of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers
Interview with Al-Jazeera
October 31, 2001
QUESTION: General Myers, thank you for being with us and giving that much valuable
time to be with our audience also in the Arab world.
MYERS: Thank you for the opportunity.
QUESTION: Let me start after the 25 days of the start of the military action.
How do you see the progress so far? Or is there anything tangible that you can
tell people about?
MYERS: As you know, this is a war on terrorism and those that support terrorists.
We think that the plan is progressing pretty much like we expected it to, and
I would say so far we have been successful in our aims. The first part of the
effort was against Taliban air defenses, and we have degraded those or destroyed
those to the point now we can fly freely over the country and we're turning
now our support to opposition forces and enabling their fight against the Taliban.
QUESTION: After four or five days of the military operations we heard about
now we have the sky for us and we can do it all over any time of the day. Why
did it take much time after that and until now we are not talking about any
MYERS: I'm not sure I understand your question. But for the first part, remember
this is a war against terrorists and those who support them. Part of it was
to degrade the fairly substantial terrorist training infrastructure inside Afghanistan,
so we worked on targets such as those. We also worked on some Taliban command
and control facilities, and then we started to turn our attention more and more
to the opposition groups. And it just takes time to get the right kind of liaison
in place who want to free Afghanistan from the Taliban.
QUESTION: Has the objective been changed or changed during that military action
like we started with al Qaeda mainly. Are we now after Taliban and the fall
down of their government, the main objective?
MYERS: No, the objectives have not changed. Still the objective is the al Qaeda
organization, because we know that they were behind the September 11th tragedies
that occurred in New York City and here in Washington, D.C. So we've never wavered
from that objective. The Taliban is also an objective because they're the ones
that harbor al Qaeda in Afghanistan. So the objectives have not changed.
QUESTION: So the minute they stop harboring or they stop supporting al Qaeda
you could save them from any more bombing or fighting? Or it is too late now?
MYERS: That would be a political decision. I think the president has offered
on a couple of occasions the opportunity for the Taliban to hand over al Qaeda
operatives and senior personnel. The Taliban has not seen fit to do that. They
have continued to fight. And I don't want to go into the hypothetical world
because it's really more of a political question, not one for a military man.
QUESTION: We hear from the Northern Alliance about the beginning of the military
actions before it was announced here in Washington, and now we hear from the
Northern Alliance that they are ready in few days to move on to Kabul. How accurate
is that assessment?
MYERS: I don't know how accurate that assessment is. That will be up to the
Northern Alliance and their leadership. We are going to try to help as we can,
support their objectives, but any discussion of how fast they can move and where
they're going to move I think are tactical decisions that will be made in the
field and I don't want to speculate on how quickly they might do something like
QUESTION: But you are willing to help them moving into Kabul and getting into
MYERS: We are willing to help the Northern Alliance with their objective of
defeating their Taliban adversaries and I think for that matter, I think most
of the Afghan people are as well because the Taliban has been such an oppressive
regime in Afghanistan.
To talk about Kabul and whether or not that should fall into other people's
hands or not, I'd rather not speculate.
What I would say, though, as you know the international community is working
at a fairly good pace to determine what would be an appropriate post-Taliban
Afghanistan structure for governing the country, and that is something that
I think we all look forward to and it's a way to take Afghanistan and bring
them into the 21st Century.
QUESTION: Are you considering introducing or using Turkish troops in that process?
MYERS: I think in that process they are looking at, they will probably need
contributions from many, many countries. Turkey has been mentioned. Beyond that,
I don't know what Turkey's view of this is so I'd let them speak for themselves.
I've just heard them mentioned, but many countries have been mentioned in that
QUESTION: What kind of presence, at least it's been confirmed yesterday by the
Pentagon that there are U.S. ground troops in Afghanistan. Could you shed some
more light on that presence?
MYERS: I can't shed much more than has already been said, but for several days
now we've had U.S. troops on the ground with the Northern Alliance, and as liaison
to the Northern Alliance. Their primary mission is to advise, to try to support
the Northern Alliance with airstrikes as appropriate. They are specially trained
individuals that know how to bring in air power and bring it into the conflict
in the right way, and that's what they're doing. We think that will have a big
impact on the Northern Alliance's ability to prosecute their piece of this war
against the Taliban.
QUESTION: According to the plan, when could you declare victory? The fall down
of Kabul would be the watershed?
