Transcript: Myers Says U.S. Nuclear Review Lists Deterrence Options
(Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman interviewed on CNN) (3880)
10 March 2002
The Defense Department's Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) is not an
operational plan, but rather is a policy document that outlines the
U.S. deterrence posture, of which nuclear weapons are a part, says
General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Responding to a question concerning news articles about the NPR, Myers
told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in a March 10 interview that the document
preserves for the president "all the options that [he] would want to
have in case this country or our friends and allies were attacked with
weapons of mass destruction, be they nuclear, biological, chemical, or
for that matter high explosives."
"It's been the policy of this country for a long time," he added,
"that the president would always reserve the right up to and including
the use of nuclear weapons if that was appropriate. So that continues
to be the policy."
Asked where he believes the war on terrorism will be in six months,
Myers said that nobody can know for certain, but "you can envision
that our major effort in Afghanistan might be over," and the U.S.
military "will probably be in the middle of helping train an Afghan
He added, however, that the United States will "still be actively
engaged" in rooting out terrorist organizations around the world, and
the effort "may not be all military."
The transcript of General Myers' interview follows:
U.S. Department of Defense News Briefing
Gen. Richard B. Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
March 10, 2002
(Interview with Wolf Blitzer, CNN Late Edition)
Blitzer: And joining us now for some additional insight into the war
in Afghanistan, the nuclear issue of warfare, and other issues, is
chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard
Myers. Thanks for joining us. Welcome to Late Edition.
Myers: Thanks, Wolf.
Blitzer: Let's, first of all, talk about Operation Anaconda, the U.S.
military campaign in Eastern Afghanistan, is all but over?
Myers: I think it's too early to say that. Campaigns like this take
some time, and I think we have to be prepared for whatever it takes.
We are not event driven, or time line driven. We're event driven. And
so, when the area is cleared of al Qaeda and Taliban, we'll be
Question: So where specifically does it stand right now? Because we've
been hearing reports that U.S. troops are withdrawing from the area
around which Operation Anaconda has been unfolding.
Myers: I think some of those troops that are withdrawing are actually
going to rearm and refit themselves, and perhaps go back into the area
to finish the job. There are certainly still pockets of Taliban and al
Qaeda there that we need to finish our job on, and so it will take
Q: How big are these pockets? How many al Qaeda and associated
fighters are believed to be in that pocket or the box, as some of your
colleagues at the Pentagon call it?
Myers: I think we'll have to wait and see when it finally all sorts
out. Because before we went in there, we heard everywhere from 200 to
several thousand. We think there were hundreds. And what's left, we
think, is a small part of that, but it's still going to take some time
to figure that out. We think that they are in smaller pockets now, not
large concentrations. We're going to have to go in and do the hard
work to root them out.
Q: Are you still convinced these are what you call deadenders, people
willing to fight to the death as opposed to some who might be willing
Myers: Well, sure, they have the option, they can surrender if they
wish. But so far we haven't seen any willing to do that.
Q: Are your allies, some warlords, working with the U.S. in that area
seeking some sort of quiet to convince them to surrender?
Myers: Sure. I think we're all working together as one plan, and we do
appreciate the support we've gotten from our Afghan allies in this
Q: So, you're suggesting there might still be a possibility of some
surrender as opposed to fighting to the death?
Myers: Sure. And, of course, one of the reasons we want to go in here
is not just to eradicate the Taliban and the al Qaeda, but also to
gain information, and information that might have impact on future
operations somewhere around this world, and so we'd like some of them
to surrender so we can get our hands on them and interrogate them.
Q: There have been some suggestions the U.S. underestimated the
ferocity, the degree of resistance that would be encountered in this
area going into Operation Anaconda. Did you?
Myers: In my view, no, I was over there three weeks ago, I talked to
the commander, General Buster Hagenbeck who was the one that planned
and led this effort. I don't think there was any doubt in his mind
that this was going to be a tough fight, we're fighting in tough
conditions. The good news is, we were prepared for those conditions.
We heard estimates of between 200 and several thousand fighters, we
were prepared for those contingencies, and so, no, I think it went
pretty much as scripted.
Q: You probably saw the article in the New York Times quoting some
wounded U.S. military personnel who were brought to Germany suggesting
they were surprised. Let me quote from Army Specialist Wayne Stanton,
an injured U.S. soldier: "We could hear them laughing at us. We could
hear them laughing when we tried to shoot at them." And elsewhere he
says, "We were fighting in their backyard. We were not used to it.
