Part 1 of our Interview with General Tommy Franks
Posted by Joshua Price on October 2, 2007
The following is the first part of our interview with 4 star General Tommy Franks. General Franks led our forces into Afghanistan and Iraq in the early years of the War on Terror as Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Central command. He usually does do do these types of things, so we would really like to thank him for his visit with us.
We hope you enjoy, and please let us know what you think!
Price: We are joined by General Tommy Franks former Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Central Command and author of American Soldier. General Franks, thank you for being with us today.
Gen. Franks: You betcha—glad to be here.
Price: I want to start, and I don’t know how much detail you can give us, but
what is the general war planning process like?
Gen. Franks: Well, I don’t want to use all of the time that I guess would be required to describe it fully but let me describe the process that was used for both Afghanistan and Iraq and maybe that will be sort of on the point for you.
As I recall, when 9/11 happened I was out of the country. I was headed for Pakistan and I was getting gas in the jet in Crete and somebody walked and said, “Hey, turn on the TV,” and I did. I watched along with the world as the second jet hit the second tower, and almost immediately talked to Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld and the planning process for what turned out to be the War on Terror started at that moment and on that day. The Secretary said, “How long is it going to take you to put together a plan?” And I said, “Well, since, speaking historically, we have never had a plan to go into Afghanistan to rout both the Taliban and Bin Laden and al-Qaeda.” I said, “It’s going to take a minute. I mean we’re going to have to put something together.” Sure enough, about ten or eleven days later we went to the White House and presented a plan for the removal of the Taliban and al-Qaeda from Afghanistan. So that’s sort of a snapshot of what this planning looked like in the extremist case.
There is a myth—there has been a myth for years now—that George W. Bush was fixated on going into Iraq immediately when 9/11 happened. That simply isn’t true. The first time—and the reason I know it isn’t true—is because as a combatant commander or commander-in-chief, depending on who you’re talking to—my title—the President new that I was responsible for Iraq also, and the first time the President mentioned the word Iraq to me was on the 28th of December. Now that’s instructive because on the 22nd of December of that year, 2001, Hamid Karzai was inaugurated as the interim president of Afghanistan, and it’s interesting that it was not until six days after that event that the President asked me about Iraq. The next fourteen months were spent putting together the plan for Iraq.
So in the case of Afghanistan you’re talking about ten or eleven days and in the case of our movement into Iraq you’re talking about a fourteen month planning process—during which we dissected the various pieces, the various phases of the action that would be required in Iraq. So that’s a long answer to your short question, but that is the planning process that was used for both Afghanistan and Iraq.
Price: We are now six years into the War on Terror, and we have certainly made significant progress in many areas and not so much in others…
Gen. Franks: Sure.
Price: Where you’re at now, what do you think it’s going to take to win this war? Is it essentially more force? I know you and Secretary Rumsfeld used to speak about properly defining force as not just the number of troops, but also air power, intelligence gathering, etc. Is that what it’s going to take, or is there more?
Gen. Franks: Let me take a little different tact than I think certainly many in the media have taken. If you turn on your TV, whether you’re watching Fox or CNN, or ABC or BBC, it would seem to you that all of this is about military force—I mean that’s what you see; that’s what you hear about—what’s going on in Baghdad? What’s going on in Anbar province? What’s going on down south in Iraq? It all seems to be about the troops. Actually, historically speaking, and it’s important to have a little bit of historical underpinning to the conversation because you will find that when a leadership of a country is removed, this was the case with Adolf Hitler at the end of World War II, it was the case with Japan—just to use two examples—when leadership of a society is removed, when leadership of a country is removed, three things have to happen in order for that country to come around, and it certainly happened with Germany and it certainly happened with Japan.
You have to have—you have to develop a sense of security, to be sure, and that’s what we see every day on TV—that’s military force; it’s the police; it’s the intelligence activities that go on within the country, and that’s one of the three things that you have to have in order to bring stability to a country which has lost its leadership.
The second thing you have to have is you have to have governance, or saying it another way, you have to have politics. You have to have the pushes and the pulls that establish who is going to run the country in a political sense. In the case of Iraq you saw the elections, and now you see the fractious behavior between the Sunni , the Shiite, and to a lesser extent, the Kurds. But that’s the second thing that you have to have.
The third thing you have to have is economic development and sharing. Which is to say, you have to, in a country like Iraq, a government has to demonstrate how the people are to better off taking this new course, which we call representative government or democracy. The people have to sense how they’re going to be better off for doing this.
So in the short form, you have to have three things: you have to have security, you have to have governance and politics, and you have economic improvement.
I speak all over the world on this subject and so what I do is begin most of those conversations by saying, “So how are we doing?” Well in the sense of security, one is sort of led to the sort of question that you asked which is, “What do you need?” But you also have to consider how we’re doing with the politics and how are we doing with this whole economic development thing. I’ve told an awful lot of people—people ask me all the time, “Well, when you led the force into Iraq, did you have the right number of people?”
