FTN – 3/30/03, Part I

Gen. Richard Myers AP/U.S. Military

BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent: Today on Face The Nation, General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the progress of the war. Will this war be decided by a battle for Baghdad? And did the coalition start the war with a force that was too small? These are the questions for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Myers.

We'll get reports from the field from our correspondents and from "New York Times" correspondent John Burns in Baghdad.

Former Navy Secretary James Webb and former Special Forces Officer Michael Vickers will discuss military strategy and Fouad Ajami, the long-time Middle East analyst for CBS News, will talk with us about the effect this war is having on other countries in the region.

David Martin of CBS News and Dana Priest of "The Washington Post" will be here, too, and I'll have a final word on the difference between political spin and information.

But, first, General Richard Myers, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Face the Nation.

ANNOUNCER: Face the Nation with CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer, and now from CBS News in Washington, Bob Schieffer.

SCHIEFFER: Good morning again. And, General Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top military man in the United States, is with us here in the studio this morning. David Martin, our CBS National Security Correspondent, will join in the questioning.

Well, General, a source sitting right across from you just reported that the 3rd Infantry Division may have begun the initial phases of the move on Baghdad. What can you tell us about that?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff: Well, I think this has to do with what some people have said -- we're now in an operational pause, and, in fact, what we putting continuous pressure on the enemy. Some units will be more active at certain times than other units. We've continued over all the days we've been engaged in Iraq. On the air campaign -- that's been continuous.

Ground forces have--they're fighting as well. And they'll continue to fight. We'll have to see when what people call the major push comes. That'll be up to the combatant commanders when they're ready. We're going to be very patient throughout all of this.

SCHIEFFER: David.

DAVID MARTIN, CBS News National Security Correspondent: Just to pin you down -- ground forces are, at this moment, fighting the Republican Guard.

MYERS: Well, sure, they are. They are in several ways. The ground forces, Apache helicopters are fighting the Republican Guard and have been, as you know, for several days. Our artillery, they'll have reconnaissance on reconnaissance units out locating and fighting the Republican Guard.

MARTIN: So armed reconnaissance units of the 3rd Infantry Division are out looking for the Republican Guard.

MYERS: We're going to keep the pressure on the Republican Guard -- just relentless pressure on it, and it'll be from ground and air and any other way we can do it. And we'll continue that.

MARTIN: So whenever the main push as you put it comes, it would seem to me that certainly the opening phases of the ground offensive against the Republican Guards has begun.

MYERS: Well, I don't think it has ever stopped. You know, the Republican Guard as they form a--basically a ring of defense around Baghdad, we have never let up. We've flown almost 1,000 sorties a day over Iraq -- air sorties, both Navy, Air Force and Army, and a huge percentage of those in the last few days, 40, 50 percent of those sorties today, I think even a higher percentage are going to be against those Republican Guard divisions. So the attack on the Republican Guard has really never ceased.

SCHIEFFER: Well, how would you assess the force as a whole? Has it been degraded by a third, by a quarter? Are they half as strong as they were at the beginning of this?

MYERS: You almost have to go Republican Guard division by Republican division because they are in different geographic locations. But the ones that are immediately facing United States units, I would say, clearly they are below 50 percent capability right now.

SCHIEFFER: Really? David.

MARTIN: So let's say you defeat the Republican Guards. You defeated them once in '91. It's a pretty good bet we're gonna defeat them again. Then what?

MYERS: Well, then what, we keep moving on the regime and their headquarters and the people that are going to be closest to them, wherever that takes us.

MARTIN: Well, it's gonna take you downtown Baghdad, isn't it?

MYERS: Well, that remains to be seen. I mean, that's clearly one of the places that the regime may decide to hole up, or, I mean, it's possible they could all run for their lives. One thing they know for sure, that not all forces are of the same loyalty to this regime. Those that are closest to Saddam and his higher echelon of leadership are the special security organization, the Special Republican Guards, these regime death squads that we've seen. Their only hope for survival is that this regime survives. They're gonna -- they know by now that this regime is not going to survive. That's my guess.

