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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 7)

CA: That night, when you were home, knowing the next day that it was about to begin, what were your feelings? Were you with other people? How heavy was the weight of the world on your shoulders at that moment?
Gen. Franks: I guess it would be possible in hindsight six months later to be dramatic in response to the question. I think 36, 37 years of military experience in a lot of different places, in a lot of different wars, makes one very, very thoughtful. Much more inclined to check the things that need to be checked at the last minute, than to sit and say, "Holy smoke, this is a big one." I think I returned to my headquarters that night. I sat with my immediate staff. I talked to my subordinate commanders. We talked about some rather mechanical things: the posturing of special operations forces to the south, the west, the north; the precision configuration of airplanes, and how many; and a thing that we call the map, or the master air attack plan. I reviewed it. I reviewed the target sets. I reviewed the intelligence.

CA: But when you were finished reviewing all of the things you had to do, what did you do?
Gen. Franks: I went to bed.

CA: Did you have trouble sleeping that night?
Gen. Franks: I'm not dodging your question, but we all have different sleeping habits and techniques and all of that. I don't sleep well, anyway. I'm not a long sleeper. And so I'm sure that I was up a good portion of the night. But I suspect that I was not thinking about the potential loss of lives, the potential use of weapons of mass destruction. I was probably thinking about the aggregation of force in time and space. Actually, mechanical time-distance factors associated with enemy sets and what I thought their psychological reaction times would be in order to move large formations, and making decisions until the very last minute about which radio frequencies and which radio nets we would permit the enemy to keep up, which ones we would take down.

CA: When you began the invasion, were there any surprises in terms of the type of resistance, the lack of resistance, the qualitative role of the enemy? It appeared as though we almost caught them by surprise and they had no response. Is that an oversimplification?
Gen. Franks: Operationally, at the level of campaign operations, there were no surprises. At the tactical level—and what I mean by that is, What are the Turks doing? What are the Saudis, the Jordanians…what is going on there? The posture of our own forces. The posture of enemy forces in large formations. The Republican Guards, the Special Republican Guards, the regular army forces—there were no operational-level surprises. Tactically, to be sure, there were surprises. Tactically means the formation that may be moving up a road and does not anticipate that there are five men in a small house on the left, and these men engage our forces with rocket-propelled grenades or something. So, tactical surprises? To be sure. Operationally? No surprises.

CA: But, nothing significant?
Gen. Franks: None. No.

CA: You were prepared. You had a plan.
Gen. Franks: Correct.

CA: You executed the plan.
Gen. Franks: I guess, maybe people haven't asked as much as they've speculated, that the strike against the leadership targets on the first night of the war, which was a place we call [Dora] Farms, had desynchronized the activities, or done things out of sequence. There's been speculation that I was then forced to cancel the air campaign and do things with ground forces and all of that. And let me just give you a very simple explanation of that sequence. None of the speculation is true. The operation in Iraq had several ingredients. It had ground forces, Marines and Army troops. It had special operators or special forces. It had naval forces in the northern Arabian Sea near the gas and oil platforms, as well as the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea and the Southern Arabian Gulf. It had air forces from a number of locations, including the United States, flying B2s. The plan, as we had generated it, did not prescribe that the first thing that will happen is, we'll do this, and it will be followed in ten minutes by this. I had that in my mind, but we had not put ourselves on what I would call full automatic, because things change on the battlefield.

I had described to the secretary and had discussed with the president the things that can go right and the things that can go wrong. And we had talked through, on several occasions, things that were very important to us. For instance, we did not want Scud missiles being fired into Israel or into Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or into Turkey. We did not want the regime to be able to destroy the means of economic health of that country: their oil fields, their oil infrastructure in the south or in the north. We didn't want the regime to be able to destroy all of the dams and barrages and permit the flooding of the Shiite marshlands. All of these things were things that we either didn't want to happen, or we wanted the things to happen on a timeline that would set us up for the isolation of Baghdad very, very quickly.

As I watched during this 48-hour period of time, I saw that the oil fields had not yet been destroyed and that the enemy forces were in a location that I thought was advantageous for us. So I made the decision, after I had inserted special operations forces in the western 25 percent of Iraq, which we did, that the next important thing to do would be for ground operations to secure the southern oil fields. I sensed the enemy was not in a position to prevent us from doing that. And so I decided that the order of initiation of conflict would be special operations, first; ground forces from the south, second; special operations operating up in the north with the Kurds, third; air operations vertically into Baghdad, fourth. The sequencing of all that was never changed. There was no action by the enemy that caused us to watch something early or to hold something back. It was simply the read—that's what we call it—the read that I had on the enemy, convinced me that this sequence was the correct sequence.

CA: Was there ever a moment in time when you thought or your people thought that you had Saddam Hussein?
Gen. Franks: I don't think so. I think—let me say this: We had good intelligence on the command and control targets in Baghdad.

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