of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers
Interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC This Week
October 21, 2001
11:30 P.M. EDT
STEPHANOPOULOS: And joining us now, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
General Richard Myers. General Myers, thanks for being with us this morning.
MYERS: Thank you, George. It's good to be here.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Bombing raids last night. The AP is reporting civilian casualties
in Kabul. At least five dead, including three women and two children. Can you
MYERS: I can't confirm that, but let me say this about civilian casualties.
The last thing we want are any civilian casualties. So we plan every military
target with great care. We try to match the weapon to the target and the goal
is, one, to destroy the target, and two, is to prevent any what we call "collateral
damage" or damage to civilian structures or civilian population.
STEPHANOPOULOS: ABC News in Islamabad has also received a report that at least
one U.S. military personnel has been injured by a land mine and several may
be missing. How about that?
MYERS: We have no reports of that. So, again, I think it goes to show you that
some of the reporting we get out of that part of the world is often -- to find
ground truth is very difficult and it's often exaggerated.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, sir, one more report from the Taliban about last night.
They say they downed a U.S. helicopter near Kandahar and there are maybe 20-25
MYERS: I think that is the Taliban wishing for some good news, these days. That
is not correct, as well.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay. Let's go back to the Special Forces operation on Friday
night. Tell us specifically what was their mission and what did they achieve?
MYERS: As has been reported, they had two objectives. One was one of the Taliban
leadership compounds. Specifically, Omar's compound. And the other was an airfield.
And on both of them, we thought there was a pretty good chance that we could
find some useful intelligence to meet our overall objectives in Afghanistan
and that is to hunt down al Qaeda and to help destroy the regime that is supporting
al Qaeda. And so, we had hoped to get some intelligence from those.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Has that mission been completed? Or are there still forces on
MYERS: Well, I don't want to -- I can't go there, George. And let me explain
why. Anything that puts our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, coast guardsmen
at risk, I think we have to be very careful about how we speculate about future
operations. Let me use the analogy, it's a simple one, but today some of us
will be probably watching NFL football. I doubt if a coach is going to give
away his game plan for today before he executes that plan. I think the American
people understand why we have to keep the details of our operations confidential.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But if the mission were completed, you could talk about it?
MYERS: Well, again, and as we've said before, some of these missions that we're
going to do in the military are going to be visible, some are going to be invisible.
The visible ones, obviously, we can talk about. The invisible -- sometimes we'll
talk about them. Not all times. And yesterday, after that particular mission,
we did reveal some of what we did.
STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the things you said yesterday is that you wanted more
time to evaluate the intelligence you picked up on the mission. What more have
MYERS: Again, I can't -- I don't know that we have taken that intelligence to
the analysts that really have to look at it yet. So we're in the process of
doing that, so I can't tell you at this point.
STEPHANOPOULOS: There are some reports that you have made some progress in pinpointing
the location of Osama bin Laden. In fact, a report in "Newsweek" this
morning says that intelligence sources say it's been narrowed down to a 20-mile
by 20- mile sector in Afghanistan.
MYERS: Well, as we look for the al Qaeda leadership, and for that matter the
Taliban leadership, and their command-and-control facilities, we find them essentially
in larger areas than that. We have not been able to pinpoint exactly where all
these command-and-control facilities are. We continue to look. I would be delighted
if we could find it in a 20 by 20-mile square. But I'm not going to comment
on that. That gets into sensitive intelligence matters. We do continue to use
all means that we have at our disposal, plus the means of other governmental
agencies to try to locate the command and control and the leadership.
STEPHANOPOULOS: If U.S. forces encounter Osama bin Laden, are they supposed
to kill him on sight or try to capture him first?
MYERS: Well, U.S. forces operate under the international laws of conflict. And,
obviously, one of the targets there is the command and control and the leadership.
But as you know, the U.S. armed forces are also humane. So we're -- it depends
on the circumstances. [Clears throat] Excuse me, George. If it's a defensive
situation, then, you know, bullets will fly. But if we can capture somebody,
then we'll do that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think Osama bin Laden will survive this war?
MYERS: I don't know for sure. I do know that, you know, we've been at this military
business now for just over two weeks. The military is only a small piece of
the overall effort. And the goal right now is to try to bring down al Qaeda
and to try to bring down the Taliban who support them.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What's left of the Taliban and al Qaeda after two weeks?
