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14 August 2003

Myers: Military Transformation Is Imperative to Meet Terror Threat

Portable surface-to-air missile threat worries Pentagon leaders

By Jacquelyn S. Porth
Washington File Staff Security Affairs Writer

Washington -- Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Richard Myers says transformation of the U.S. military is "imperative" to meet the ever-present threat of terrorism.

Describing terrorism as "the most serious threat in our nation's history," the Air Force General told employees at an August 14 Pentagon Town Meeting that transformation is not so much about technology "as it is the way we think."

Myers said that more focus and energy must be placed on reexamining how intelligence is collected and shared, how the military is organized and equipped, the interaction between the military services and government agencies, and how tactics are employed. He pointed to the positive example of Colombia, where the United States helped train the Colombian military in intelligence collection and conducting counter-terrorist operations.

While there have been successes against al-Qaeda and other groups, Myers warned that the global war against terrorism is "far from over." He said American society and free societies everywhere have not been under threat as they are now "probably since World War II." As terrorists target the fundamental values of free and open societies, he added, "we've got to change and adapt" to the threat.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who also addressed the meeting, said terrorists are organized to attack U.S. interests at any identifiable points of weakness. He said the United States must have capabilities across the spectrum of possibilities to deter attacks by future adversaries.

The secretary said "we have to be even more successful in the ... war of ideas," which means encouraging countries where terrorist training is under way to stop it and eliminate funding for it. This means putting a stop to "the people who are encouraging it, to stop the people who are so fearful of it for themselves that they're afraid to do anything about it, to give them courage and ...encouragement," Rumsfeld said. The world will be a terrible place, he warned, if the terrorists win.

Myers said the enemy is "very adaptive," and Rumsfeld noted that in Iraq U.S. soldiers supporting supply lines are being attacked as softer and, hence, easier targets than those out on patrol. Rumsfeld said he and Myers had spoken on the telephone earlier in the day with the commander of the U.S. Central Command, Army General John Abizaid, and Coalition Ground Force Commander (in Iraq) Army Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez about the problem of attacks against these "easier targets." Both commanders are taking measures to address the problem, the secretary said.

The Pentagon leaders were also asked about the problem of protecting commercial airlines against MANPADS, or man-portable surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). Jane's Information Group reports that more than two dozen terrorist or guerrilla groups are equipped with MANPADS.

Myers said the threat from MANPADS has existed for several decades, and there have been some three dozen attempts -- some of them successful while others were not -- to shoot down various kinds of aircraft. This is a worrisome threat, he said.

The JCS chairman recently returned from a trip to South and Central America, where he visited El Salvador, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Nicaragua. He said that Nicaragua has some 2,000 SA-7 and newer SAMs, but it has agreed to destroy them. Meanwhile, he noted, the U.S. helped the Nicaraguans secure the missiles so they would not end up in the wrong hands.

There are also plenty of SAMs in Iraq, according to Myers. It is important to "scoop them up so they don't wind up on the black market in the hands of terrorists," he said.

Rumsfeld also was asked about the problem of opium production in Afghanistan, which he described as "a demand problem." The ultimate solution involves attacking the problem in multiple directions, he said, on the supply and demand sides as well as through education.

He acknowledged that "a vicious cycle" is under way because there are plenty of people who want the opium and have the money to buy it or will steal to pay for it. If demand is suppressed in one country, the secretary said, it then pops up in another. "You push it down in four countries," Rumsfeld said, causing the price to rise, and thereby driving people to take greater risks and buy protection to ensure safe transportation of the opium to locations in Europe and elsewhere. The secretary acknowledged that finding a solution is "an awfully tough problem."