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Myers convinced of coalition progress in Iraq, Afghanistan

WASHINGTON -- The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff came away from his just-concluded Iraq and Afghanistan visit pleased with the progress the coalition is making in both countries.

Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers visited both countries and consulted with allies in Qatar, India, Pakistan and Oman. He left July 26 and returned to Washington July 31.

Myers told reporters traveling with him that he was convinced the coalition was making progress in both countries and came back home "even more convinced."

The chairman said that the American public sees only reports of attacks and deaths of U.S. service members, and not the complete picture. "Any death is a tragedy," he said. "Our hearts go out to the families and friends of those killed" in the war on terrorism, he continued. But there is marked progress in Iraq and Afghanistan.

An official with Combined Joint Task Force 7 in Baghdad said that the progress is not reported in the media, "because it isn't seen as news." Deaths are news, said the official. But coalition forces rebuilding schools, Iraqi towns electing representative councils and progress on rebuilding water and electrical utilities also should be news. "And these things are happening," said the official.

In Iraq, the stores are stocked and busy. In Baghdad, most stores and shops are open. Myers said the country's north and south are stable already. "There are incidents there," he said. Most happen in the area between Tikrit and Baghdad, the two parts of the so-called "Baathist Triangle" that's rounded out with Ar Ramadi. But even progress there is being made.

People are starting to see the Americans are providing security, Myers said. The deaths of Saddam's sons Uday and Qusay have also added to a burgeoning sense of security, U.S. officials said in Tikrit. Tips to American forces in the Baath Triangle "spiked" following the reports of the sons' deaths, and U.S. troops have found a number of arms caches. In one, they uncovered thousands of pounds of dynamite and plastic explosive, rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and ammunition.

Other tips led to the detentions of Baath Party officials, officers in the Iraqi Republican Guard and agents of the Iraqi Intelligence Service. "Each tip is taken seriously, and each raid gives the coalition more information," Myers said. Officials take this information and use it to modify tactics to make the next raids more successful.

The chairman said he is also convinced that the attacks against coalition forces are not the result of a national effort. Rather, they are the products of local and possibly regional officials of the former regime. He said the lieutenant colonels and colonels of the former regime have access to money and arms and can still terrorize Iraqis on a local scale.

Myers learned that in some cases former regime officials are paying poor Iraqis to attack coalition service members. "These people are just plain mercenaries," he said. "They are doing (the attacks) for the money" and not any ideological reason. For the poor Iraqis "it is a matter of putting food on the table," and coalition forces need to address this problem too.

In Afghanistan, progress continues in a virtual news vacuum. Combined Joint Task Force 180 officials said that on the eve of Operation Iraqi Freedom most of the news organizations based in Kabul left. "The (word on the) outstanding jobs our service members are doing in the face of real hardships is not getting out," said Army Col. Rodney Davis, the task force's chief spokesman. "There are still 10,000 Americans doing great work here. Every day there is progress."

And the progress is not made with large numbers of service members. Small detachments called provincial reconstruction teams work with representatives of the interim Afghan government, other U.S. agencies, local and tribal representatives and coalition partners to make life better.

"Winning the 'hearts and minds' of the local populace took on a bad connotation from the Vietnam War, but the idea is still true," said a task force official. "What we must do is show the Afghans that there can be peace, there can be prosperity and they can build better lives for their families."

The PRTs use local labor to fix the infrastructure, which can run from building a road and bridge to fixing compounds and schools. Teams coordinate with coalition and nongovernmental agencies to conduct medical and dental clinics. "For some of these people, it's the first medical care they've seen," Davis said.

And the PRTs have found that veterinary care is also important. Officials told Myers that veterinary care helps with coalition outreach to the local community.

Myers said that trips to the frontlines in Iraq and Afghanistan help him. "I can read a report or look at pictures, but you don't get the same feel you do by looking someone in the eye," Myers said. He said the visits help him in Washington to help set priorities and to reinforce strategies that work.

Myers told soldiers at the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry, 4th Infantry Division, in Balad, Iraq, that he wanted to stay and go on patrol with them, but that the press of business wouldn't let him. He said later that the contact with the young men and women on the front lines does more for him than his presence does for them.

"You can't help but be impressed with these young men and women," he said. "These are great Americans doing a great job for our country and the region."

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