By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, July 18, 2007 – The war on terrorism is going to last at least another 20 to 30 years, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told American servicemembers based here today. (Video)
Marine Gen. Peter Pace is visiting the U.S. Central Command area, and during his stop here he held a town hall meeting with about 600 servicemembers.
In answer to a question, the chairman said the war on terror will last decades, but that doesn’t mean that 25,000 Americans will be based in Afghanistan and 160,000 in Iraq for three decades. “That will be completed in a much shorter timeline,” the chairman said.
But the threat from extremism will not go away in a day, he said. Extremists have set out a manifesto and have a decades-long plan to dominate the Arab world and intimidate the rest of the globe. “We can have a dialogue to fight this enemy, but the bottom line is, as long as the enemy is sworn to destroy our way of life, we are going to be in a war,” Pace said. “The only thing for us to determine is how we are going to prevail.”
This requires the United States military to understand the threat ahead and the best way to combat the threat. The U.S. armed forces need to remain strong so nations don’t try to confront America conventionally, Pace said. This would mean accelerating development of special operations capabilities and working with allies around the globe to help them defend themselves against the terror threat.
Pace gave a list of nations that could have problems in the future: Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Algeria, Colombia, Venezuela, the Philippines. Malaysia, Indonesia, North Korea and Pakistan are potential or real trouble spots. There may be more that U.S. military leaders haven’t anticipated. “That doesn’t mean we have to fight in all those places, but we’ll be able to assist those countries in fighting or be able to get there to help them,” Pace said.
He used Joint Task Force Horn of Africa as an example of what the military of the future may look like. That force is based in Djibouti and has about 1,500 servicemembers. Troops there work in humanitarian missions and in training local militaries on how to defend their countries. The force also would “be able to reach out kinetically to deal with our enemies” if needed, he said.
The U.S. ability to protect its national interests lies in helping friendly nations protect their own borders. “It’s different trying to defeat an enemy inside a country with which we are not at war,” he said. “But it’s a much different premise if you are able to help their special forces, their governance, their capacities to be able to fight your common enemies inside their territories.”
That’s the work the United States government must accomplish over the next few decades, the chairman said.
Pace said the American people want to win and prevail against terror, but “right now there is confusion about that.” He said once the American people understand the threat terrorism poses to America, the nation will deal with it as it did against the Soviet Union in the Cold War. For 50 years, regardless of which party controlled the White House or Congress, the nation was committed to countering the Soviets, he noted.
But the strength of the U.S. government is its ability to hear all voices and then act, the general added. “Our enemies don’t understand that,” he said. “They don’t understand democracy at all. They hear the dialogue in our country and assume it to be weakness. We hear the dialogue and understand it is the strength of our democracy. Over time, it gets us to the right place.”
The chairman addressed the differences between actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. He said he doesn’t know which country will stabilize first. Iraq has enormous resources in oil and water and an educated population. But sectarian violence continues. He said Americans look at this situation and wonder why the Iraqis don’t stop killing each other, asking, “What is it about their hatred of their neighbors that overrides their love for their children?”
Pace told the servicemembers about his trip to Ramadi, Iraq, yesterday. He said intelligence reports a year ago pointed to a looming disaster in Anbar province, in western Iraq. “I spent half a day yesterday in Ramadi, (which was) a huge battlefield just a few months ago,” he said.
The chairman and his party were able to ride anywhere in the city. He also walked through the city and spoke to Iraqis young and old.
“Nobody was shooting at anybody. What’s the difference?” he asked. The local people finally had enough, he said.
They supported sheikhs who realized al Qaeda was not an answer for Iraq, and young men of the province are now joining the security forces to defend their homes. “The same result can happen very quickly in (the rest of) Iraq the instant the religious and political leaders determine they want the violence to stop and a future of peace to begin,” he said.
Afghanistan is a different environment, Pace said. Afghanistan is one of the poorest nations on Earth. But hopeful signs include the majority of children of both sexes are now going to school. A functioning central government and legislature are trying to do the right things. The Afghan National Army is fighting well side by side with NATO forces, but the Afghan police need more work.
It’s a matter of timing, the general said. Both nations can turn the corner quickly, and the international community shouldn’t abandon them.
After leaving Bagram, Pace visited with Army Gen. Dan K. McNeill, the commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, at his headquarters in Kabul. Pace also visited with Afghan leaders and received an award, the Order of General Khan, from Afghan President Hamid Karzai following talks at the presidential palace.
Pace next heads to Germany, where he plans to meet with U.S. servicemembers and their families.