They knew every crevice, every cubbyhole, every cave." Army Specialist
Wayne Stanton suggests that he, at least, and some of his colleagues
who said similar things in that New York Times article, were not
briefed to the extent of the resistance that they would encounter.
Myers: I think Wayne's comments there were consistent with what we
were told, it was going to be a tough fight. There should have been no
doubt about that. We are in their backyard, they know the territory
better than we did at the time because they'd been in there operating
for some time. And this is an area that they had mapped out. Thank
goodness for the bravery of those soldiers that we were able to take
the fight to the enemy and be successful here.
Q: Some have suggested that there should have been greater use of air
power before the troops went in on the ground to soften it up, and
that you missed an opportunity there, presumably, that might have
prevented some of these casualties.
Myers: I think like the rest of the campaign in Afghanistan, this has
been a campaign where all the services, and all the things that all
the services can bring to bear, our joint war fighting, was done
extremely well. And I think this was another case of that. I'm not
going to get into the tactical decision making that General Franks and
his subordinate commanders get into, because it's their call. They're
on the scene, they were there in the planning, they were there in the
execution. They saw how it developed, and I'm just not going to get
into it. I think we used air power very well. We used our ground
forces very well. We used our partners and allies very well. And we
used the Afghan forces very well.
Q: But looking back, with hindsight, obviously everyone is smarter
with hindsight, would it have been smart a few more days of bombings
before you sent in the ground forces?
Myers: Well, listen, Wolf, this is combat, and that's what our folks
are in there doing. They were waging combat with a very tenacious
enemy, and I think they did a brilliant job, and that does not mean
that we're going to do it without casualties, those aren't going to be
setbacks. We're prepared for that, we know that's a real possibility.
And we just have to steel ourselves. This is so important that we do
this, and do it right, and eradicate the Taliban and al Qaeda from
Afghanistan, for that matter, around the world.
Q: Correct me if I'm wrong, Operation Anaconda did appear, at least to
those of us watching it from afar, to represent a shift in U.S.
strategy. Earlier in the war, in October and November, the U.S. did
the air strikes, the allied forces, the Northern Alliance, and others,
got in on the ground, and did most of the ground attacks. Now, it was
the U.S. basically doing everything.
Myers: Well, I think that's a little bit of an overstatement. We
certainly had a major role in the direct action in the immediate
objective area, but the Afghan forces, part of them were the initial
force in there to force the Taliban and al Qaeda to react. So, I think
it's more than just U.S. forces. This, we relied heavily on upwards of
a thousand Afghan fighters in this particular campaign.
Q: These are fighters dispatched by Hamid Karzai's government?
Myers: In some cases they have been, in some cases they're other
leaders in the area that volunteered, were inspired to help us.
Q: When I interviewed the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Friday
appeared to show a grudging admiration for the level of combat ability
of these al Qaeda fighters. Listen to what he said.
Rumsfeld (from video): They do have a very large cache of supplies and
weapons and ammunition inside those caves and tunnels, so they're not
without ammunition and food or water. They're well supplied, and well
disciplined. These are very well trained fighters. These are hard,
deadenders, these are hard line types.
Q: Well-trained, well-disciplined deadenders, meaning they're willing
to fight to the end. Are these the best, the elite of the al Qaeda
Myers: Well, it's hard to know, but we know that Afghanistan provided
the al Qaeda the opportunity to train, to work out their command and
control, every bit of information that I have is exactly as the
Secretary said. These were tactically proficient fighters. The fact
they're willing to die for their cause is also important. So, they are
-- but we knew that going into this. We knew they would be very, very
good. We're playing -- we're connecting combat on their territory,
it's much more difficult that way.
Q: Does it suggest, though, as some analysts have suggested, that
they're protecting something or someone, they're fighting to a degree
that they have some big time al Qaeda leaders, perhaps, within their
little area that they're trying to protect. The speculation, of
course, being Osama bin Laden.
Myers: I really can't -- we can't say at this point. We'll know as we
go in and clear out these few remaining pockets, and then try to
gather evidence. We also want evidence on what else they're hiding
there, if they're hiding any information on their potential interest
in weapons of mass destruction. So we'll be looking for all sorts of
intelligence clues as we go into the area, but I can't say in terms of
their vigor, their fighting, whether or not they're harboring some of
the bigger leaders in the al Qaeda.
