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Excerpts from interview with Gen. Tommy Franks

TAMPA, Fla.—Following are excerpts from an exclusive 90-minute interview Wednesday by Knight Ridder Newspapers Senior Military Correspondent Joseph L. Galloway with Gen. Tommy Franks, the head of the U.S. Central Command.

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Weapons of mass destruction:

"Never a question about whether there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The intelligence, while not precise, was overwhelming. Still is to this day.

" the foundation on which to build the view on what was the situation with WMD came from the last Gulf War; it came from the son-in-law who gave information, went back and was executed in Iraq; it came from monumental reams of intercepted information; it came from penetrations of Iraq by Kurds with whom we talked.

"We had a tremendous amount of information going back to 1991 that WMD were not only present but were being continually pursued by the (Iraqi) regime."

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Turkey and the northern front:

"We knew if we wanted to have a best case vis-a-vis the northern oil fields, missile shots into Turkey and we wanted to have the best shot to keep the Iraqis out of the northern oil fields and away from the Kurds, we needed a northern front.

"So we decided to put what turned out to be the 4th (Infantry) Division on the way to a landing in Turkey there were 11 regular Iraqi Army divisions and two Republican Guard divisions in the north, and I wanted them to stay there.

" We wanted some uncertainty in the mind of Saddam Hussein about whether the Turks were planning to permit the landing of the force, so I kept the force waiting long past the point where I knew it would not be introduced in the north."

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The western front:

"We knew that one of the strategic dislocators, as it had been in 1991, would be an attack on either Jordan or Israel, or perhaps both. So we knew we needed to gain control of the western desert, 25 percent of Iraq, as quickly as possible, and we decided that the best way to do that was with special operations forces. We decided that the number of SF operators would need to be rather large, 25 to 50 (12-man) A Teams, and others from three other nations. So control of the western desert was a second front, and we knew we needed to do that very, very early."

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The information front:

"We wanted a combination of two things. One was as much silence as we could get in terms of public knowledge of the things I previously described, and deception, which we wanted to feed into the Iraqi regime to cause them to react in ways that we wanted them to react.

"For example, freezing forces in the north; being confused about potential landing sites for the 82nd Airborne or air assault ops by the 101st (Airborne Division). So we initiated deception operations to pass information to the regime that would cause either uncertainty or chaos.

" We knew that we wanted to break some communications links. Candidly, we knew we wanted to leave some other communications links up because there is benefit in understanding what orders are being given. So we selectively shut down (Iraq's fiber optic cables) and left other means (including satellite and cellular phones and radios) up.

" if you look at targeting of Northern Watch and Southern Watch, you would see a focus on fiber optic nodes and repeater sites because we wanted to be able to force enemy formations up on high frequency radio."

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Timing:

"A little-known fact is that the introduction of those forces in the west was ahead of the operations that were much reported, air and ground operations, from the south. By the time operations started in the south, we already had between 25 and 40 SF teams (300 to 480 soldiers) operating in the west.

" we did not embed reporters with special operations forces at this point because we did not want to take any chance of this leaking into the press about operations in the west until we had denied the regime the opportunity to use the Scud missiles."

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Firing the first shot:

"Somewhere eight to 10 hours before the expiration, I got a call from Gen. Dick Myers (the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) in the Situation Room of the White House with Don Rumsfeld and (CIA Director) George Tenet. Information being received that regime leadership was in a particular location, the president took a decision that that location would not be hit before the expiration (of Bush's 48-hour ultimatum for Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq)."

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Fighting the Saddam Fedayeen:

"(U.S. troops) encountered paramilitary forces, (Saddam) Fedayeen in sort of an urban defense around al Nasiriyah, but it was not an urban defense because the Iraqi tactics were so poor. What I mean by that is not that it was not a helluva firefight.

" When these death squads or Fedayeen or Baathists began to attack the convoys with hit-and-run operations, it was interesting to watch the tactics that they used. They would come out of an area like Nasiriyah and attack our forces on the major lines of communication. That's not unexpected.

