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General Richard Myers Addresses Media About Afghanistan

Aired December 21, 2002 - 04:25   ET


QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) overnight also the casualty on Tuesday. What's your assessment now?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, U.S. JOINT CHIEFS CHMN.: My assessment is the same as it was in October, is that things continually get better here. That was a misquote. That was a headline out of "The Washington Post". It was absolutely inaccurate, and if the article had been read, you would have seen that the article did not match the headline. I have never said that about Afghanistan. I think it's still continuing to improve. We know there's going to be times that our forces have been shot up over here. U.S. coalition forces have been shot at from time to time and we're going to take some casualties unfortunately, and we did have a tragic death last night, and but that I don't think has anything to do with the situation.

The situation continues to get better over here. We're thinking very seriously about moving into what we call stability operations in most of the country, where we'll work, focus on reconstruction efforts. There's still some very dangerous parts of the country, though, particularly over on the eastern part of Afghanistan. But, my assessment is that things continue to improve in Afghanistan for the people of Afghanistan, and that we're making progress every day and it's not just the military, but the whole international effort over here, the reconstruction efforts, all that is contributing, I think, to a better place to live.


QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) military buildup in Iraq...

MYERS: Let me go to...


QUESTION: ... is the U.S. really capable of fighting a war on two fronts?

MYERS: Well first of all, the U.S. is absolutely capable of fighting a war on two fronts. There's no question about that, should be no question in anybody's mind about that, but the issue is we're probably not going to have to do that alone, as we have here in Afghanistan, lots of coalition partners, some of whom you see standing around here amongst us. So it's not a question of ever doing it by ourselves, we're going to do it with a coalition, and I would presume if the president asks us to do anything in Iraq, that that would be a coalition effort as well. It would be many coalition partners with that.

QUESTION: Chairman...

QUESTION: Can you say these increased number of attacks on American forces, were would you say are connected to reports from eastern Afghanistan of heavy handed or cultural insensitive behavior by American troops...

MYERS: No I...


MYERS: No I think - I think it's just - it's just how Afghanistan is. We still know there's Taliban, that there are some al Qaeda, and HIG, which are not necessarily happy that the Taliban fell from power, that there are terrorist camps operating here. I mean they're not happy about that. They're not happy about the transitional administration. They'd like to see that changed. I think our soldiers and the coalition soldiers are, in fact, very sensitive to the culture here and have done a fantastic job of trying to balance security concerns, force protection concerns with concern for the culture of Afghanistan. And I think if you ask any responsible Afghan official, they would tell you that.

QUESTION: General...

QUESTION: General...


QUESTION: ... do you have any indication that al Qaeda are actually stepping up its (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

MYERS: Well I don't think - to my knowledge, the attacks in Kabul, which attack are you referring to? The...

QUESTION: The one on the American (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

MYERS: Yes, I don't know that those have been connected with any particular group. At least I haven't seen the intelligence said so. In fact, that's one of the things we've talked about today, and I ask General McNeil about that, and I don't think we can connect those with any particular group. They may or may not have been connected, but I do not think it's an indication of stepped-up al Qaeda activity at this point - no.


MYERS: Whose report was that?

QUESTION: United Nations.

MYERS: OK, I haven't seen that report.

QUESTION: OK, the headline of that report is that new al Qaeda camps are springing up in eastern Afghanistan. Do you think that's accurate?

MYERS: Well I'll defer that to General McNeil. We had a long talk about that. I think the security situation in eastern Afghanistan is going to be a problem for some time to come, and that's just because of the freedom of operation back and forth across the Pakistani to the Afghan border, but a border that's not particularly well defined in some cases. So I'll have to read the U.N. report. I don't know that we think they're a big - you say big concentrations or...

QUESTION: That they knew...

MYERS: Knew...

QUESTION: ... al Qaeda camps (UNINTELLIGIBLE) concentration camps that are processing new recruits in eastern Afghanistan.

MYERS: I don't have any indication that's the case. I'd have to ask General McNeil, but I have not seen anything in intelligence that would confirm that.

QUESTION: General (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Pakistani (UNINTELLIGIBLE) political situation (UNINTELLIGIBLE) winning control of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) other areas. Has that had any effect or do you think it's going to have any effect on U.S. ability to pursue (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

MYERS: I think clearly to be effective in the border area and inside Pakistan, we're going to need the cooperation of Pakistani government. To date, we've gotten that cooperation and that's another thing I talked to General McNeil about. And I think we're satisfied with the cooperation we're getting from the Pakistani government right now.


MYERS: I think we're calling them teams right now. I think we're going to go away from that. Joint regional team, I've just - that's one of the things I've learned, is that maybe changing the name. So, for the time being, we'll just call them a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and these are - and what he's referring to, most of you probably know, are the teams that'll be focused on stability operations, reconstruction, essential services and schools, medical facilities, roads, water, sanitation, and those sorts of things. I think it's probably too early to tell exactly how many. I don't know if there's a good number we can give you. Maybe General McNeil can. I can't give you a good number.

But, clearly that's the future for Afghanistan. If Afghanistan is going to have a chance for stability and prosperity in the future, I think these teams are going to be the key to getting that started. They're going to need a lot of support from the international community, not just the United States government, and I think they'll have that. They'll need a lot of support from non-governmental organizations and private organizations, and I think they'll have that as well. And you know, I don't know in the end how many teams will be out there. I think we'll probably start with a few, see how they go, and then continue to build up.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) are troop levels in Afghanistan declining as it builds up around Iraq continue. Do you see the war with Iraq now is inevitable (UNINTELLIGIBLE). What month would you tell politicians is the best month for an attack (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

MYERS: Boy, that's a lot. First of all, I see - I mean nobody has a crystal ball that can talk about troop levels in Afghanistan. But I would say for the next several months, as - pretty much as far as we can see, perhaps, that there'll be about the same level. OK, on the question of - what was your middle question there?

QUESTION: If you now see war with Iraq...

MYERS: No, I think the - I left home just as the statements were being made about Iraq's declaration on WMD. But if I remember right, I think there were several high-ranking government officials of the United States that said that this does not mean war is inevitable, and that's clearly a political decision, a presidential decision, not my decision. And the job of the U.S. military and our coalition partners is to be ready to do what our president's asked us to do or my president asked me to do, and we'll be ready to do that no matter what month it is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One last question.


MYERS: Yes sir.

QUESTION: I just want to know, do you expect your forces are ready now? (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

MYERS: Well I don't - are you talking about Iraq or...


MYERS: OK. Our forces - we're - I mean clearly it's - we are pledged in Iraq under previous United Nations Security Council resolutions to defend (UNINTELLIGIBLE) population, the Kurds in the north, the Shiite in the south. We're prepared to fill those pledges and those obligations at any time, and so, U.S. forces are ready if called upon - you bet. Thank you very much.


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