MYERS: Actually I don't think the fall of Kabul would be the watershed. I think
we have to go back to our objectives, and that is to eliminate or degrade al
Qaeda to the point where it cannot effectively prosecute international terrorism
as it did on September 11th. And there are other -- as you know al Qaeda is
in over 60 countries, including people right here in the United States of America.
So this is a wide conflict global in scale. Al Qaeda is not the only international
terrorist organization that wishes to do freedom-loving people harm. So no matter
who has Kabul that's not the real issue. The real issue is the leadership of
al Qaeda and its the people that support them and taking away that support.
By the way, just to add onto that, this is not just a military action, which
taking Kabul would be mostly perhaps a military operation. There are other operations
that we have ongoing, and I say we in a very broad context. We mean all our
partner nations. There are 80 to 100 to more than that that have joined in this
partnership against worldwide terrorism. So there will be other aspects besides
the military aspect. There will be the financial aspect. There is the criminal
aspect of this. There is a commerce aspect to this. So there's a diplomatic
aspect to it, and all of those will be brought to bear on this war on terrorism.
So just one faction or other in Afghanistan taking Kabul will not end this conflict.
QUESTION: The reason I am asking about Kabul and I am focusing on the military
issue, of course, with you because I am not going to ask political questions
MYERS: I appreciate that, by the way.
QUESTION: -- financial questions. And I am talking about the military actions
that started October 7th. When would end? Of course you're not going to end
it when you finish al Qaeda in the U.S. or Britain or any other place. Is there
an objective that people would look for and then when it's achieved we would
know that that night or that day President Bush would come out and say we finished
that military action in Afghanistan?
MYERS: I think one of the points would be when there is no more support for
al Qaeda in Afghanistan. That would be one of the measures of merit. The other
would be, have we eliminated or captured or whatever the al Qaeda leadership
that we know is Afghanistan that is still in Afghanistan? So there are really
two parts of it. It's the leadership and it's those, a government or a regime
that supports them.
QUESTION: Given the fact that the Soviets captured or controlled most of these
cities, yet they couldn't end the war on Afghanistan and they lost it and it
took them years because of the villages, the amount in them, the caves. Are
you willing to stay for years as the Soviets did in Afghanistan?
MYERS: I think we've said, and the president said, that in the broadest of contexts
that the partner nations are willing to stay at this war on terrorism for however
long it takes. I personally think that will be years. Whether that's years in
Afghanistan or not, I don't know yet. Certainly it's going to be more than the
25 days that we've currently been engaged there.
We've got to go back to remember our objectives to eliminate the al Qaeda leadership
and those that support them. So however long that takes.
I think there's a big difference between the current conflict in Afghanistan
and what was the Soviet Union activity in Afghanistan. Many, many of the Afghans
want the current regime, the Taliban, out of there. They have been repressed
by this very terrible regime for a long time. In fact as we try to help with
the food distribution we know the Taliban interrupts that. They tax the food
to the people or they use it for other purposes, to bring power to themselves.
I think they're ready for a change. So I think there are some big differences
between the Soviet Union and what they experience and what we'll experience
QUESTION: If it's going to continue after 25 days, is going to take much time
and you are willing to give it that time, how about Ramadan? Do you consider
a break, a halt during that time?
MYERS: I would just remind people that this is a war on terrorism. If we go
back to the events of 11 September of this year when innocent people were intentionally
targeted -- people of all races, of all colors, of all religions died, innocents.
They were not engaged in any war that they knew of. If we understand that that's
what we're at war against -- we're at war against terrorism, the fact that we're
coming up on Ramadan, this war will have to continue.
We're doing this to defend ourselves, and this is all of us and all freedom-loving
people and all our partners. This is an effort and an issue of defense. We did
not choose to do this. The folks that attacked the World Trade Center and attacked
the Pentagon were the ones that chose this conflict. We will try to be as culturally
sensitive as we can, but at the same time given that we don't know if the terrorists
are going to take any pause during any particular time of year, in fact most
likely they will not -- they have not in the past -- we should consider that
we'll continue this war on terrorism through Ramadan.
QUESTION: If they announced a truce from their side, a unilateral commitment
not to do anything with the beginning of Ramadan, would you be willing to do
the same or not?
MYERS: That would be a political decision and I would not like to speculate
on that. But it's certainly in the political sphere.
QUESTION: And you consider it also a political decision that the consequences
of continuing through Ramadan with your troops in Pakistan where people would
be outraged or other places in the Muslim and Arab world, of course you know
that President Mubarak and others called for this kind of a truce.
