By Carol L. Bowers
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 14, 2007 - The nation's top military advisers were "unanimous" in backing the recommendations made to the president by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus on the way forward in Iraq, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today. Marine Gen. Peter Pace and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates discussed the recommendations made by Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker during a briefing at the Pentagon.
"All of the president's most senior military commanders and advisors are in agreement with what Gen. Petraeus recommended and what the president decided," Pace said.
In order to arrive at independent assessments of the situation without influencing each other, Pace said the six Joint Chiefs of Staff formed into three groups with their staff officers. Pace, Petraeus and Navy Adm. William Fallon, commander of U.S. Central Command, each took command of one of the groups.
The groups did not share information until they gave each other briefings in August "because we did not want to get into that group think thing," Pace said.
There was some variation in emphasis and approach, Pace, but "we all saw the situation very much the same."
As for the outlook for Iraq, Pace said that even with a plan to ease troops out "there's no way in a fight like this to guarantee anything other than there is still some tough times ahead."
Yet Pace offered hope in the form of an example of what's happened in the Anbar Province in Iraq, where a Sunni sheik, Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, was killed two weeks after meeting with President Bush.
"You can take hope from what's happened in the Anbar Province in the last six months," Pace said. "There's been a turnaround in events primarily because the sheiks and the people got fed up with the way they were being treated by al Qaeda."
Sattar's tribe turned to coalition forces to help crush al Qaeda after the terrorist group killed Sattar's father and siblings, Pace said.
"The action of the sheik being murdered is one more example of the way al Qaeda operates," Pace said. "Al Qaeda has no promises of anything good for their children and their way of enforcing this poor vision is to murder people. The Iraqis will see it as the sheiks in Anbar have seen it. How long that process takes, I do not know."
Pace said that because of U.S. actions in Iraq, 26 million Iraqis now have the opportunity to work their way out of 35 years of suppression of personal and political freedoms. He also said that Iraq is a front against al Qaeda, which has a 100-year plan to destroy America posted on its Web site.
"The dialogue right now in our country some people misunderstand for whether or not we can vote our way in or out of this war. That's not the point," Pace said. "The point is that we have an enemy who has declared they want to destroy and kill us, and as long as we have that enemy, we are in a war. So the dialogue is about where are we going to stand and fight."
Pace said he is proud of the U.S. forces that have fought in Afghanistan and are fighting in Iraq.
"I'm proud of the fact that we stood and fought," Pace said. "Did we make mistakes? Yes. But are we on the right path? Yes. Is providing additional freedom for Iraqis and Afghanis providing additional freedom for us here at home? You bet. The more free people in the world, the stronger our democracy is and the safer our democracy is."