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US Military Chief Urges Better Understanding of War on Terror

The top U.S. military officer, who will soon retire, said Monday that the American people do not sufficiently understand the importance of the global war on terrorism, and may come to regret that they are not paying more attention to it. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon on comments made by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers.

As he nears retirement, General Myers appeared to feel more free to express his concerns and frustrations. Speaking to reporters at the National Press Club, the general disputed reports by some news organizations of a split between his troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and the people back home in the United States. The reports, including one in the New York Times, quote troops in the field as saying they feel that the nation is not really sharing the burdens of the war on terrorism.

But General Myers acknowledged that in spite of the ongoing fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and terrorist attacks around the world, most Americans do not feel the impact of the situation in their everyday lives. And he indicated that U.S. leaders need to do more to explain the significance of what is going on.

"When we walk out of this building, the first thing on your mind will not be, 'Gee, we're a nation at war.' And I think it's incumbent upon the leadership in this nation to continually remind people that we are a nation at war. It's a hard thing to portray about what's at stake and how important this is to people whose lives are basically unaffected, day to day," General Myers says.

General Myers says that could lead to a potentially disastrous lack of resolve as the conflict goes on.

"If we lose our will, if we decide this fight isn't worth it, then I think we'll rue the day and we will not like the world that will be left for us. It will be a world where what happened in London, what happened in New York and Washington, what happens in Iraq every day could happen anywhere in this world. And none of us will be safe and we'll all be living in more fear," General Myers says. "And that will not be good for this democracy, or any democracy. This is really serious business, very serious business. It's not easy business."

General Myers says the lack of understanding about the importance of the current conflict is one reason the U.S. army may miss its recruiting goal this year. He says the two groups who do appreciate the importance of the fight are his troops and the enemy they are fighting.

But at the same time, the top U.S. military officer says the fight against what he prefers to call "violent extremists" is not only military.

"In the end, while the military is heavily engaged now, it's going to be all instruments of our national power, all instruments of the international community's national power, every country to bring the right pressure to bear to solve the long-term problem," General Myers says. "The long-term problem is as much diplomatic, as much economic, in fact more diplomatic, more economic, more political than it is military. And that's where the focus has to be in the future."

General Myers says the main focus of the Defense Department as he leaves office is a review of the U.S. military force structure. He says the U.S. military must be prepared to fight extremism worldwide, to fight local conflicts like in Iraq and Afghanistan, and potentially to face a larger-scale conflict as well.