MYERS: In terms of the Taliban, we have taken down the air defenses, so we pretty
much have free reign of the country. That is not to say they still don't have
manned portable surface-to-air missiles. They don't have anti-aircraft guns.
But we basically can range freely over Afghanistan. We've hit a lot of their
military facilities, their tanks, their artillery, their vehicle support facilities
and some troop concentrations. And al Qaeda, we've hit a lot of their training
camps, so they won't be doing any training in the near future in Afghanistan.
So we're trying to posture ourselves to continue to squeeze out al-Qaeda and
to diminish the Taliban's influence.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you feeling any time pressures? Winter is approaching. Also,
the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Will that affect your planning in any way?
MYERS: As the president said, this is going to be a very, very long campaign.
And I think, the one thing that we all must bear in mind is that we're going
to have to have patience if we're going to be successful in this campaign. So,
no, we're not feeling pressure. We're trying to do the right thing. We're doing
it in a very measured way. It may take till next spring. It may take till next
summer. It may take longer than that in Afghanistan.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How about beyond Afghanistan and widening out the battlefield?
There are some reports you have started to prepare targets in Iraq. Is that
MYERS: This is a global war on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. So
Afghanistan is only one small piece. So of course we're thinking very broadly.
I would say since World War II we haven't thought this broadly about a campaign.
And it's not just a military piece, it's the rest of the instruments of national
power that the United States and our friends and allies will bring to this problem.
So we're -- the military piece is just one part of it. Other things are going
on all the time -- the financial piece, the justice piece, the law enforcement
piece, and so on.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But let me show you -- some people are worried about the scope
of that war. And let me show you something from a retired colonel, Richard Dunn,
the former head of the Army think tank. He said, "You can go and kill every
one of their terrorists and hang bin Laden in front of the White House, and
you still haven't solved the problem. You've probably created hundreds of new
terrorists. So you can win tactically and lose strategically." How do you
respond to that?
MYERS: Well, I think the first thing we have to do -- and I'm going to try to
stay in my lane, which is the military lane, I think we can have an impact on
the ability of al Qaeda and other international terrorist organizations to train.
I think we can have an impact on their ability to obtain weapons of mass destruction.
And if there's any doubt since September 11 the terrorists crossed the threshold
of the use of weapons of mass destruction. And I think we can have an impact
on all those things I just mentioned. And George, I think we can bring down
the threat to not only ourselves, but other freedom-loving peoples.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But how do we know when this war is won? Vice President Cheney
says it might not end in our lifetime.
MYERS: I think that may be correct. I think this is going to be a long, hard-fought
conflict. And it will be global in scale. And it won't be, as I mentioned earlier,
it won't be just military. It's going to be all the instruments of our national
power, with our friends and allies. And the fact that it could last several
years or many years, or maybe our lifetimes, would not surprise me.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, we saw the first U.S. casualties on Friday night and
there's also the possibility of prisoners of war, and some people have said
that what could happen, knowing the Taliban, is that they would take the prisoners
of war and force them to broadcast statements, anti-American statements. And
I want to show you something from George Wilson. He's a respected military analyst
and he says the Pentagon should liberalize the Code of Conduct so that service
people who are broken don't feel guilty for the rest of their lives for giving
the enemy more than their name, rank, serial number and date of birth. Do you
MYERS: I think we've taken a hard look at the Code of Conduct in the past, and
I think we've given instruction to our armed forces that would not put him in
that situation. But you bring up a very good point. This is a dangerous war.
Those two individuals who gave their lives the other evening -- it was obviously
very tragic. But the armed forces of the United States and the armed forces
of our friends and allies, I think, are prepared to do that for this very important
battle. We have no options here. This is a war we must win if we want to maintain
STEPHANOPOULOS: General, it's also been a difficult start for your new mission.
Did you ever imagine your first three weeks would be like this?
MYERS: No, I never imagined it. But I tell you, when you raise your right hand
and you take the oath of office and you swear to defend and support the Constitution
of the United States against all enemies, it's pretty clear that -- I mean,
surprised, yes. But not totally surprised. This is what we do. And this is what
the American people expect of their armed forces. And we're prepared to do that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: General Myers, thank you very much.