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American Forces Press Service

Myers Stresses Political Progress in Iraq, Afghanistan

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 13, 2005 Political progress in Iraq and Afghanistan will end the insurgencies in those countries, but American and coalition troops will be needed to provide the security and stability for that progress to take place, said the nation's highest-ranking military official July 12.

Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on PBS' "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" that American servicemembers have been prepared to face the "challenging and thinking" adversary they face in the global war on terrorism.

Myers told host Lehrer that the insurgency in Iraq is dangerous, but he believes the insurgents are at the level of effort they are capable of. "We're having pretty good success against pieces of this," he said.

"Insurgencies take time to break," Myers noted. "They're broken by the political process. It's my view that the driver now is the political process and the success that Iraq has in developing its constitution, referendum and then elections. That's what's going to beat the insurgency."

Until then, the coalition and Iraqi forces must go after the insurgents, especially those with worldwide connections. Jordanian-born al Qaeda in Iraq leader terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is one target. "We know he has instructions to work outside of Iraq, a very dangerous individual with very dangerous murdering associates," Myers said.

The general told Lehrer to look at the big trends in Iraq. On the political front, Sunni Arabs have been brought in to the political process, and he considers that a very hopeful sign.

Iraqi security forces are building up and becoming more capable. They are shouldering a larger burden of the security effort in the country, he said.

"We haven't had a major unit defect or fall-apart since the elections, and if you remember before that we had some issues with unit integrity and people leaving prematurely in tough situations," he said. He attributes the success to leadership, equipment and training.

Infrastructure work is making some progress, but it will be slow going. "We're still not going to meet the demand for electricity," he said. Right now electricity is free in Iraq so, "there's always going to be more of a demand than there is supply."

The infrastructure was in worse shape under Saddam than anyone imagined. It will take time to rehabilitate basic services.

That does not mean there are no challenges, the Joint Chiefs chairman said. The "psychopaths" launching suicide attacks against innocent men, women and children pose a threat to the nation. U.S. and coalition forces have had to adjust to the changes in the enemy and enemy tactics. They are doing that, Myers pointed out, and keeping in front of the enemy in many ways.

"Military planning is not a prediction of what's going to happen," Myers said. "It's planning that tries to cover as many contingencies as you can think of. And I think we did a good job of doing that. We know that a plan never survives the first contact with the enemy; that's classic. And we understand that. And so we need to be measured on not only how well we planned, how well we anticipated, but how well we adapted to the situation we found."

Myers told Lehrer that commanders in theater will get whatever number of troops they believe they need. He said there is a balance that needs to be struck between becoming an occupying power and having enough forces to provide security.

Political and economic progress is equally important in Afghanistan, the general said. "I think our tendency is to look at the last event and say, 'Gee, we're either doing well or we're doing poorly,'" he said. "That's not how I look at things.

"Obviously we had a big tragedy in Afghanistan, losing the three people on the ground and the 16 people in the helicopter, a huge, huge tragedy," Myers noted. He was referring to the MH-47 helicopter crash June 28 in Kunar province, which killed all 16 servicemembers aboard and the subsequent location of the bodies of three other servicemembers who had been operating as part of a special operations team in that region.

"Before that I think we lost three or four people this whole year, maybe five," he said.

Focusing on the big loss in Afghanistan is the wrong thing to do. "You've got to step back a little bit," he said. "This is not just about Taliban. It's not just about killing terrorists. This is about political development. It's about economic development. It's about a lot of other issues."

Myers said the remnant Taliban will seek to disrupt the Sept. 18 National Assembly and provincial elections. "They will not be any more successful this time than they were last time," he said. "The Taliban are confined to very remote areas, and don't seem to have much impact beyond that. Afghan military forces have been participating in combat now for well over a year, and they're taking the fight to the enemy."

Myers said that his relationship with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is a close, professional one. "My job and the job of the Joint Chiefs is to provide the best military advice we can to the secretary, the president, to the National Security Council. I'd be derelict in my duty if I don't do that," he said.

"I'm not eligible for any more jobs in the Department of Defense. ... There's absolutely no incentive for me to do anything but to do the best. And that's what the troops in the field deserve. They deserve for me to give the best advice that I can give."


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