They know by now it's over for this regime. And so their only hope for survival is either to continue fighting, hoping beyond hope that they're going to be successful, or to start to melt away because there's nothing the citizens of Iraq, I think, would like better than to take some of these people on that have been the ones responsible for the torture, the rape and the abuse of this regime.

SCHIEFFER: Well, what about Saddam Hussein? Do you still believe that he's in charge now?

MYERS: It's really hard to tell. We have not seen Saddam Hussein or his sons alive yet on TV, live on TV. Everything we've seen, every message we've seen, has been taped. If the best the Iraqi regime can do is to put their information minister forward as the regime spokesman when coalition forces are 50 miles from Baghdad, when we are operating with impunity over the entire country, when we have control of the west, when we have -- we're operating out of several of their airfields, you would think that somebody a little bit higher in the regime would be out there talking about the situation.

SCHIEFFER: Well, do you believe at this point, General, that is there any coordination of these various Republican Guard units or are they operating on their own? Do you have any information that suggests there is some sort of a concerted plan that they're getting from somebody above them or is this just freelancing on each local commander's part?

MYERS: I think it is more than freelancing. I think you see some concerted movement by the Republican Guard. At least that's my read on it. That does not necessarily mean that Saddam or one of his two sons orchestrating that. It could certainly be a military leadership. But we see a thickening, a reinforcement of the divisions right across from our 3rd Infantry Division and so there's -- there's still some communications there. It's going to be to cut that off because they are very close to Baghdad. They can use couriers, other means to pass out their orders. And so we see there is still some control. How enthusiastically the Republican Guard will defend Baghdad and the regime remains to be seen.

MARTIN: Did you expect the fight in the south to be as tough as it has been?

MYERS: The way this whole plan was put together was to have maximum flexibility and adaptability. And we've talked about that before, David, but one of the bookends on this plan was let's be ready for catastrophic success. The other bookend was: This going to be a long, tough fight. Somewhere on that spectrum is probably where this will settle out and where you are in the country, it'll probably settle out.

The plan in the south has gone exactly as we planned it up to this point. One of the big objectives was to ensure we didn't have an environmental disaster with the oil fields down there. They're now in coalition hands and revenues will be at the disposal of the Iraqi people. The town of Basra and the -- we intended to bypass that, we intended to bring the British division in behind as the Marines went through, and we're working through that town right now.

I think as the people of Basra become less afraid of the death squads and the other folks that the regime has sent down to keep a gun at their heads so they will conduct the sort of atrocities that we've seen, that the majority of the population will come over to the coalition side and be glad to be rid of this regime and the torture and the oppression they've put on that population.

MARTIN: Are your supply lines secure right now?

MYERS: Yes, supply lines are secure. There is -- despite the harassment of the supply lines --despite the various acts that we've seen reported by the reporters that are embedded, I don't think there has been a militarily significant act on U.S. forces yet that would deter us from our objective or that has really, in fact, slowed us down.

MARTIN: And you can put up enough supplies not just to feed the troops but to support combat operations at the front?

MYERS: Oh, absolutely. Not a question. Like I said, we're now operating from their airfields. I don't know how long it will be before we have transport aircraft taking supplies into Iraq, into those airfields. As you know, we have A-10s and helicopters operating at an airfield close to An Nasiriyah. We will just continue to chomp away at that, to make progress, and supplies will not be a problem.

SCHIEFFER: General, a top Iraqi official -- I guess it was the information minister -- made it official. The Iraqis intend to use these suicide bombers. We saw this incident involving a taxi. Clearly they're now going to resort to guerrilla tactics. Is that going to change the way you deal with this in any way? Are we prepared to do that? And how will we deal with that?