Q: There's no indication that Osama bin Laden or his top lieutenants
may be in that area?
Myers: Well, there's no indication that they are or aren't. And one of
the problems we have, since we don't know where Osama bin Laden is, is
if we don't know where he is, we certainly can't say he is or isn't in
there. So, we'll just have to wait and see.
Q: And when you say they may be protecting not just individuals but
some information, information that they may have about their own
military or terrorist capabilities?
Myers: Certainly. We have found through interrogations, through
material that we have found at other locations that we have been into,
we've been able to put together a pretty good picture, and the picture
is of their operation, of their net, of the people involved, of some
of the -- where they get their resources, also their great interest in
weapons of mass destruction.
Q: Do you have any idea where Osama bin Laden is?
Myers: As I said before, no, we don't.
Q: No idea whatsoever?
Myers: We have best estimates from our intelligence community.
Q: That he is still alive, for example?
Myers: We think so.
Q: And that he may be in the eastern part of Afghanistan?
Myers: And that is -- a lot of people point to that, yes.
Q: And if he's there, presumably, he's got some protection. Those
caves must be very elaborate.
Myers: Oh, they are very elaborate, and as we're finding out more and
more about their structure, they're very, very elaborate. Whether he's
in that area or in another area, that whole area of Eastern
Afghanistan up against Pakistan is very, very rugged territory. The
line on the map is just a line on a map. As you fly over it, as I did
a couple of weeks ago, there are no lines. And so you can ebb and flow
through that territory as you wish, and you find people that want to
support you, and my guess is that bin Laden is moving fairly
Q: Right. General, standby, we have a lot more to talk about.
When we come back, I'll ask General Myers what's next in the U.S. war
on terrorism. We'll continue our conversation with the chairman of the
U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff when Late Edition returns.
Q: Welcome back to Late Edition, we're continuing our conversation
with the chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, General
Any more Operation Anacondas in Afghanistan in the works right now?
Myers: Probably, there are. To give that interim administration in
Afghanistan the best chance of succeeding, we've got to do our best to
deal with the remaining pockets of Taliban and al Qaeda, and so we'll
be prepared to do that.
Q: And where specifically in the country do you think those are most
likely to be directed.
Myers: I have just seen a map that intel[ligence] produced on that
very subject, and quite widely dispersed. And depending on the numbers
you get into, of course, we'd be looking for significant pockets. But,
in the end we've got to train Afghan forces to deal with these pockets
themselves. And that's another thing we're engaged in is helping train
and perhaps equip an Afghan national army.
Q: But, just to repeat, you don't want the U.S. military to
participate in the international peacekeeping force that's currently
led by the British and the Turks?
Myers: Well, it's not a question of wanting one or the other. We think
we're best used, U.S. forces are best used in something we do very
well, which is training. And so we will be involved, and have been
asked by the government, the interim administration in Afghanistan, to
train an Afghan national army. And that's where we'll focus. The U.K.
is leading the effort in the interim security assistance force. That
will be turned over perhaps to another lead nation here in the next
few months. And we'll support it as we have with some logistics and
with a few liaison personnel.
Q: And will you support allowing them to go beyond Kabul, to take
their international peacekeepers to other parts of Afghanistan?
Myers: Again, I don't think that's something for the U.S. to allow.
That will be something that will be discussed. It's a policy matter,
it's outside my realm, really. I've got to stay inside my railroad
tracks here. But, we think we've worked very effectively with this
ISAF [International Security Assistance Force], as we call it, up to
now, and we would anticipate we do so in the future.
Q: Let's talk about the next stages in the military campaign, beyond
Afghanistan. As you know, the vice president Dick Cheney left today
for a trip to the Middle East. A lot of speculation that he wants to
generate support for a U.S. strike against Saddam Hussein, a regime
change, as they call it, getting rid of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. Is
the U.S. military prepared for that kind of contingency should the
president order you to do so?
Myers: As I've said before, the U.S. military is prepared for any
contingency that the commander in chief asks of us. And so without
getting specific, we are prepared. Let me just say a couple of things.
