Joint Chiefs Chairman Myers Tells ASNE Journos Play a Role in War on Terror

By: Andrew Ackerman Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivered a guardedly optimistic assessment the rebuilding of Iraq to editors gathered here for the final day of the annual American Society of Newspaper Editors convention, praising the military's ability to quickly train Iraqi policemen.

Though most of his talk and a subsequent question-and-answer period focused on the war and on the military, Myers touched specifically on the newspaper industry near the end of his opening remarks, commenting that both journalists and the military are integral to winning the war on terror.

"I'm going to close by thanking you for ... filling the marketplace of ideas that are so fundamental to what we believe in in this country," Myers said. "That's what we in the military fight for and now more than ever, you and our men and women in uniform are, I think, absolutely indispensable to all that we believe in."

In his appraisal of the Iraq war, he said the military has trained "more than 150,000" Iraqis forces, though most still lack the ability to function on their own without coalition troops.

"There's still a lot of work to do before many of them can operate independently," Myers said. "Those forces still lack some of the intelligence, logistics, operational-planning skills, command and control that they need to be as effective as they're going to be against the insurgency."

Myers seemed to echo the judgment of war-zone reporters who spoke at a panel just before him -- at that event, New York Times reporter Richard Oppel Jr. had said the Iraqi troops are widely seen by American military commanders as traitors or incompetent -- though the general framed his analysis more diplomatically than the journalists had.

Myers said coalition troops will slowly play a less visible role as more Iraqis are trained. He added that progress was more swift in Afghanistan, where the national government had at its disposal a fully trained army of 22,000 and expects to double that number by 2007.

When asked by J. Ford Huffman, an assistant managing editor at USA Today, if he has reconsidered his support for the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy in light of a recent government study that found the military has spent more than $220 million on enforcing it, and considering that the military is having trouble reaching recruitment goals, Myers declined to offer any personal reflections: "The way I feel about it right now is support the law the Congress passed in the mid-1990s, and we'll see if we have hearings on this or what."

There were laughs throughout the room when another editor asked Myers to put to rest any question if he or the military has ever been treated unfairly by the media.

"Well, I think what you do see is inaccuracy in reporting from time to time," Myers said. "But I've been in front of the media a lot, and there's risk but there's also benefit, and the benefit is telling what's going on. And I think the American people deserve that."


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