MYERS: Right. And I would just say that we are, I think, very culturally sensitive.
We go to the leaders at the political level and at the military level, and ask
for their advice. So actions we will take I think will be consistent with that
advice. But we're not unaware and we're not insensitive. These are important
QUESTION: Speaking of the threat of al Qaeda and people that could be in the
U.S. or any other places in the world. Now we are in one of the highest status
of alert in the U.S. because of potential, God forbid, terrorist attack, another
terrorist attack. Do you have any idea about the nature of that attack? Or that
threat at least.
MYERS: No. That's one of the frustrations is no. One of the frustrations of
living in a free and open society as we do means that somebody that is willing
to kill innocents intentionally and terrorize the population can do so in many,
many ways. So we do not have the specifics of what kind of attack there might
be. All we have is indications that we should be on heightened alert at this
QUESTION: So the orders of 10-mile no-fly zone around nuclear plants, that does
not in any way indicate that that could be a nuclear attack or any type of --
MYERS: No, it really doesn't. We look at our most critical infrastructure and
we plan to defend that appropriately.
Clearly on 11 September the terrorists, al Qaeda, passed a threshold of the
use of weapons of mass destruction. They killed over 5,000 people. And again
I'd just point out, they were all innocents. But they intentionally killed over
5,000 people. So we have to be prepared for an attack that could introduce mass
casualties, and that's exactly what we're trying to do is figure out what is
that infrastructure that might do that. But no, it does not indicate that we
have any specific intelligence that nuclear power plants are the target.
QUESTION: The weapons of mass destruction have been, some countries have been
accused of developing it or acquiring it. Iraq usually mentioned from U.S. officials
or the U.S. media. Would that be considered the next target in the war against
MYERS: I'm not going speculate on the next target against the war on terrorism,
but when we talk about our goals in that war, terrorist organizations, those
that support them, and weapons of mass destruction that could possibly fall
in the hands of terrorists, I think all those are legitimate targets for this
defensive war on terrorism, trying to prevent future acts from occurring.
QUESTION: How much cooperation, military wise, do you get from Arab countries,
especially in the Gulf in that war?
MYERS: I think we're getting tremendous cooperation. As you may know, General
Tom Franks, the U.S. Central Command commander who is responsible for prosecuting
the war that is currently focused in Afghanistan has just been through the region.
His reports are very, very encouraging. We are getting good support. It varies
from country to country, what kind of support and so forth, but we get very,
very good support. And not just in the Gulf but from around the world.
QUESTION: He was in Egypt for the Bright Star maneuvers also.
QUESTION: Has the majority of the troops in the Bright Star moved to the area
or just dispersed --
MYERS: I think -- I have to think about that for just a second. I think the
exercise is about over now. I think the end of this month it's supposed to be
over. The majority of the troops involved there I believe are going to return
to home station, but that is a bit of a moving target as we decide what we need
in the region.
QUESTION: The U.S. presence in the Gulf created tensions, bin Laden at least
is one of the people who is using it as a pretext or to legitimatize whatever
illegitimate actions that were taken against innocent people. Are we doing the
same or creating the same potential problems in Central Asia by mobilizing too
much U.S. military force in Central Asia for this war, or to stay for a long
MYERS: I think we need to go back to our presence in the Gulf in the first place
was at the invitation of the countries that, where we were stationed, and it
was in support of U.N. resolutions currently that are, have us doing certain
actions vis-a-vis Iraq.
Certainly the last thing we would want to do is to destabilize any particular
region. We will be very sensitive to that, I think. At the same time, we can't
forget why we're about this war. This is a very serious matter of defending
freedom-loving people from around the world from the threat of terrorism, and
we saw on September 11th exactly what that could be and what tragedies could
come from that threat. So we're committed, we're resolute, we'll try to be as
sensitive as we can to work through some of these issues and we do on a daily
basis. But we're going to prosecute this war until we achieve our objectives.
QUESTION: You are not worried about U.S. presence in Central Asia or in the
Gulf as long as it serves the political reasons or political objectives?
MYERS: I think we'll again, try to be very sensitive to concerns, we'll try
to accommodate concerns where we will, but the primary thing, and I think all
countries, even those that sometimes have some trouble with presence and some
potential instability in their own countries understand that if we don't defeat
terrorism, if we can't eliminate or severely degrade the threat then we're all
at risk. Everybody who loves freedom, everybody who wants to walk down the street
without being killed, that we've got to prosecute this war and we've got to
see it through.