MYERS: We are prepared to handle that. In that one incident when the taxi came forward, as I understand the incident, the taxi driver asked for help. As the American soldiers responded to the plea for help, then he exploded the taxicab. So we have to adjust our tactics techniques and procedures. We can do that. We can protect our forces from those kind of attacks. I would say that they're more harassment than they are, again, militarily significant. And we're just going to have to deal with them.

SCHIEFFER: I want to ask you about some of this criticism that we're hearing now from people within the Pentagon. "The Washington Post" this morning has a story that says at least a dozen generals are questioning the strategy. They're saying that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld meddled where he should not, that has overruled the military, that he's making military decisions that ought to be made by uniformed officers.

Now it's not -- I'm not so interested in -- in the fact that different people have different views of this. But I keep thinking back to the old saw that victory has 1,000 fathers, but defeat is usually an orphan. Why are -- if things are going well -- why are all these people criticizing? Generally if things are going well, everybody's trying to jump on the bag -- bandwagon and take credit for it. And we're seeing just the opposite here. What do you make of this?

MYERS: You know, it is very hard to understand because at the outset this plan was put together by General Franks and his component commanders, his air, land, sea, Marine, Special Forces component commanders. They're all happy with this plan. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have reviewed this plan on many occasions. We've been part of the iterative process that has given birth to this plan. The secretary has played a very valuable role as well. But in the end, it's a plan that General Franks had to stand up and say, `I'm satisfied with this plan,' and he is, and we are, and I just can't explain why people are sniping at it the way that it seems to be, at least inside Washington here...

SCHIEFFER: If you...

MYERS: Maybe it's a Washington phenomenon.

SCHIEFFER: If you did not agree with the secretary, what course of action would you have? You're the president's senior military adviser. Would you then talk to the president about it?

MYERS: As you mentioned, I'm the principal military adviser to...

SCHIEFFER: Yes.

MYERS: ...the President, the Secretary of Defense and the National Security Council. Certainly I have lots of opportunities to speak. I've been asked my opinion by the president directly; so have the other Joint Chiefs of Staff. We work with the secretary on this every day. We talk to General Franks every day on this on how the plan is going. And from our perspective, from General Franks' perspective, from his folks on the ground, the plan is going pretty much on track. We're pleased with the progress so far.

SCHIEFFER: You don't think the secretary has made decisions that ought to be made by the military?

MYERS: Absolutely not. There's not a -- he is, by the way, in the chain of command. I mean, it goes from the commander in chief, our president, to the Secretary of Defense directly to General Franks in the field. So he is in the chain of command. Every decision he makes, we have a chance to make our input -- that is, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We make our input into most of the decisions, in particular I -- myself or General Pete Pace are part of those decisions. And, you know, he's doing the right thing and we're doing the right thing.

SCHIEFFER: OK. Let's take a break here, and we'll come back and talk about this some more in a second.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCHIEFFER: Back now with General Myers.

General, this explosion in the marketplace in Baghdad. The Iraqis say it's one of our missiles. We say we don't know. Can you bring us up to date on what this is about?

MYERS: The investigation by Central Command is ongoing. We don't know yet how that's going to turn out. It's just one of those things that we'll have to track lots of different ways that might have happened, and see if any of them pan out to be something we can say yes or no. And so General Franks is working on that. He works on it every day, and...

SCHIEFFER: But as yet, you don't know.

MYERS: As yet we do not know.

SCHIEFFER: David.

MARTIN: Bring us up to date on the latest intelligence on whether or not the Republican Guards are preparing to use chemical weapons once we cross the so-called chemical red line around Baghdad.

MYERS: Well, we don't know. The short answer is we don't know if they'll use chemical weapons or not. We know they have the capability. We know that their artillery has the capability to deliver chemical weapons, possibly biological weapons. Their surface-to-surface missiles have that same capability. Their aircraft have that capability. So far their aircraft haven't been flying, but they certainly have that capability. That's why many of the targets from the air and from our own artillery are their artillery pieces, trying to take those out to lessen the impact if they decide to use chemical weapons, but it's just unknowable when they might decide to do that.

