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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 March, 2003, 12:11 GMT 13:11 UK
Good progress in Iraq war
General Richard Myers
General Richard Myers

Breakfast With Frost Interview with General Richard Myers, Chairman, Joint Chiefs Of Staff, Sunday 30 March 2003

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: The political and military leaders of the campaign in Iraq insist, as we have heard a lot, that it's going according to plan, despite the criticism of their war strategy and the fears that the coalition forces are getting bogged down.

Now one of the key architects of that operation is the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, American's most senior general, Richard Myers, in the role that Colin Powell had in the previous Gulf War.

I spoke to General Myers earlier - the first interview he's done for any British media since the war started - and I began by asking about yesterday's suicide attack on American soldiers, it's yet another hazard for the allied troops to deal with.

GENERAL MYERS: Well it's not a technique, I don't think that's unknown. Clearly British troops are familiar with that, with what they've been dealing with in the last couple of decades in various parts of the world, we're familiar with that.

I think we can adjust our tactics and our techniques and the procedures we use to overcome that threat. It's just a reminder that there are some very desperate people out there and we've got to be on our toes.

DAVID FROST: If you had to summarise the overall position after ten days, what would you say? Some good progress but not going entirely according to plan?

GENERAL MYERS: Sir David what I would say is, first of all, no plan no matter how good, how brilliant, survives the first contact with the enemy - that's an old adage in military planning and it's true today just as it has been in the past.

I would say, if you look at it from the strategic level of military, the strategic military level, that the things that pop out to me are, one is the plan has prevented so far from any Scuds being fired into neighbouring countries, Jordan and Israel; that the majority of the southern oil fields are under coalition control so that we didn't experience the environmental disaster that was certainly possible; that there's has been no mass humanitarian refugee, refugee flow, let me say, no humanitarian crisis at this point and we're postured to provide humanitarian aid and medical aid where it's needed.

DAVID FROST: We've all heard that remark by the senior US army commander in Iraq, Lt. General William Wallace, who said "The army we're fighting is different from the one we'd war-gamed against." The Iraqis are fighting better than anticipated, aren't they?

GENERAL MYERS: Certainly the tenacity, the audacity, the ferociousness of the, what we're calling the regime death squads, has been, has had, in terms of an overall strategic military impact, not much of an impact, certainly it's been harassment that has to be dealt with and is being dealt with very effectively by US and British forces.

In fact, if I can just divert just a minute and talk about the way the British forces are handling the situation in Basra, I think it's been absolutely magnificent, the way they've worked that situation.

Here you have people that are, you know, their very, their very fabric of their existence is dominated by the fact that they've been exploited and tortured and brutalised by this regime and they're afraid to come forward right now and the way the British troops are working with them and our special forces to eradicate the Ba'ath Party personnel that still hold guns to their heads, the, these death squads that are in fact executing people if they don't support the regime, the way that's been handled in the Basra area is absolutely magnificent.

DAVID FROST: It's clear from the briefings we've had in the last day or so, that the American and British publics have got to be prepared for this war now to last months rather than weeks.

GENERAL MYERS: Sir David, I'm not going to make a prediction in terms of how long the, this conflict will last. Certainly it's got to last long enough to disarm Iraq and I think everybody agrees with that, including, at least to some degree, the UN when they issued of course 1441, and also to remove the regime that oppresses its people.

So it's going to be event-oriented. I don't know how long it's going to last. I've always said that the toughest part is yet to come, that it will not be linear in terms of how tough the fight is, so I would think the toughest fighting is ahead of us. Y

you never know, regimes like this, that have their power base in fear and intimidation, tend to topple fairly quickly when it's pretty apparent that they're no longer going to be around. And I can assure people that the end of this, the result, the conclusion, is never going to be in doubt.

The Iraqi regime will be out of power, we will disarm them from their weapons of mass destruction and I, I think you just can't predict when it, or when the regime will tip.

DAVID FROST: Everyone expects the toughest fighting of all to be in Baghdad. If it comes to urban warfare, how does the coalition make it's technical superiority tell?

GENERAL MYERS: I can assure you that US forces have leaned heavily on our UK counterparts who have a lot of experience in this area and I just, I just don't think I can get into the operational pieces of it. We're going to bring everything to bear there.

The one thing that we have on our side and that we're already using, and that is patience. With the outcome never in doubt, we can afford to take our time and set the conditions on the battlefield, wherever that battlefield is.