"But rather than setting themselves in a position to defend Nasiriyah, Najaf or Karbala or Kut, rather they simply collapsed back into the city and went to the intelligence HQ (headquarters) or SSO (Special Security Organization) HQ or Baath Party HQ, drove their trucks up to the building and went inside to do whatever it is they do.

"Our troops identified that fact early, and so a lot of the solution to the Fedayeen was to fight them on the lines of communication until they withdrew to Baath Party headquarters and then destroy the headquarters."

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Watching the war on TV:

"My favorite story is watching as the 3rd ID (Infantry Division) was moving through the Karbala Gap east of the lake as the MEF (1st Marine Expeditionary Force) was coming up a bit to the east and moving toward Kut. I was looking at the flat panel and all of a sudden I saw one small blue icon a little dot on the screen that showed where a company-sized unit was.

"I noticed that there was a blue dot eight to 10 miles in front of a big bunch of blue dots. This blue dot seemed to be moving up Highway 8 to the southern part of Baghdad and headed for Saddam Airport. I looked at that dot and I thought: `That's a very interesting dot.'

"It was characterized as one of the troops of the 3/7 Cav (3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry). I looked at that dot and I had a number of flat panels on the wall. I started channel-surfing on one of them, which had satellite links to all of the networks—everything from al Jazeera to Fox to CNN—until I found the embedded reporter (CNN's Walter Rodgers) who happened to be with this troop of 3/7.

"He was reporting live a thunder run down Highway 8, talking as they were shooting, and it was this particular unit I was watching on the panel. That's one of my favorite stories because it talks to the power of information, talks to the power of technology.

"Within five minutes of this event, David McKiernan called me on the red switch telephone and he said, `Are you aware of this unit that is moving on the airport?' Which was one of our objectives which we wanted to seize as a means of moving our supplies in and out and as a strategic point. He said, `Without a doubt you are seeing the blue icon of 3/7 moving (toward) the airport but don't worry: His friends are about nine miles behind him. And they are closing fast. They will all be on the airport in an hour.'"

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The low point:

"I remember when my spirits sank. There's one characteristic of war—you get the big answer here—that I think has not changed in 2,500 years since Sun Tzu worked for the Emperor Wu and trained the palace guard. That is the human dimension.

"As I thought about the young people from the 507th Maintenance Company who had been captured, and as I watched the Iraqi minister of information and I recognized that we were having our young people killed, as I recognized we were having our young people captured, as the weather became terribly uncooperative for about three days, I would characterize the confluence of those events as a low point.

"As quickly as I tell you that, I will also tell you that there was never a doubt in mind that at the end of the day it would be exactly as our people said it would be: The regime would be gone, the Iraqi people would be free. A low point in terms of doubting, no sir, I never had it."

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Was the force too small?

" had (the plan) not had the 4th ID, the 1st Armored Div, an Armored Cav Regiment en route to and beginning to download equipment in Kuwait—this would have been a gamble. But the fact (that) the force that entered Iraq was the lead element of additional substantial combat power, the pieces of which were already beginning to unload in Kuwait, took the gamble out of the equation and placed the level at what I call prudent risk."

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Postwar troubles:

"There are people who ask: `What about all the friction? Good grief, we have Americans still being shot, people looting.' No question in the minds of any of us involved in the planning that this was not going to be a three-month or a six-month operation.

"If you look at the wealth of this country, not just in terms of dollars and oil, but in terms of wealth of the society in the origin of civilization and you look at the characteristics of the people, Shias, Kurds, the tribals, and one would anticipate that it is going to take a society which has had no freedom for decades a certain amount of time to figure out who are the dead-enders who can't change and we will do away with them.

" At the end of the day, it will be the Iraqi people who win. No doubt about it."

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(The full transcript of Galloway's interview with Franks is available online at: www.realcities.com/mld/krwashington/6124738.htm)

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Tommy Franks

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