MARTIN: There are reports that they've been seen unloading big 50-gallon drums of chemicals of some sort at the front. Are those reports true?

MYERS: I've seen one report of that. I don't know what that means. I mean, we don't have enough information on the ground to know if -- what that means, if that's the potential chemical weapons or not. I can tell what you our commanders are thinking, though. They're going to be ready for the worst case, and the worst case is that they do employ chemical, perhaps biological weapons, so we have our detection units set up. We have our gear ready. We're trying to take out the delivery means and then we have treatment facilities close by so we can properly treat those that might be injured. So we're working through all that.

MARTIN: Our troops are in...

SCHIEFFER: What if -- I'm sorry, David. Go ahead.

MARTIN: Excuse me. Our troops are in their chemical protective suits. Are their troops wearing chemical protection?

MYERS: I don't know that I know that. I don't remember seeing reports on that. I do think I remember on the reports where the drums were being unloaded, they were in some kind of protective gear. I do know we found 3,000 protective suits in An Nasiriyah, new suits. When we found these regime death squads, Ba'ath Party leadership with 3,000 chemical suits. They know we don't -- the coalition does not have chemical weapons, biological weapons, so it raises the question, why were they there? We have found some suits in the north as well, so you know, this remains to be seen.

All I can say is that our commanders are going to be ready for whatever they're faced with.

SCHIEFFER: What about POWs? Are we satisfied they're being treated humanely?

MYERS: I don't think we are yet. We have over 4,000 enemy POWs, Iraqi POWs. We've allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit those. My understanding is they've been trying to do that with the prisoners that the Iraqis hold and we would hope they would do the honorable thing, the right they're required to do under the Geneva Convention.

SCHIEFFER: Do you have any idea how many of our people they're holding?

MYERS: Not at -- no, those numbers -- we have a number that we think they're holding. We also have a number of missing, so I don't think I can give you an exact number that they're actually holding.

SCHIEFFER: Do you have any information -- the secretary of Defense warned Syria about shipping equipment in to the Iraqi forces. Do we have any idea that that's still going on? Has it stopped? And what was the scope of that?

MYERS: Well, exact scope probably will never be known. We're using intelligence reports that talk about shipments of military equipment into Iraq and I think the secretary was putting Syria on notice that that is not very helpful at this point and to stop it. And of course it may be occurring by companies inside Syria that -- you never know how its done.

SCHIEFFER: Do have you any idea of whether they have taken his words seriously? Have they stopped, or is there any way to know?

MYERS: I think at this point, I don't think there's any way to know. We're just going to have to watch and see how that develops. We do have, essentially, control of western Iraq. We are on the major roads out there. We are on some of the off-road locations as well. We'll probably be able to tell how that's going, but it'll be over time.

MARTIN: One other thing you're doing is as you go into the country, you're searching all of these suspected weapons of mass destruction sites that you come across. Have you made any significant finds yet?

MYERS: None that I'm aware of. We have some documentation that we're examining to see what it says. We have at least one laptop computer from one of these sites that we're going to be examining as well. We did conduct a strike in northeastern Iraq, a site that was known to be producing at least poisons and that there was al Qaeda present. That site exploitation will probably take some time. It's a big site with lots of underground tunnels and facilities. Some estimate it make up a week to exploit that site. So we'll continue that.

It turns out that most of the chemical-biological sites that we're concerned with, where we think they might be hiding it or where they've made it are much closer to the Baghdad region. So I think it's going to take some more advance and for people to come forward and point out where these sites are.