The Republican Guard divisions now arrayed south of Baghdad or whatever those conditions are in Baghdad proper, we're going to be able to take the time we need to set the conditions so that we do a couple of things - we spare Iraqi civilians from harm, and of course that's been one of our principles right along, and second that we don't put the England's, or the United States, our blood and treasure, our men and women, in harm's way in an unnecessary way.

DAVID FROST: It's been said by some that because of the need to win Iraqi hearts and minds that you're having to fight this war with one hand tied behind your back, as it were.

That if you could go at it with full strength you could finish it much quicker - no more Mr nice guy. Do your men feel that?

GENERAL MYERS: I think it's inherent upon great powers to exercise restraint. Clearly we're trying to follow the laws of armed conflict, clearly we're trying to follow the Geneva convention.

There may be things we could do - I doubt it - that hasten the end, but we've got to be very, very careful. We've said from the outset, this is not a war against the Iraqi people, in fact it's just the opposite, it's the liberation of the Iraqi people. We don't want to occupy Iraq.

We have the moral upper hand here and that's how we keep the moral upper hand. And as long as we can be patient and not put our people in harm's way, unnecessarily, then I think we're on the right track.

DAVID FROST: Why haven't the predictions of mass surrender by the Iraqi army and civilians coming out to welcome the liberators with garlands of flowers - why haven't these predictions come true?

GENERAL MYERS: Until they are absolutely certain that there is no hope for this regime to survive, I think they're going to be very cautious. I certainly would, would be very cautious as well.

And it's going to, it will probably take a little bit more time before, to them, they see that the end is purely in sight for that regime.

It's clear to me now, and I think it's clear to our military force and it's certainly clear from what the Prime Minister has said and what our President has said, that the outcome is not in doubt.

That victory is certain, that this regime, we will not stop until this regime is removed from power and until we get control of those weapons of mass destruction and deal with them appropriately. But it maybe some time before some of the people that have been so abused by this regime believe that.

DAVID FROST: Something which I know is particularly upsetting for people in the military are these friendly fire incidents. Can any more be done to prevent them? Or are they an inevitable part of war?

GENERAL MYERS: I hope it's not an inevitable part of war. It's the absolute saddest tragedy that any of us can experience and I regret the lives of the crew of the Tornado that was engaged by the Patriot system and I think we've had another friendly fire incident since then and there's, there's simply no excuse for that.

We clearly have clinical means to prevent that, we have techniques, procedures and tactics to help prevent that. I suppose in the, in the middle of war which is a, by nature, a very chaotic event and at certain times on the battlefield, that those things happen.

But I don't, I don't ever accept that they're inevitable and I don't think we should ever stop trying to find means to prevent that from happening.

And certainly my heart and the hearts of our joint chiefs of staff go out to those in the British forces who have been harmed in this way.

DAVID FROST: You talked about patience being a vital quality for the military. Do you think the American and British public have the patience to see it through?

GENERAL MYERS: First of all, let me start by saying how much we in the military appreciate having our closest ally with us in this endeavour.

I can't tell you what a difference that makes and it makes a difference on the battlefield, it makes a difference when we're planning, I think it makes a difference every time I go to bed at night knowing that we have a stanch ally like Britain, solidly with us in this and sharing the risk and trying to do what's right for not only the region but the world in terms of weapons of mass destruction falling, falling in terrorist hands.

I think, I can't speak for the British people because I just, just not quite as knowledgeable about what's being said over there, but I can tell you I think in American people's minds, I think they, they will want us to be patient.

That's what a great power does, they would want their military commander to operate with deliberateness, to be careful, to try to prevent civilian casualties and to take on the enemy when we're ready to take on the enemy. And I don't, I don't think it could be much different there where you are, but it might be.

DAVID FROST: General Myers, we thank you very much.

GENERAL MYERS: Sir David, could I just mention one other thing. I'd just like to reiterate my deepest sympathy for the families involved of those who have been lost in this conflict so far.

We honour their bravery and their courage and particularly great sadness for those that have been killed by friendly fire, in this case United States friendly fire.

I don't think we have to live with situations like that and one of my jobs has to be to ensure that we get the resources and the technical means to ensure that in the future this never happens again. And that will be, that will be my quest. And again, thank you Sir David.

DAVID FROST: And our thanks to the general there.



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