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General Richard Myers

April 19, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: And to Air Force General Richard Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is with us now for a Newsmaker interview.

General, welcome.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: Good evening, Jim.

JIM LEHRER: Front page story in the New York Times this morning that said senior military officers want 50,000 more troops, 50,000 more military personnel. Is that correct?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: Well, obviously we’re working pretty hard right now. We came out of the starting blocks, if you will, for Afghanistan at a full sprint. We’re very concerned about operational tempo and the impact it has on families and for the reserve component, for their employers.

We’re concerned about the impact it has on equipment. That’s sort of normal but we’re in increased operational tempo right now. So the services have some concerns. They’re working with Secretary Rumsfeld’s office to determine what those needs may be. A couple of points.

As Secretary Rumsfeld said– and I think in that same article– we’ve got to stop doing things that we shouldn’t be doing, that the military should not be doing. That will help in some cases. We’re also realizing that this war on terrorism is going to be a marathon, not a sprint. So we’ve taken some actions to reduce, for instance, carrier presence in the central command area of operation.

JIM LEHRER: Aircraft carriers.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: Aircraft carriers. And that will ease the operational tempo.

JIM LEHRER: Well, the story also said that Secretary Rumsfeld has told you all “no way.” Is that right too?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: Not to my knowledge. We’ve been in these discussions with the Secretary before, and I think he is willing to listen to the issues and they’re being debated right now and put on the table to see what the real needs are.

JIM LEHRER: Is the bottom line on this, General, that you don’t have enough people to do what you anticipate the needs are going to be for the U.S. military?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: I certainly wouldn’t characterize it that way. I’ve said on several occasions I think we have the people we need both in the active component and in the reserve component to do what the President calls upon us to do.

I think what the services are reflecting are, as we have new missions, you know, can we shed old missions fast enough to free up people to do some of the new missions? That’s a piece of it. And there’s some other — just some things that have come up since September 11 that are absolutely brand new that we need to address.

JIM LEHRER: What about the concern over, if there is military… I realize this is not a decision you’re going to make, but the military is going to make. But if there’s military action involving Iraq that that would just spread the U.S. forces too thin with everything else that’s already on the table, all the things that you’re already still involved in?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: Without getting into specifics of any potential future operations since we have… the President has many decisions on things certainly like Iraq, I can guarantee you, and I can guarantee the American people, that we’re ready for anything the President might ask us to do.

JIM LEHRER: All right. Now you mentioned the war on terrorism. Now the big news that you and Secretary Rumsfeld made this week as well was an announcement of a north command that would be basically to protect the United States. Well, now how does that fit in to the earlier issue about having enough people to do what you have to do now?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: What — the standup of northern command is for the defense… for the responsibility for the defense of the United States. And previously this has been done by several different agencies within the government and services. And what we’re trying to do is take and consolidate that and put one person in charge so we can bring unity of focus to that particular mission area.

JIM LEHRER: Now give me some specifics here. Who and what gets combined of the existing forces into this new command?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: That’s a good question. And the first part is the North American aerospace defense command currently in Colorado Springs -

JIM LEHRER: That’s so-called NORAD.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: NORAD – so-called NORAD — with bi-national command, U.S. and Canadian, that will fold under it. There’s a joint task force for civil support that has stood up a couple of years ago. Its responsibility is to respond for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or major conventional explosion.

And it would stand up to support civil authorities usually a federal lead agency but it could be a state or local agency, that it would go support with special expertise and manpower that the military would bring to the problem. And the third piece is support that the military and the armed forces provide for natural disasters, fires, floods and hurricanes. I think most people know we do that routinely-

JIM LEHRER: Sure.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: — and so we’re trying to focus this effort under one command.

JIM LEHRER: But is there a new mission involved in this?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: There are no new roles and missions for the United States armed forces with the stand up of this new command. There’s a new focus, of course, on this mission. And we think it will be easier to respond to incidents and so forth in the future.

JIM LEHRER: Well as I’m sure you’re aware, there’s already been op-ed page pieces and questions raised about, hey, wait a minute, going back to the beginning of the United States of America, the military was not supposed to be involved in what will basically civilian, policing matters. And the military is supposed to fight foreign wars and protect the United States overseas but not here. Is this a major… should this be seen as a major change?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: No it’s not. That premise that you just you just outlined is exactly the premise we’re going to operate under today. This is not the military getting involved in civilian law enforcement efforts. As I said, all the things we do under this command with the exception of the North America aerospace defense piece, the air defense piece and sea defense, and so forth is under the… is in support of civil authorities, so. Let me just finish.

JIM LEHRER: Sure.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: Finish there -

JIM LEHRER: Sure.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: There are provisions where the military can be used to augment law enforcement, but it takes the President to authorize that. And that’s been done a couple times in the past. It is not done very often and it’s not… it has nothing to do with the stand up of this particular command. As I said before, the roles and missions of the Department will not change under this new command.

JIM LEHRER: What prompted then, the stand up, the creation of this command?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: Well it’s something we’ve talked about now for several years and I think the events of September 11 highlighted the need to have one command that focused on the security of this country in the appropriate roles for the military. That was the impetus.

JIM LEHRER: If this command had been in place on September 11, what would have gone differently?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: I think what would have gone differently would have been the support to some of the efforts at the World Trade Center. There were many people trying to offer support, and I think it would have been a much better coordinated effort in terms of how we supported them.

I think we would have had forces to stand up for other potential events. You know, at the time, we didn’t know that the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were the first of many acts or the first and last of an act. We just didn’t know.