SCHIEFFER: General, clearly we have gone in with the idea of we're going to liberate the Iraqi people from this regime and disarm Saddam. But at this point, when you see these television pictures, it appears that they think we're occupiers, not liberators. And even after we win this battle, and I think most people agree that it is only a matter of time until we do, it seems to me we're going to have a real problem convincing the Iraqi people that we're there to help. We're not there to rule them. How do we go about doing that?

MYERS: Well, it is clear that we're there to liberate them. We do not want to be occupiers. We want to get out as soon as we can. And we want the Iraqi people to be governed by Iraqis. We want them to maintain the territorial integrity of the country of Iraq. We want to ensure that there's no serious ethnic or factional infighting. We also want to make sure that we secure all the weapons of mass destruction sites that deal with those appropriately.

I think what we're seeing right now, more than anything else, is the population afraid to come forward, afraid to say, `Yeah, we're on your side, Coalition,' because there are still elements of these very fanatical groups that align themselves with Saddam's regime, that their whole legitimacy is tied to that regime being in power. Once it's clear, the regime is gone forever, these folks are either going to fade or they're going to be treated appropriately by the population that they've been torturing and oppressing for all these years. So I think it's a matter of time, in my opinion, before that happens, but I think that's what you're seeing. I think there's a lot of fear in the population with good cause because they've killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

SCHIEFFER: The secretary of Defense said this morning that he believes the worst fighting is still ahead. What do you think he means by that?

MYERS: Well, I think he means that it's not a linear equation here on this battlefield. We did think that the toughest fighting would be the Republican Guard divisions that are now arrayed around Baghdad. We've always thought that. The toughest fighting is yet to come.

We've been through the easier parts with the regular army divisions and so forth. And despite the harassing tactics, whether they be suicide bombers or these death squads that are taking shots at us along the lines of communications and inside some of the cities, they're being dealt with, by the way, quite effectively by our British friends in Basra, by the Marines in An Nasiriyah -- in both cases, U.S. Special Forces helping them do that. In both cases indigenous personnel, people that live there, coming forward to say, `Yes, that's the Ba'ath headquarters. Yes, that's where these folks are hanging out,' so we can then target them, so...

SCHIEFFER: So should we prepare ourselves for street-to-street, house-to-house fighting?

MYERS: Well, I think it's way -- I don't think that's what the secretary was referring to. I did not hear his remarks, but I think as we make our way and have big engagements, major battles with the Republican Guard, that'll be tougher than anything I think we've seen to date -- at least that's what we expect. And we don't know how it's going to turn out in Baghdad. I think it's way to early to start speculating on that.

MARTIN: Before the war started, the secretary of Defense said, `It could be six days. It could be six weeks, but I don't think it'll be six months.' We obviously haven't made six days. Is there a chance that we can make six weeks?

MYERS: David, I don't know. I think war is a chaotic event. It's not a science. There's a lot of art to this. I think we're seeing this art done beautifully by General Franks and his commanders and we're just not going to be on a time line. I mean, there is not a time line that defines this war. We're going to let events shape our action.

And I'll just go back to my earlier comment. We can afford to be patient. We're the powerful force in the country. We've got most of the country. We can afford to be patient. We're not going to commit our sons and daughters to battle until the odds are distinctly in our favor at a time and place of our choosing. Then we'll take the fight to the enemy.

Now, having said that, we're taking the fight to them every day, but I'm talking about major battles.

SCHIEFFER: And you believe we have enough people there now to do this job.

MYERS: Absolutely. Let me talk about that for just a minute. The forces that General Franks requested -- there have been forces flowing into that region consistently. We put somewhere around 1,500 to 2,500 a day inside Iraq, that they just keep flowing in and different forces. Just the other day, we put the 82nd Division, some of their forces, in. They continue to flow. We have Marines of the 24th MIU working as well. Those forces that are entrain have been there--have been entrained for months. They're coming in on schedule.

SCHIEFFER: All right. Thank you very much, General.

We'll be back in just a moment.

MYERS: Thank you, Bob.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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