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Homeland Security

27 February 2003

Terrorists Most Dangerous Threat to U.S. in 50 Years, Myers Says

(Joint Chiefs Chairman discusses terrorism, WMD, Iraq) (1190)
By Judy Aita
Washington File U.N. Correspondent
New York -- The United States is facing "the most dangerous situation
of the last 50 years" from a nexus of terrorists, nations hostile to
the United States, and weapons of mass destruction, the chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff said February 26.
Air Force General Richard Myers said that "the threat is distinct from
our past adversaries because terrorists intend to murder the innocent.
We can't contain them and we can't deter them" through the
conventional military and political strategies of the past.
The present lethal combination of the terrorists' fanaticism and
belligerent governments such as Iraq, which have weapons of mass
destruction to sell or a safe havens to offer, "are a real threat to
our nation and to our allies," he said.
In a major address to The Economic Club of New York, Myers compared
the wars and adversaries Americans have faced in the last 50 years and
the military, economic, and diplomatic means used to defeat them with
the new challenges posed by terrorists.
"It is a very different kind of war," he said. "The enemy we face
today uses brutal attacks on civilians in an attempt to force their
will on us. Clearly it is a war not limited to just tanks, ships and
"To win we're going to need all instruments of our national power
against a foe that cannot be contained; that cannot be deterred," he
"In my mind defeating global terrorists and disturbing their quest for
weapons of mass destruction is the most significant challenge,
perhaps, any chairman (of the Joint chiefs of Staff) has faced," Myers
He noted that February 26 was the 10th anniversary of the first
bombing of the World Trade Center, an event Americans thought was
unique. However, it has been followed by 17 major attacks around the
world which have killed thousands of innocents.
Most Americans, he said, grew up with the idea that war involved
tanks, battleships, airplanes and soldiers fighting in open combat.
Today "a terrorist can slip into our society, hide among us, and
strike with no warning" using biological and chemical weapons or other
means of mass destruction.
In Afghanistan, Myers said, one of the first things the United States
learned from the documents left behind by Osama bin Laden and his
al-Qaeda terrorist organization was their great interest in chemical
and biological agents and the desire for nuclear weapons.
"What makes our current situation so much more dangerous is that
terrorists will use these weapons of mass murder if they can get hold
of them," he said.
The cooperation between terrorists and governments such as Iraq, he
pointed out, "is not necessarily based on a common ideology. Rather
both share a mutual malice towards the United States, our allies, and
our ways of life."
"The type of support given can be complex arrangements to provide
weapons or technology, training, or money or it can be as simple as
giving them a safe haven for the terrorist to move about freely and to
plan and train and organize their next attack," he said.
Myers said that the association between al-Qaeda and Iraq has gotten
stronger since al-Qaeda was forced from Afghanistan. He referred to
Secretary of State Colin Powell's report to the U.N. Security Council
in early February in which the secretary said that Iraq has been
harboring the network of Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, an associate and
collaborator of Osama bin Laden, since May 2002.
Al-Zarqawi, Powell said, has established a base of operations with
nearly two dozen other extremists, and is running a poison and
explosive training center in northeastern Iraq.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs said that the relationship between
Iraq and terrorists is also a danger for the region as well.
"The presence of terrorists threatens those who seek a modern
society," he said. "I can't imagine a business enterprise wanting to
set up anywhere close to where terrorists are operating and working on
their experiments."
"But it is not just economic prosperity of the region at risk, but the
welfare of millions of people," Myers said.
Americans from every walk of life and in every venue "have to ask some
hard questions" on how to wage the war against terrorism, he said:
"Before we act do we have to wait for the actual firing of a gun or
airplane to appear over the horizon? Is it acceptable to assume such
risk when the next blow could mean the deaths of thousands of men,
women, and children? To what extent do a free people have a
responsibility to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of
Questioned about the possibility of military action in Iraq, Myers
said that military planners have "three pages of things that could go
wrong" in a military intervention as well as plans "to try to mitigate
those risks."
"We're taking about war, if the president so orders," he said. After
Desert Storm, Kosovo and Afghanistan "the American public has been
lulled in the sense that war somehow can be antiseptic and it is not.
War is war. People get killed in wars, innocent people are killed. "
Contingency plans take into account the possibility of Iraq setting
fire to oil wells, a major problem in northern Iraq because of the
poisonous gases that would be released; blowing up bridges; and
destroying dams to flood river valleys, he said.
Prolonging any decision to take action or giving U.N. weapons
inspectors more time, he said, will not hinder military operations
undertaken later in the year.
The heat of a desert summer will not be a problem, Myers said. "We can
fight at night. We are a day/night force both on the ground and in the
air. Nights are very cool in the desert."
There are also no limits on how long U.S. troops could stay in the
region, he added. They could remain "virtually indefinitely" by
changing battle groups and rotating troops.
The biggest missing piece in the operation's plans is the use of
Turkey. If Turkey allows U.S. forces to use their soil, "that's
everything we really want," Myers said.
Although the Iraqi army is still a large force, some units are 60
percent of what they were in the early 1990s, he said. Troops
stationed near Baghdad are "reasonably robust" but in other parts of
the country military preparedness has atrophied and the Iraqi military
is not near the capability it had when it invaded Kuwait in 1990.
If Iraq does destroy the al-Samoud 2 missiles as the U.N. has ordered,
it would "clearly be a help," he said, "but in the margins."
The "big unknown" is whether Saddam Hussein will use chemical and
biological weapons in any military action. "He has used it on his
neighbors and his own people in the past," Myers pointed out.
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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