Now in the turbulent times politically that we have in our own country right now, you can form your own opinion. If you’re on the left, then the debate will go around the issue of well we never had enough troops ; and if you’re on the right, you’re generally going to follow the lead of either me or General Petraeus, and you’re going to say, “Look, how much force do you need? And how much intelligence-gathering activity do you need?” It depends on what phase of the operation you’re in. The force structure that was put together to remove Saddam Hussein was never expected to be the force structure that would be necessary to bring security to the country, to permit the growth of governance and politics, and to provide for the possibility that Iraqis can economically improve themselves, because the removal of Saddam Hussein was one phase of the operation, and it was followed by the next phase. The troops that went into Iraq initially were precisely—I say that today—precisely the force that was necessary to remove Saddam Hussein. How’d they do? So then one can say, “Yeah, but wait a minute: It was not the right force to provide for security, and that.” And I agree with that comment, and that’s why, over the course of time, adjustments have been made to that force structure. You’ve seen that 160,000 that we went in with reduced; you have seen it enhanced, and I predict over the next two or three years, we will again see it reduced and enhanced—and those reductions and enhancements won’t be based on timelines Josh. Those decisions will be made based on how are we doing in that point in time with security and governance, and with economic improvement. And that probably—even though it’s a long answer—is about the most balanced and best answer I can give you to your question.
Price: I’m probably further to the right than you or General Petraeus…
Gen. Franks: Attila the Hun maybe?
Price: Probably (laughter)…
Gen. Franks: (laughter) Okay.
Price: What do you say to those of us who—let’s take the case of Fallujah, for example, where—I have no service experience so I don’t have a great understanding of this, and I don’t want to say that I’m trigger happy and that I would go in and wipe out everything, but why couldn’t have, after the first incident there, and after we knew that that it was a terrorist haven, why couldn’t we have said, “Look, you have 48 hours to vacate this area, and if you’re not gone, we’re coming in and we’re not going to be very friendly.”Maybe that’s impractical. But if so, why is it impractical?
Gen. Franks: I don’t think it’s impractical at all. At the end of the day, we’ll always remember that we are the Americans and we hold ourselves—actually—to an extremely high moral standard. We don’t go through military operations by, and of course we all know this, we don’t go through military operations wantonly killing massive numbers of people. Of course we did in the Second World War with fire bombings and the use of nuclear weapons, but just like the world has evolved we have evolved as Americans, and so our view remains that the use of overwhelming force is appropriate, just as Colin Powell said. The distinction that has come over the last, oh I’ll say ten or fifteen years that have come in place have not done away with the notion of overwhelming force, but the issue now is it is the application of overwhelming force precisely where we need it. So it’s not how many troops one has in the Middle East. It’s not how many troops one has in Iraq, but if the issue is Fallujah, it is how many troops and how much power do we apply in Fallujah? So I wouldn’t argue with you at all. One can, and if we want to debate, then that’s perfectly okay. Should we have had had more troops going into Fallujah the first time? Well, we can talk about that and we can debate it.
You know, a lot of times, people will throw in to this discussion a red herring. And the red herring one hears about a lot is, “Well the rules of engagement.” “We have handcuffed our troops.” When people say something like that to me I give them an example that occurred, not in Iraq, but in Afghanistan. I remember a particularly problematic area in Afghanistan wherein every time our aircraft—helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft—would fly over this particular area they’d get shot at, and after about 24 hours that became troublesome, that became problematic. So the next time our aircraft were shot at over that particular town, we essentially leveled it, and took out all of the anti-aircraft positions that were anywhere around that town. Well, in fact you may recall the media discussion of that particular event, and I recall at one point, some reporter—and I won’t mention his name—asked me, “Well General, you know now that you have destroyed this town, I mean could you say that anybody learned anything as a result of this?” And I looked at him and said, “Oh, oh yeah. I think the bad guys learned don’t shoot at the Americans.” And that’s exactly how I feel about it today, and that’s how felt about it in ’01.
Our kids—America’s sons and daughters—are showing up every day, just like our constitution says, to support and defend the freedoms of this country, and we will never put them in a position where they cannot use the force that is necessary to do two things: number one, protect themselves; and number two, get the job done.
So to circle back to your question about Fallujah, I have no argument with that at all. I wasn’t on the ground. I wasn’t in charge at that time, but in seems to me that if we wanted to make—or gosh, did we miscalculate that one? Should we have gone in with more force in Fallujah? You know maybe I’d say, “Yeah, maybe I would have done that,” but I wasn’t there and I don’t think it’s a good practice for senior military people to look at their successors the way we see with some talking heads, and critique the performance of those guys that followed us because they’re breaking their humps to the very best job they can in a real tough situation.