QUESTION: Some people consider that (unintelligible) creates more terrorists
other than counter terrorism.
MYERS: That's an interesting point. I'd say let's take Afghanistan for instance.
It's hard for me to believe that a regime other than the Taliban wouldn't be
a much more, a regime much more conducive to people being freedom loving people
and not raising their children in hate. Being able to educate women and taking
care of children as we should seems to me to be making an addition to society
that is one we would want as opposed to the oppressive and ruthless regime of
QUESTION: General Myers, after September 11th are you considering or reviewing
training of Arab Muslim pilots in the U.S. armed forces with the joint or mutual
exchange of training exchange as it has happened before in the past?
MYERS: I can't answer you specifically, but I'll give you a philosophical answer.
I have, obviously, many Arab friends. We will not change anything that we're
doing fundamentally. Reviews probably will be required but we're going to continue
operating like this country operates and like most free countries operate, and
that is very tolerant of any religion. Skin color, race is not important. What's
important is what you contribute as an individual. So I don't think where people
come from or what cultural or ethnic background will make any difference at
QUESTION: Speaking of that diversity in the American society, we see it in the
armed forces. Let's talk about Muslims in the armed forces. Could you give us
an idea about how many and what kind of participation do they have or some of
them have in the war in Afghanistan?
MYERS: The population, I think, the numbers are hard to come by because some
join as Muslims and some convert once they're on active duty.
The first thing you can say is they're all volunteers in the United States because
we're an all-volunteer armed forces. So you have to ask to come in. You have
to request to come in.
The second thing we know is that when we take our oath we all affirm that we're
going to support and defend our Constitution against all enemies, foreign and
domestic. So we know that everybody that comes in has to go through that oath.
It's a very simple oath, but it's one that shows what the country's going to
ask of them and what they're willing to stand up for.
I think we have somewhere, the numbers vary again, but somewhere between four
and ten thousand, it could be up to fifteen thousand Muslims in the armed forces.
We also know they can be in any unit. We do not segregate any religion out.
Every religion is entitled -- I don't know specifically how many Muslims we
have forward deployed, and that might be perhaps involved directly in the conflict
in Afghanistan. I can tell you that the American Muslim Council, which is not
just Americans. I understand it's made up of Muslims from all over the world,
have said that to defend innocents as we're trying to do with this war on terrorism,
to defend innocents is a just war according to Islam, and they are allowed to
participate in that war.
QUESTION: Innocents are also killed in Afghanistan, civilians. Civilian casualties.
And so many footages that Al Jazeera put out from there, and I don't think that
anyone questions the authenticity so far of the footage that we are playing,
shows the civilian casualties. How do you explain that?
MYERS: First of all, when I think of civilian casualties I think back to September
11th when we had over 5,000 intentionally targeted civilians. Intentionally
QUESTION: So an eye for an eye?
MYERS: No, it's not that at all. It's to defend so that never happens again,
to defend so it doesn't happen again, so it's not an eye for an eye. That's
the last thing we want to do.
War is the last means to achieve an end I think in everybody's opinion, certainly
in anybody that wears the uniform, that would be our opinion. War is not the
first option that you come to. So after you've tried diplomatic or economic
or other instruments of national power, when it comes down to war we know we're
in a situation that is a terrible situation. And in war there are usually many
casualties. In world history we know we can lose millions of people.
Having said that, we also know that we're going to have some unintended casualties
and those will be innocents on the other side.
We plan very carefully, we have relatively sophisticated weapons that minimize
civilian casualties, but in war we're going to have some. And we understand
that. We regret that. It is a terrible tragedy, but I think it's the price that
has to be paid to ensure that the world does not have any more 11 Septembers
or events like that.
QUESTION: If you feel that Taliban is using people as human shields or civilians,
will you still continue to deprive them from that tactic and to kill or target
MYERS: I think that would be on a case-by-case basis. We will not intentionally
attack civilians, even though we know that the Taliban do use women and children
as shields. We know that they park their equipment next to religious structures.
We're aware of that and we will take great care, of course, not to let the war
spill over onto innocents the best we can.
To go back to your earlier point on the footage of some of the casualties. Establishing
ground truth in Afghanistan is very, very difficult. Every time there is an
alleged incident of civilian casualties we go back and very carefully look to
see what ground truth is. We know the Taliban have lied and exaggerated those
casualties. We think they are very, very low.
We regret every one of them because, again, they're the innocent bystanders.
QUESTION: One of the officials just said a day or two ago that we don't have
a warehouse of civilian casualties that we bring them every day. These are pictures
that speak for themselves.
