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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 6)

CA: It was set up because your men would be in position, because the moon would be in a certain location? What was the underlying reason why that date was chosen?
Gen. Franks: It's very difficult to give you an elegant answer to complex algebra. During the course of planning activities, which was a bit longer than a year for this operation and not just a few months, many things were taken into account. The press reported widely that weather was a factor, and that we can't fight when it's hot. That's absurd on its face. We have the most sophisticated military capability on this planet, and it is true and has always been true that it will be just as hot for one side as it will for the other. But weather certainly was considered.

The use of our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities—aerial platforms and people on the ground, human intelligence—was obviously key to this and there were certain things that we wanted to know. There were certain arrangements and relationships that we wanted to be in place on the ground inside Iraq. And you can probably speculate in your own mind, these things come together at various points on the calendar. The proposition of how long it takes people to arrange themselves—that's a phrase that Don Rumsfeld uses—[is determined by such considerations as] where the jets are, where the refueling capabilities are, where the ground forces are, where the special operations forces are, the geopolitics of the relationships between several of us, and the Saudis, the Bahrainis, the Kurds, the Omanis, the Pakistanis, the Jordanians, the Egyptians, the countries in central Asia. And all of this just led to a point that said mid-March was the right timing.

CA: Who told you it's a go? When did they tell you it's a go? And what did you do from that point on?
Gen. Franks: I'm going to be very careful. I don't want to give you too much, because just in case I decide to write a book on this, I'd like the book to be interesting. But I can give you a little bit of an answer.

CA: Throw me a crumb.
Gen. Franks: The balance within the leadership in this country was, in my opinion, near perfect during the course of a planning activity that went more than a year. There was, in my view, no anxiety. There was no arm waving. There was no sense of divisiveness as this planning process moved forward. Decisions [were made] about who would visit where, which phone calls would be made geopolitically in order to arrange the circumstances. It was something that we moved through in a reasonably methodical, careful, thoughtful way. The direct answer to your question is that the president issued what I still call an ultimatum. I'm not sure that that is the correct political terminology, but from a military point of view. It was an ultimatum of 48 hours or so, that the regime would either leave Iraq or suffer the consequences.

CA: As I recall, Bush gave that ultimatum in a speech to the nation?
Gen. Franks: Yes, it was a public ultimatum. The president did address the nation when he said "48 hours." Now, at the time that that happened, I was in the Middle East and at my headquarters in Qatar. But I also had headquarters in Bahrain. I had another headquarters in Kuwait. And I had arrangements and relationships with heads of state all around the region, and I was in a number of places during that 48-hour ultimatum period. Let me digress for just a second before I answer your question about when I knew the launch date of the attack. You'll recall that we said the purpose of our military buildup, if you will, was to support diplomacy.

What does that mean? It was to cause the regime in Iraq to leave. It was not to go to war. But then again, one never walks into the OK Corral with an empty gun. And so the idea behind the process was to have ourselves positioned in a way that had the gun loaded. We entered, then, the 48-hour ultimatum period. I was traveling. During that 48-hour period, I had a video teleconference with the president from wherever I was in the region. I don't remember which country I was in.

But technology is a wonderful thing. And I had a video teleconference with the president and also with Secretary Rumsfeld. The president had with him, in the situation room with him in the White House, the National Security team. And when the suggestion was made that the president would like to talk to me on the video teleconference, I said, "I would like to have my subordinate commanders up on the video conference also. And so I introduced my land component commander, air component commander, naval component commander and a variety of special operations commanders—some black [secret], some more visible. And so we were all on the video teleconference. The president of the United States, after a brief introduction by me, talked to each of my subordinate commanders and asked them how they felt about the posturing of their forces, the viability of a mission to remove the regime. Each of my commanders responded to the president and, at the end of that, the president said, "You have the order to begin" at this particular point in time.

CA: What time of day was it for you?
Gen. Franks: This would have been late afternoon, early evening.

CA: And it was going to happen the next day?
Gen. Franks: I can't remember whether this was at the beginning of the 48 hours or in the middle of the 48 hours. I can't remember.

At the end of the meeting, I saluted the president and he returned the salute. It was, in my view, a presidential moment. A military person likes to be able to communicate with the civilian leadership of our country in a way where the military guy says, "This is my view," and the president of the United States, with his military advisers, joint chiefs of staff, in the company of the secretary of defense, takes a decision and announces the decision. In my view that was a presidential moment. Very powerful.

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