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The Rediff Interview/General Richard B Myers

'We're going to be in Iraq for as
long as it takes'

July 30, 2003

Pakistani journalist and Osama bin Laden biographer Hamid Mir interviewed General Richard B Myers, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, for Pakistani television news channel GEO-TV on Wednesday. This is what the general had to say about Iraq, the US-Pakistan defence relationship and the war on terror, reproduced with Mr Mir's kind courtesy:

You are coming from India. India is your strategic partner. But why is the Indian government not ready to send troops to Iraq for peacekeeping?

First of all, let me just describe this trip to you. The trip is like most of my trips: we don't spend very much time in any one place, but it's to see US troops and meet with officials in Iraq and Afghanistan, then meet my counterparts in India and Pakistan and Oman, and that's part of it. Of course, on the issue of troops and support to either Afghanistan or Iraq, those decisions are up to the countries involved.

Clearly, we have lots of international partners already involved in those efforts. Most people, I don't think, realize that in Iraq there are 19 countries that are providing ground forces today, 19 countries. Fifteen more are going to be providing forces in the next several months: 34 countries providing forces for the international coalition that is trying to make a better life for Iraqis.

On top of that, there are many countries that are providing medical support, financial support and other types of support, other than those ground troops that I mentioned. So I think the international community understands the need in both Afghanistan and Iraq that it's going to take international effort to do all we can do for these people.

If 34 countries are already providing support to you in Iraq, why do you want Pakistani troops in Iraq?

The issue is in terms of numbers and capability. It's clear that the Pakistani armed forces are very competent, very good. They have been in these kinds of operations before. Again, the decision is going to be Pakistan's decision. And that's not --well, we didn't spend very much time talking about that. This, today, was a counterpart visit. We talked about our military-to-military relationship, and how that is grown over the last several years, and the importance of keeping that relationship very, very healthy.

What is the outcome of your talks with Pakistani officials today?

We didn't have any, you know -- there were no so-called deliverables. This was a chance to, again, meet with (his counterpart) General (Mohammad) Aziz, his staff and discuss the military to military relationship, and that's what we did. We also talked about the strategic situation in the region, and it's always useful to hear others' views on the region and the issues involved there. And that's what we spent our time doing.

The US started a war in Iraq, and it is the prime responsibility of the US to control the post-war situation in Iraq. Are you planning to withdraw your troops from Iraq?

First of all, you characterize it as 'we started a war in Iraq.' I don't think that's how we would view it. Obviously, the whole world condemned the Iraq regime for what they were doing regarding weapons of mass destruction, and that was not just the United States; that was the entire United Nations. So the world had condemned them. But they'd reached the point where you worried about weapons of mass destruction and terrorists falling in that nexus; terrorists getting their hands on weapons of mass destruction. So the decision was made that we were going to Iraq. And we're there until the Iraqi people have a democracy, until they make sure their borders are all intact and make sure they are not a threat to their neighbors. So we are there for the long term.

We're going to be there for as long as it takes.

What kind of problems do you face in Iraq these days?

They are on three fronts. And it would not be surprising to anybody, but I think there are still security challenges in the country, and we're working through those. It's not an even distribution of problems throughout the country in terms of security: the north is relatively secure; the south is relatively secure; the region where we have most of the problems is between Baghdad and Tikrit, which is the region where not only Saddam came from and his tribe came from or is located, but where the Baathist regime -- most of them came from this area between Baghdad and Tikrit. And that's the area I visited.

I can tell you our troops that are there are very confident in their ability to handle that security situation. But it will take time. And then along with that are things that are a little outside my lane, but Ambassador (L Paul 'Jerry') Bremer, who heads up the Coalition Provisional Authority, is working the political and economic aspects of that. There is now an Iraqi Governing Council that has stood up. Three of their members went to the United Nations last week and had discussions with UN officials. So now there is what's starting to become a political, an Iraqi political face on the situation.

In terms of the economy, what I saw this time is -- compared to May when I visited Baghdad -- is almost like night and day. The streets, the stores, the stands are all open and there's a lot of obvious vitality in the economy. So the challenge will be to keep that going.

Tell us why Saddam Hussein is still at large.

The first thing people need to understand is that even if we were to get Saddam Hussein this minute, it would not dramatically change the challenge that remains before us in Iraq. Obviously, there is a fear factor that is associated with Saddam, and any chance that he might come back keeps a lot of Iraq very afraid, afraid to get on with their lives. So there is that aspect to it. But from a strategic viewpoint, he is on the run; he is a survivalist and very worried about taking care of himself right now. It's a big country. My guess is we will get him.

It's hard to find one individual in a big country that wants to hide, and he's pretty much hiding by himself, with maybe a few bodyguards. My guess is that we will get him in the same way we got his two sons, and that is, an Iraqi citizen will come forward and say "He's over here." And they will just get tired of harboring somebody like that that brings such fear into the hearts of the Iraqi people.

