Retired Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the top officer at U.S. Central Command during the American-led military action in Afghanistan and Iraq, has just released his autobiography, American Soldier. Commissioned a second lieutenant in 1967, Franks saw action in Vietnam and received three Purple Hearts. He retired in July 2003, less than three months after the fall of Baghdad. Franks held a conference call with reporters last week, including The Sun's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Here are excerpts.
QUESTION: Richard Clarke, a former counterterrorism chief in the Clinton and Bush White Houses, has criticized the use of force in Iraq, saying it drained forces from Afghanistan and hindered the search for Osama bin Laden. What do you say?
FRANKS: I simply don't agree. I recall a number of conversations, which I think I mentioned in the book, between myself and [Defense Secretary] Don Rumsfeld and also with President Bush, and we discussed what the command arrangements should be for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and I was asked that question on a couple of occasions. Do you believe that we should split the operations and have one commander in charge of Afghanistan and one in charge of operations in Iraq? I said ... we ought to keep one person in charge to be sure that we do not reduce the focus that we have in Afghanistan and in Pakistan and in the pursuit of bin Laden and the remnants of al-Qaida. I told a lot of people that the day we started operations in Iraq, we had about 9,500 Americans involved in Afghanistan. On the day we finished major combat operations, about a year, 14, 15 months ago in Iraq ... we had more than 9,500 Americans operating in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. So, actually I do not believe that the focus was diluted on the pursuit of terrorism during operations in Iraq.
Q: A number of experts in the summer of 2003 were predicting a very classic insurgency in Iraq. Were you and the American high command expecting an insurgency, and how now do you think it can best be defeated?
FRANKS: I don't know that I expected an insurgency. I think all of us, as Rumsfeld said, were aware that there could be one. I said in the book, and I've said to many people, "You know, when we entered the operation in Iraq, I hoped, and I suspect many of us did, that the Iraqis will immediately rise up ... become what I call part of the solution, take charge of their own country and their own destiny and go to work to build a new Iraq very quickly." Well, that was a hope. I will tell you, as a matter of fact, that all of us in planning, what you call those in High Command, had no sense that would happen. We simply didn't know. So, it is not, at least in my mind, a matter of great surprise that we see an insurgency in Iraq. For that reason, we didn't know how long our operations in Iraq would take. Unfortunately, we have seen what we have seen, and so that's why I have said, and will continue to say, that our expectations should be, today, that we will continue operations in Iraq ... for as long as it takes.
Q: In your book you mentioned the plan for post-combat stability operations; the number of troops would perhaps grow to 250,000. U.S. troops did not rise above 150,000. Why didn't you press Rumsfeld for more?
FRANKS: I thought that number could be as high as 250,000. ... At least one of the wild cards was the expectation for much greater international involvement. So we started the operation believing that nations would provide us an awful lot of support during [post-combat operations].
Q: If the international community wasn't ponying up the forces, why didn't you or Rumsfeld press for more U.S. troops?
FRANKS: In July [2003, when Franks turned over command to Army Gen. John Abizaid], there was enough discussion and enough diplomacy going on with all these nations that I think all of us had an expectation that those international numbers were going to rise. ... I haven't seen mentioned in print that health care inside Iraq has gone up thirtyfold since the first of May 2003, thirtyfold. There have been 32,000 secondary schoolteachers trained and on the job right now. ... Almost 9 million textbooks which Iraqi kids have never read before are there now. The list goes on through more than 100 categories, so I just think it's interesting that while we are concerned with what many would describe as the failures of [post-combat operations] in Iraq, we have so many just tremendous successes.
Q: Do you think the overall security situation in Iraq is getting better or worse?
FRANKS: I believe that the security situation and the civil issues in Iraq must go hand in glove before we're going to see improvement.
Q: Well, my question is, do you think it's better or worse?
FRANKS: And I'm going to answer your question. I believe that the security situation right now is about what one can expect until the Iraqi people are brought along with facts, such as the ones I had just given you. I believe we will see the security situation, which is now not what any of us want it to be, improved. I predict that we'll see that beginning perhaps in six or eight months.
Q: What's a realistic expectation for the amount of time U.S. forces are going to be in Iraq?
FRANKS: I think three to five years we will [have] forces in numbers, and I don't know whether that means 100,000, I think it's about 140,000, 141,00 U.S. today, some 8,000 or so from the next coalition member. I believe we will begin to see increased stability in Iraq, and I won't put a time, I won't say therefore by next, you know, March, or therefore by next summer you'll see the numbers come down.
Q: What will it take to catch Osama bin Laden?
FRANKS: [Pakistani President] Pervez Musharraf has assisted us in so many ways with the problem of al-Qaida, with the problem of Afghanistan. ... It's going to take some time and some luck and better intelligence before we track these guys down, but eventually we will, and the reason I know that is because historically on this kind of an issue, Americans don't quit.
Franks will sign books starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Sam's Club, 6410 Petrie Way Road in Rosedale.