Military Update: Myers: Global war will force shifts
September 6, 2003
The demand for U.S. forces in Iraq and other battlefronts in the global war on terrorism likely will require a drawdown of troops elsewhere, and that might include Bosnia, Kosovo, the Sinai Peninsula, even Iceland, says Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In an interview, Myers said making Iraq safe for democracy is “the most important thing we’re doing right now,” which means other missions, including peacekeeping in the Balkans, are not as important. It may be time for European nations to assume a bigger role there, Myers said.
Keeping significant numbers of U.S. troops there and at Cold War bases like those in Iceland made sense in the 20th century but perhaps does not in the 21st century, he said, “given the new security environment” and the strain on U.S. forces from missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In recent war games, Myers said, “most of the Joint Chiefs weren’t happy with a couple” of assumptions on worldwide commitments. They agree U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan is critical. What needs to change then, he said, is “our posture in the rest of the world.”
“We’re still in Bosnia. We’re still in Kosovo. Should we be there? Should the Europeans pick up more of that?” Myers asked. “… We’re in many places, in numbers, that perhaps we don’t need to be in.”
The Joint Chiefs are studying “how we can change our … global force presence policy,” he said.
A shift of deployed forces is just a partial solution for easing the operational strain on active and Reserve components. Another is encouraging wider international involvement in Iraq, a move Myers strongly supports.
A Polish-led division replaced U.S. Marines in south-central Iraq on Sept. 3. British forces remain in the south. A third division, of additional coalition forces, is planned, led by Turkey, Pakistan or another nation with an experienced brigade.
Finally, Myers said, “the Iraqis need to take a bigger share of this load — and they are.” More than 50,000 have been trained and armed to provide site protection and conduct presence patrols.
Myers said he believes conditions in Iraq will improve steadily and the challenge to force rotations will ease. If conditions worsen, then “heel-to-toe” troop rotations, with a “fairly short time home,” are possible, he said.
From his visits to the region, Myers said he knows that troops in Iraq and Afghanistan “get a lot of satisfaction off of what they are doing.” They understand the importance of the mission and enjoy working the Afghan and Iraqi people.
But the Joint Chiefs do worry about the impact of Iraq on active and reserve components, including recruiting and retention numbers. More immediate concerns are with force protection and quality of life. It will be November, for example, before all U.S. soldiers have the most effective body armor. And about 30 percent of soldiers must sleep in the heat of Iraq without air conditioning.
The “end game” for the U.S. military in Iraq, Myers said, is tied not only to the security challenge but to political and economic conditions.
“We do not want to wind up in Iraq like we wound up in Bosnia — eight years after the conflict with U.S. troops … still in there because the civil implementation piece hasn’t gone as far as it should,” Myers said.
What gives him confidence that won’t occur, he said, is ambassador L. Paul Bremer, who directs the reconstruction and is “pushing on all these fronts.”
Military people understand they’re in a global war on terrorism, even if many other Americans don’t because they haven’t been asked to make sacrifices yet, Myers said. The troops also understand it’s a fight America can’t afford to lose, he added.
“International terrorism, left alone, has the potential to destroy our way of life,” said Myers. “To me, it’s that simple.”