I was some days ago in Afghanistan. Please tell us what are the main reasons for the law and order situation, which is not good, in Afghanistan?

I think there are several factors, and as you know if you've visited there, it's not the -- again, it's not the same in the entire country; it varies by region to some degree. But the biggest threats to the Interim Administration there and President Karzai, I think, come, again, from the outside: it's a resurgence of the Taliban and remnants of Al Qaeda that do not want to see success inside Afghanistan. They would like to go back to the Afghanistan that existed a couple of years ago where terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda could have training camps, could do the kind of operational planning that led to not only September 11, 2001, in the United States but other terrorist acts in the area. So that's probably the biggest threat.

There's lots of other things to do; there has to be a lot of reconstruction in Afghanistan. The infrastructure is severely degraded; it needs to be rebuilt: roads, wells, sanitation, medical facilities, and educational facilities. There's an awful lot of work to do, and all of that has to come along at the same time that a central government has to stand up that has some influence in the various provinces, and that is the work that remains. There are a lot of countries that are helping do that. The United States again will be there for some time to continue to give the Afghani people some hope.

Some Afghan officials, very high-profile Afghan officials, are accusing Pakistan of still secretly supporting the Taliban. They think the Taliban are conducting operations inside Afghanistan with the secret help of Pakistan. Are you satisfied with Pakistan's role in the war against terrorism?

I can tell you that, unequivocally, yes, the role Pakistan has played has been very, very important and also very significant. The number of Al Qaeda that have been arrested here in Pakistan, either by Pakistani authorities or in conjunction with (the) US and other countries, is a very high number; it's by far the majority of leadership of Al Qaeda, and that's good for everybody. Terrorism is the sort of thing that doesn't do us any good anywhere in the world. It inhibits economic growth; it inhibits prosperity, and it targets indiscriminately men, women and children of all different races and ethnic backgrounds and religions. So the work Pakistan has done has been very good, and we appreciate their partnership.

But Afghan Foreign Minister Dr Abdullah Abdullah told me that if more than 500 Taliban and Al Qaeda people were arrested from Pakistan, it means that maybe bin Laden is still hiding in Pakistan.

Nobody knows for sure that Osama bin Laden is alive. I don't think anybody knows, for sure, where he is.

So you are not sure he is alive.

I wouldn't make that statement. I don't know; it's like Saddam Hussein: everyone assumes that he's alive, but it's hard to have..

And you don't have any concrete information about his location, where bin Laden is hiding?

No, I think a lot of people think that most probably it's in the more difficult terrain between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where there are people there that might be willing to support him, particularly if they are well compensated for that support, but they also, philosophically, might be more supportive. That's a likely location, I think, but I don't know anybody that knows, for sure, where he is.

If you can mediate between Pakistan and Afghanistan, why don't you mediate between Pakistan and India?

I think the US government position on this is very clear, and it's certainly outside my lane as a military officer, but the US government position on this is clear, and all can I say is that we're very encouraged with the recent developments and diplomatic efforts in that regard, and that we hope that they continue, because it's important, it's important that we defuse that tension.

And what is the future of US-Pakistan defense cooperation?

Oh, I think the future is very bright. I am old enough to remember when (the) Pakistani military and US military were very, very close. I think our cooperation on war on terrorism and in other military to military forums is very, very strong. My view is that it will only grow stronger with time. We have an awful lot in common, and I hope that future is bright one.

Do you think Pakistan needs conventional weapons, at least for the war against terrorism? And is there any possibility that in the future the United States will provide some conventional weapons to Pakistan?

I can't predict the future. I know there is a process in place; it's part of any sort of package, as President Musharraf and President Bush discussed at Camp David, the support package. There are elements of military support; there's a process that we go through in our country to evaluate requests from Pakistan. Certainly Pakistan, as a sovereign nation, has the right to defend itself and the right to arms, and we will go through our process and try to be responsive where we can.

Every second Pakistani would like to ask: Why you are not willing to provide F-16s to Pakistan because on the other side Israel is selling AWACs to India with your approval.

I understand it's a big issue here. I will go back to my previous answer in that there is a process for that. There are, as I understand it, many items that the Pakistani military would like. Our job is to evaluate those, look at the available monies and try to provide the kind of support and the kind of things that are required, and so forth. But there is a process we go through to do that, and we are very aware of the issue.

President Bush has said many times that the United States needs a long-term partnership with Pakistan. Would you like to elaborate on what kind of partnership you want to establish with Pakistan?

I've already talked about the military part of that, and to stay inside my lane, my military lane, I probably shouldn't comment, but it's obvious that there is...

You can elaborate on some strategic points.

I think it's obvious that from an economic standpoint that needs to be a full strategic partnership, but I think that's what is meant: that there's economic cooperation; that there's security cooperation; that a strong relationship, as there been here in the last couple of years, does a lot for security in this region and if this region is secure than it does a lot for the world. So it's a very important relationship, and that's why the President and the rest of the US administration is putting so much effort into it.


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