MYERS: Well, we all know, even though it's the business you're in, that pictures
aren't always truth. And you can be deceived. We don't know if that was an errant
bomb or was that some fighting between the Taliban and their adversaries, the
Northern Alliance or Pushtan tribes? So it's never easy to say. I mean you can
show somebody that's been injured but you can't say why they were injured. It's
always very, very difficult.
QUESTION: People could say that about --
QUESTION: So if what they put out there might not be the truth or the places
that they allow the camera to be in might not have presented the whole picture
could we say the same also about the Pentagon? That the kind of pictures or
footage that you allow us to release is also tailored in order to serve what
MYERS: Well I'd say no. We're not in the propaganda business. And as you know
well, at least in this country, our media have good noses for that. They work
that issue very, very hard. It's one of the great things about living in a democracy.
You have many checks and balances. We don't have a propaganda machine. We have
the U.S. media. They're free to go and travel where they want. We have facilitated
them going to some of our military operations to talk to our people. They have
some people inside Afghanistan and are reporting from there.
QUESTION: Have they given you any rough estimate of civilian casualties so far?
MYERS: No. We do not have a rough estimate. My guess is that it's very, very
QUESTION: In the tens, in the hundreds?
MYERS: I don't know. I just can't give you a good number. Again, establishing
ground truth has been very, very difficult. We know when we hear of alleged
incidents we'll go out and look at it and if there are not bomb craters in places
where they say you've bombed people, if you see no evidence of damage, then
you have to say that is somebody's imagination. That is not the truth.
QUESTION: After 25 days of the military actions, roughly how many missing targets
that you can admit or have been admitted officially over there for civilian
MYERS: I don't know if we've totaled those up, but if my memory serves me right
it would be a handful. It would be five or six. Five or six targets that we
admit. And that's another good point I think you bring up. If we do have a bomb
that is off target for whatever reason, then we admit that. We'll be the first
ones to say yes, we did that. And we're very sorry for that.
QUESTION: I think we are almost covering most of it. If I would just conclude,
I have just a follow up on something, General Myers, you mentioned about when
we talk about the Pentagon releases footage we're not talking about propaganda.
But we're talking about (unintelligible) of the past in the Gulf War, 1991,
we were talking about smart weapons and accurate targeting, and later on other
studies showed that the targeting was not that accurate as it was actually broadcast
or announced at the time of the '91 Gulf War.
MYERS: Well, one thing we know about any weapon system is that it's not 100
percent effective and there is no perfect weapon. We just can't afford perfect
We also know that during the Gulf War that it was only about 10 percent of the
weapons used in the Gulf War were precision, what we call precision or highly
accurate weapons. In this conflict that number will be much, much higher, therefore
lessening the chance of what we call collateral damage or damage unintended
and not related to the target.
I think we've done, the United States has done a very good job, it's something
that we plan, that we work, and that we try to execute in a way that minimizes
any damage. That even means sometimes putting our own pilots at risk for delivery
profile perhaps, a delivery run-in heading that might put them more at risk
but it might save unintended damage. We'll do that.
QUESTION: My last question is, have you, do you have any knowledge that the
U.S. military used in the war in Afghanistan any weapons that could be considered
controversial or forbidden internationally? Cluster, concussion, chemical?
MYERS: Absolutely not. We will not use any illegal weapons in Afghanistan. We
don't have chemical weapons that are in our inventory. So this is... No.
QUESTION: Cluster weapons?
MYERS: We used some cluster weapons, but my understanding is they are not illegal.
MYERS: I don't know what you mean by concussion.
QUESTION: I mean gas bombs or --
MYERS: If we used any of those they will all be in accordance with what is international
QUESTION: Any concluding remarks?
MYERS: Well, the only concluding remarks, I thank you for the opportunity for
this interview to remind people that might be watching that this is a war on
terrorism. That on September 11th the United States was directly attacked, that
innocent people -- men, women, children, many religions, many nationalities
-- lost their lives due to an intentional attack on them. And this is a war
on that terrorism.
It's broader in scope than Afghanistan. It's broader than just military action.
What we're seeing right now of course is the visible part and that's the military
action. What you don't see are the invisible actions that are taking place,
be they in criminal channels or in financial channels or in diplomatic channels
or in information channels, to try to thwart this war on terrorism.
And I think if anybody takes a hard look at how they want their children to
grow up, I think they want them to be able to grow up in a world that is free
from terrorist acts.