And so we would have organizations and forces ready to respond. As it was we had to build those out of scratch, stand up some temporary command and control arrangements and be ready for the next act. In this sense we’ll be ready all the time.

JIM LEHRER: Be ready all the time but not doing anything different. In other words it would be almost a stand-by organization in terms of the civilian possibilities, terrorist acts here in the United States, et cetera?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: Well, I mean that’s one way to put it. The other way is to be trained and ready to do whatever it is we’re called upon to do. Training is a big part of it. Equipping is a big part of it.

For instance we have now mainly in the reserve component a little bit in the active component special units that are trained to detect and treat biological and chemical incidents. And we would probably do more training, more equipping of these units and make sure we’re ready for the next event.

JIM LEHRER: What would you say to people who say wait a minute, this isn’t the job of the military — military people are trained to fight wars. They’re not trained to protect a homeland, homeland security. That’s the job of the police. That’s the job of the civilian authorities.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: We absolutely agree with that. And that’s why I said we’re in support of civilian authorities in any case. But in many cases civilian authorities could be overwhelmed. And that’s when you’ll want the military to come in. Forest fires are a good example.

We have people, civilian authorities that are designated to fight forest fires but inevitably every year in the summer, your U.S. armed forces are asked to devote several battalions to fighting forest fires around this country. The same for hurricanes and floods and so this is… it’s just trying to organize ourselves better for those kinds of tasks where we know the Department of Defense will be asked to respond.

JIM LEHRER: Where will this be headquartered?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: Right now, the preferred alternative is going to be in Colorado Springs but there’s an environmental assessment that has to take place before the final decision can be made.

JIM LEHRER: The commander would be what, a four star?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: That’s correct.

JIM LEHRER: That could be an admiral in the Navy. It could be an Air Force or a Marine or an Army General.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: It could be any service. And as I’ve alluded to I think in some of my remarks there’s going to be a heavy reserve component piece of this command as well because many of the responders on the armed forces side are in fact in the reserve component.

JIM LEHRER: Moving on to Afghanistan what’s known tonight about what happened with that Canadian, the bomb, the U.S. fighter plane, a U.S. plane dropped on bomb on the Canadian forces yesterday killing four, wounding many. What happened?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: Well, first of all, let me offer condolences to these families in Canada who had loved ones killed or injured. This is a terrible tragedy, and I think we understand that and we are very, very sorry for that particular incident.

In terms of what happened, General Franks has appointed the Air Force to do an investigation board. It will be headed by a one star officer, an F-16 pilot. This will be a Canadian general officer as well on that board. It will be all services will participate.

They – in the next 36 hours, they’ll be in the Middle East looking at the evidence in that area and talking to people that are responsible for the various parts of that whole effort to try to piece together that exact question. I don’t think we know tonight and I don’t think it would be good to speculate tonight on exactly what happened because we don’t have all the pieces yet.

JIM LEHRER: But the question about why it happened. But what did happen was that these Canadians were involved in a live firing training exercise, and the U.S. planes thought they were being shot at. Is that correct? And they responded. Is that much of it known?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: That was the first report. And I think — as we know –sometimes first reports are just a little bit inaccurate.

JIM LEHRER: Sure.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: Or not always totally accurate is another way of saying it. I think we need to wait and see. That’s what’s been reported, yes.

JIM LEHRER: From a professional military standpoint, does it get any worse than that sort of thing?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: Friendly fire, it never gets any worse than friendly fire. Certainly it can’t get any worse than the United States and Canadian forces being involved in a friendly fire incident. No, it cannot.

JIM LEHRER: On Afghanistan in a more general way, General, how would you describe what the U.S. mission, military mission, is there now on the ground as we speak tonight?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: The mission there is pretty much the same as it was at the beginning, and that is to continue to hunt down al-Qaida and Taliban forces that are left inside Afghanistan. We know there’s some leadership still left inside Afghanistan or at least we suspect there is.

We know there are pockets of al-Qaida and Taliban that want to disrupt the new Afghan interim administration, would go to any lengths to do that. And so the mission is to find those pockets and destroy them.

The other mission is a mission that will be coming online in the next week or two, and that is training an Afghan national army. The President has said he wants to make this a priority for the United States, and we are working through the elements… to move the elements in that direction to help facilitate training the Afghan national army.

JIM LEHRER: Just on a personal level, you’ve been with this from the very beginning, how frustrated are you over the fact that you have not been able to find Osama bin Laden?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: Well, personally?

JIM LEHRER: Um-hum.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: Not very frustrated because one person has never been the objective. It would be nice to find UBL, and we are hunting for him and other leadership targets continually. I mean, it’s a 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 day a year effort and will be until we do away with al-Qaida.

But even if we got Osama bin Laden, there are other operatives; they’re a very flat decentralized compartmented organization, the al-Qaida I’m speaking of now, they’re in many countries; taking down the absolute leader would not necessarily thwart all their efforts. So we’ve got to keep this wider effort going, trying to hunt them down wherever they are, to ensure weapons of mass destruction don’t fall into terrorist groups’ hands and to make sure there are no nation states out there or others who will support them.

JIM LEHRER: How many U.S. troops are there now on the ground?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: We have approximately 6,000 troops right now inside Afghanistan.

JIM LEHRER: And that number is going to decrease rather than increase at this point, right?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: It’s going to stay about the same for the near future and we have several thousand coalition troops in there as well as part of the effort for hunting down the remnants of Taliban and al-Qaida.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. General Myers, good to see you. Thank you very much.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: Nice to see you, sir, thank you.