Former Joint Chiefs chairman remembers 9/11

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Sept. 11 was a day of remembrance across the country as Americans reflected on the events that occurred that day in 2001. 

Gen. Richard B. Myers, the now-retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, traveled to Maxwell to share his unique perspective of what happened that day and offered his outlook on the continuing Global War on Terror. 

At the time, General Myers was serving as the vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs, but had been recently nominated by President George W. Bush for chairman. That nomination kept the general away from the Pentagon as the attacks began. 

"I think a lot of people remember exactly where they were on 9/11," General Myers said. "I was on Capitol Hill about ready to meet with Sen. Max Cleland, the former senator from Georgia, in preparation for my confirmation hearing." 

Working out issues with senators before the confirmation hearings is standard practice, he said. His meeting was set for 9 a.m. 

"By the time I got to the office, the first tower had been hit," he said. "I went into the meeting with [Senator Cleland]. The second tower was hit. We knew we had something going besides an airplane running into a building." 

General Myers knew immediately after the second crash that the United States was under attack. On the way out of the Capitol, he spoke to the commander of Northern Aerospace Defense Command, who had ordered the grounding of all flights. 

"I started to race back to the Pentagon," General Myers said. While on his way to the Pentagon, he receives word that it had also been hit. 

Very quickly, the government discovered who had carried out the attacks. 

The CIA had identified several people on airport surveillance video boarding the aircraft, he said. They had known associations with Al Qaeda. 

The following day, President Bush toured the Pentagon site and retreated inside to confer with senior leadership. It was the first meeting with all the Joint Chiefs. 

"The president was very serious and very somber," General Myers said. "I think he felt like, 'okay, I let the country down. One of my primary jobs is to protect the American citizens. I have failed.' He took that very personally." 

President Bush told them what he was thinking, he said. However, there was very little discussion in the meeting. 

"This was way before we had any idea what we were going to do about it," the general said. "I think the thing that came out of that [meeting] was that we were under a serious threat, that it had reached beyond the oceans that we thought protected us, and that we were going to have to take some action. Some military action would probably be part of that, and we had better start thinking." 

Since then, U.S. forces have seen combat in both Afghanistan and Iraq. As for finding Osama Bin Laden, General Myers offered a view of how the Al Qaeda leader could be caught. 

"It's not going to be force that finds Osama Bin Laden," he said. "It's going to be intelligence." 

According to the general, the integration of technical intelligence, human intelligence and other resources to find Al Qaeda has dealt devastating blows to the terrorist organization. 

He said one of the top security challenges for the next White House administration is preventing chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

"The countries cannot be allowed to descend into chaos," General Myers said. "If there's chaos in both those countries, then the probability of another 9/11 goes up -- not just for us, but for our friends and allies." 

Adm. Michael G. Mullen, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs, testified before the House Armed Services Committee on Sept. 10 and described the keys to victory. 

"We can't kill our way to victory, and no armed force anywhere -- no matter how good -- can deliver these keys alone," Admiral Mullen said. "It requires teamwork and cooperation." 

General Myers agreed with the admiral's assessment. 

"I think he hit it right on the head," General Myers said. "I don't think you're ever going to have a peaceful Iraq without somehow controlling Iran's appetite for influence. The same thing for Afghanistan -- you're not going to have a peaceful Afghanistan without some control over the ability of the Taliban and Al Qaeda to use Pakistan as a safe haven and for other support. So, we have to do what we've always done ... work with the Pakistani government to try to get their support for this." 

General Myers served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs from Oct. 1, 2001, until his retirement on Oct. 1, 2005. Since then, he has regularly been asked to speak on leadership and the Global War on Terror. During his visit to Maxwell, General Myers spoke at the Air Force Wargaming Institute.