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Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, conducts a town hall meeting Friday at Yokota Air Base, Japan, with U.S. servicemembers from installations across the Kanto Plain.
Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, conducts a town hall meeting Friday at Yokota Air Base, Japan, with U.S. servicemembers from installations across the Kanto Plain. (Christopher B. Stoltz / S&S)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The U.S. had to go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan due to a failure of the international community to produce political or economic solutions, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told a gathering of servicemembers Friday.

Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, who served at Yokota as U.S. Forces Japan vice commander from 1994 to 1996, said ways to fight the war on terror might change someday but he believes Congress will continue to fully fund the nation’s fight despite political shifts in Washington.

“Congress is having a very open, rigorous dialogue right now,” Pace said in response to an airman’s question about the Democratic push for troop withdrawal and how that could affect war resources. “Despite that dialogue, Congress has funded this war the way we’ve asked it to be funded.

“On 9/11, we got a wake-up call that told us we’re in a war. Our enemies declared war on us. Leaving Iraq does not take us out of the war with terrorists.”

Pace met with roughly 1,000 airmen, soldiers, sailors and Marines from bases across the Kanto Plain during his last expected visit to Japan before he retires Oct. 1.

The general said terrorists have a “100-year plan” aimed at the United States. “They want to do away with our way of life,” he said. “Our enemies really do want to do us harm. And if they could do New York again, they would.”

Pace said the U.S. must strike a balance in how it conducts the war on terror, adding that the international community has to unite in recognition of the threat: “Over time, people will realize what a threat this is and do something about it.”

He pointed to Iraq’s formerly embattled Anbar province, saying local leaders made a stand by teaming with the coalition to rid the region of al-Qaida.

“As nations around the world determine they’ve had enough, the same thing will happen globally,” Pace said. “But it will take time.”

Asked by a servicemember how the U.S. should define victory, given the ancient roots of terrorism, the chairman said it wouldn’t come via a “signing of a document.”

“That’s not what happens with terrorists,” Pace said. “It takes 10, 20, 30 years of focused effort to overcome whatever ideology or vector you’re dealing with. … You will not completely eliminate terrorism, but you can prevail against terrorism. That happens when people can live their lives the way they want to and not live in fear.

“I have zero doubt in my mind … that we are going to prevail in the end.”

Pace said Iranian influence in Iraq is a concern. U.S. troops are aggressively pursuing such elements as they engage in nightly raids against terror networks around the country, he added.

“We will capture or kill them as needed to do away with the threat to our U.S. forces,” he said.

Pace told the servicemembers at Yokota there’s a reason countries such as China, Korea and Taiwan aren’t grabbing headlines.

“That’s a credit to you and your efforts in this region,” he said. “I want to thank you for who you are and what you do every day.”

Pace, a Vietnam War veteran who turns 62 in November, has been either chairman or vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs for the past six years.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates had said he intended to nominate Pace for another two-year term as chairman. But leery of a hostile Senate confirmation hearing, he announced in early June that Pace would retire.

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chief of naval operations, was confirmed as Pace’s successor by the Senate on Aug. 3.

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