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General Tommy Franks

Marvin R. Shanken conducts an exclusive interview with America's top general in the war on terrorism.
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Gen. Tommy Franks, Nov/Dec 03

(continued from page 2)

CA: Did the fact that it took a long period of time before the strike give the Taliban an unusual opportunity to disperse and hide?
Gen. Franks: No. The timing of the operation—which started on the seventh of October, less than a month after 9/11—was such that it was operationally overwhelming to the Taliban. They, in my view, had not had time to make a plan. And you'll recall that we had come off of a number of years where we had demurred with respect to putting forces in Afghanistan. I think it'll take another 15 or 20 years, maybe, for us to know, because a lot of historical work is necessary—whether they actually believed that we would put ground forces in Afghanistan. I think that whole proposition was rather shocking for the Taliban when operations did in fact begin. Comparatively, it was a very, very, short period of time: from the 11th of September until the seventh of October. I would also mention to you that I think it was 75 days—75 or 76 days—after 9/11, a new president was installed in Afghanistan. I'd say that's a pretty quick, sort of a kinetic start to an operation.

CA: Was one of the objectives to capture and/or kill Osama bin Laden?
Gen. Franks: Actually, that isn't right. Not just the objective, but the mission, the direction from the president, was to remove the Taliban and remove the enclaves and training camps of the terrorists who were associated with Al Qaeda. I think that many have speculated and will speculate in the future that Mullah Omar was some place at a given point in time and that Osama bin Laden was in Tora Bora or in the White Mountains, or something, at a point in time. To this day, I am unconvinced that we ever had, with any precision, the location of the personalities of either the Taliban or Al Qaeda. Desirable? As the president said, "to kill or capture." Of course. But it was not a specific objective.

CA: Did you feel, after September 11th, that America had appropriate intelligence information on the Taliban and Al Qaeda, or were we really behind the curve when it suddenly became imperative to know everything we needed to know to wage a war against them?
Gen. Franks: It's very, very difficult to know. George Tenet and the Central Intelligence Agency had worked diligently for a period of time to gain information on the Taliban and on the Al Qaeda network, both within Afghanistan and in some 55 or 60 other countries on this planet. We certainly recognized the problem. The intelligence community was working with some diligence on the problem. And that's probably about the best that I could say. The CIA certainly had contact with some of these opposition groups and it was through our agency contacts that I met many of the opposition leaders once we started the war.

CA: It's two years later. Bin Laden is still not captured.
Gen. Franks: And let me say this. He may not be captured or killed in the near future. Do you know why? Because there is an ideology that is associated with the support of Osama bin Laden, and there are a great many households on the face of the earth that will accept him and support him. That is not the case with Saddam Hussein in Iraq. It's a different sort of a scenario.

CA: What I'm trying to get at, especially given the fact that a new video of bin Laden was aired last night, is that many people believe that those videos are just manufactured propaganda pieces designed to keep him alive in the public eye. No one knows where he is because many believe he may really be dead. What do you think?
Gen. Franks: There is that theory out there. I think most students of the last two years would tell you that they can neither confirm nor deny that thesis. The military standard, the measure of merit for military operations, seeks to avoid speculation. Most practitioners of the art will say the negative exists until the positive can be confirmed. And so in our discussions, we will accept the credibility of the argument that says he ain't dead until we prove he's dead.

CA: Some people have suggested that because of America's focus on Iraq, we have taken our eye off of bin Laden and the war on terrorism. We moved the manpower, we moved the surveillance and we moved the focus to another country. And so the terrorists are still out there roaming the globe. What's your feeling about that hypothesis?
Gen. Franks: An ill-informed view.

CA: Why? Was the mission over in Afghanistan? Gen. Franks: Absolutely not. But let me just give you the numerical facts. On the day combat operations started in Iraq, the 19th of March of this year, we had about 9,500 Americans involved in operations in Afghanistan. On the day operations ceased, or major military operations ceased, in Iraq, on the first of May, we had about 9,500 Americans in Afghanistan. The intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, focus, command and control that was required for work in Afghanistan never changed, never varied. And to this day, has not changed or varied—with this exception: there is greater participation in Afghanistan today by the international community than there was when the war in Iraq started. So those who would say the focus on Afghanistan was lost as we went into Iraq simply is not factually true.

It's very interesting to me, because I think every week or 10 days for the last couple of years, I gave an update to the president. And each time, even during the major military operations in Iraq, [when] I would give the president an update on Iraq, I also gave him an update on Afghanistan. Because he was interested. Don Rumsfeld, in my personal view, never took his eye off the ball in Afghanistan. And here's the reason: both Afghanistan and Iraq are a part of a global war on terrorism. Look at this. You can look around right now at the continuing investigations of "What did you know in the intelligence community that could have precluded 9/11? What intelligence information did we have that could have changed the outcome and created a better outcome if action had just been taken?" My personal view is that we had more credible and more voluminous intelligence information that indicated a potential nexus between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction in Iraq than we had precision relating to the planning and ongoing activities of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. And both of these elements are part of a global war on terrorism. And we are not at the end of it. We're at the beginning.

CA: Why haven't those points been picked up by the media and given the weight they deserve?
Gen. Franks: Let's talk about the media for a minute. I am not a negativist with respect to the media. I believe in the First Amendment of the Constitution. People have asked me so many times, "Well, why have you been media shy? Why don't you talk to me?" I told you a minute ago, I'm an old-fashioned kind of guy. I believe that the moms and dads and sons and daughters and husbands and wives of military people involved in the global war on terrorism, either in Afghanistan or in Iraq, have an expectation that our senior military leaders are tending to the business of war fighting rather than tending to the business of entertaining the media. That has been my view, sir, and it remains my view and that is why I supported the proposition of embedding media into our operations in Iraq, whereas we have not done that in Afghanistan. We talk about lessons learned. People ask me all the time, "What lessons did we learn in Afghanistan that we then transferred to our operations in Iraq?" Well, one of the lessons is that it is helpful to accommodate the media on the battlefield.

CA: The embedded media program, in your view, was a success?
Gen. Franks: Absolutely. An unqualified success. Don Rumsfeld and I have both said it. He didn't use these words. This is my voice. Somebody asked me about the embedded media just as you just did, and people continue to ask me about that. What I say about it is, I'm a fan. I lived through Vietnam in 1967 and 1968. And there are lessons to be taken from each war in which our country has been engaged, and one of those lessons is that having media present on the battlefield is good for our country. So, I'm a fan.

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