, General Myers. Hi, Neal.


EMILE: It's always a pleasure to listen to you.

CONAN: Thank you.

EMILE: At 2:00 especially. General Myers, I have a question for you regarding the role of intelligence in the--what is going on in Iraq. It seems to me that we have the best soldier in the world, but still this insurgency is still ...(unintelligible) doing too much damage to the soldier, not only to us, but to the Iraqi people. What are the effort that has been done in order to overcome the insurgency?

Gen. MYERS: Emile, that's a great question, and obviously you've done your reading, because to defeat an insurgency historically requires very good intelligence, and what has been done is to develop the indigenous capability within the Iraqi government and within their military and police organizations, which is--that intelligence capability is still being developed. As we put more and more Iraqis with us in operations, of course, they bring their inherent understanding of the language, the culture and so forth, so your intelligence capability, you know, goes up just because they're now with you.

What we bring to it is how to organize their intelligence information and how to plan operations so they can be effective against the insurgency. And then, you know, we're emphasizing among our people the cultural knowledge that's required and those sorts of things, and in the future we're emphasizing language skills, cultural sensitivity that we don't have in the numbers that we need today so that we can be ready for future security environments.

CONAN: Emile, thanks very much for the call.

EMILE: You're welcome.

Gen. MYERS: That's a good question, Emile.

CONAN: Speaking about cultural sensitivity, in Afghanistan today, President Karzai questioned the need for major military operations by US-led forces. He said air strikes may no longer be effective and demanded an immediate end to operations where foreign troops search the homes of Afghans without government's permission. Is he right that the nature of the war in Afghanistan has changed to that degree?

Gen. MYERS: I think there are areas in Afghanistan where the nature of the conflict there has changed. There are--in the north and the west, in most areas of the south, things are relatively peaceful. There are still pockets of Taliban in the east and the southeast, and some al-Qaeda fighters that need to be dealt with. Obviously in most of the country it's not appropriate for air strikes. I can tell you this, that US forces coordinate with local Afghan government officials, sometimes at the province level, but--and sometimes at the federal level before we do any operation that would be considered sensitive in nature and, you know, go into people's homes and so forth, so we try to coordinate with them.

And then more and more there are now 76,000 Afghan security forces between the police and the Afghan national army that we've trained. About 22, 23,000 of that number are Afghan national army, well-respected by the Afghan people, and more and more it's gonna be their responsibility to carry out these operations. There are still some hard spots in that country--up in the mountains, the border with Pakistan and so forth--where remnants of Taliban, al-Qaeda can find sympathy, short-term safe haven that need to be rooted out, and we're gonna have to continue that work.

CONAN: General Myers, our listeners--and we have many more questions for you--we just don't have the time. We do appreciate your taking the time to speak with us today, and good luck.

Gen. MYERS: Neal, thank you very much.

CONAN: General Richard B. Myers is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He leaves that post at the end of this month, and he was joining us from a studio at the Pentagon.

I'm Neal Conan. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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