On the war on terrorism, of course, the goal is to do away with
international terrorist organizations, those who harbor them, and to
keep weapons of mass destruction from falling into the hands of
terrorist groups. This is something we're working very hard, as you
know, we have a training and equipped team in the Philippines to help
with the Abu Sayyaf group which, by the way, has a couple of Americans
among its hostages. We are looking at going to a couple of other
countries in terms of training, as well, to be decided yet, but there
are a couple that we're looking at.
Q: Specifically, the Republic of Georgia, the former Soviet Republic
of Georgia, and Yemen?
Myers: Quite possibly, but the decisions have to be made on that front
Q: Getting back to Iraq, if the president orders you to take military
action, is the Pentagon thinking about a relatively modest military
campaign, or hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops, as was the case
more than a decade ago during the Gulf War?
Myers: Every potential situation is different, I don't want to get
into hypotheticals here, and I'm not going to discuss our tactics, I
don't think, on a program as widely watched as yours, Wolf. As you
know, Iraq and North Korea were part of our two major theater war
contingencies before. We have plans, we'll be updating those plans,
that's something we do in the normal course of events. And we'll try
to be as prudent as possible in the use of our resources.
Q: As you know, the Los Angeles Times yesterday, the New York Times
today, lengthy articles about this new military posture, using nuclear
weapons in certain contingencies, it's called a nuclear posture review
that has just been released. It specifically mentions seven countries
that potentially might draw U.S. nuclear action if necessary, China,
Russia, Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Libya, and Syria. That is generating
alarm bells around the world. Give us your perspective, what it would
mean for the U.S. to launch military strikes against any of those
Myers: My perspective will be this, in the headline as we talked about
this about 15 minutes ago on your show, it was referred to as a plan.
In fact, it is the Nuclear Posture Review as required by Congress. So
it's not a plan, it's not an operational plan. It's a policy document.
And it simply states our deterrence posture, of which nuclear weapons
are a part. In addition, it goes a lot further, some of things not
covered in the articles I think are really innovative. It talks about
a new triad, that has not only nuclear weapons in it, but also
conventional weapons, that has missile defenses in it, that has
infrastructure implications, and it has underlying all that is better
intelligence, so we can better know what's going on out there in the
world. Q: As you know, five of those countries are not nuclear powers,
at least not as far as the United States knows. China and Russia are,
but Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Libya, Syria are not, and they're, in
fact, signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The New
York Times wrote today, significantly, all of those countries have
signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Washington has promised
that it will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states
that have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, unless those
countries attack the United States or its allies in alliance with a
nuclear weapon state. So what does that say about breaking, in effect
-- would the U.S. have to break its own acceptance of the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty if it were to launch preemptive strikes using
nuclear weapons against one of those five states?
Myers: Let me put it this way, this is, again, not a plan. This
preserves for the president all the options that a president would
want to have in case this country or our friends and allies were
attacked with weapons of mass destruction, be they nuclear,
biological, chemical, or for that matter high explosives. And it's
been the policy of this country for a long time, as long as I've been
a senior officer, that the president would always reserve the right up
to and including the use of nuclear weapons if that was appropriate.
So that continues to be the policy.
Let me just say also, the whole discussion here is about deterrence,
why we have a military, why we have nuclear forces is all about
deterrence. And we certainly hope to deter other actors in this world
from taking steps with weapons of mass destruction that could have
devastating affects on our population and the population of our
friends and allies.
Q: Tomorrow will be six months since the September 11th attacks. I was
over at the Pentagon on Friday, saw the reconstruction which has been
going more quickly than earlier envisaged. As you look back on those
past six months, take a look at the military campaign, where do you
believe six months from now, the Pentagon, the U.S. military will be
in this war on terrorism?
Myers: One of the things the president said early on, and that I think
we all certainly agree with is this is going to be a very long
campaign. And six months from now you can envision, and nobody can
know for certain, but you can envision that our major effort in
Afghanistan might be over. That we will probably be in the middle of
helping train an Afghan national army. But, there is lots of work to
do in terms of rooting out terrorist organizations around the world.
So we're going to still be actively engaged, and it may not be all
military. We've talked a lot about that today, because that's the role
that I represent. But, on the diplomatic front, on the civil law
enforcement front, intel[ligence] sharing, information sharing, all
the good work that's going on, that work is going on 24 hours a day,
seven days a week, every day of this year.
Q: General Myers, thanks for joining us.
Myers: Thank you, Wolf.
Q: Appreciate it very much.
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