Franks: A Leader Sure of his Mission and his Troops
By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service
TAMPA, Fla., Jan. 5, 2002 Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the tall Texan who has become such a common figure to the American public as he leads American forces fighting terrorism in Afghanistan, was shopping for olives in Crete when his world changed so drastically Sept. 11.
The commander in chief of U.S. Central Command here was in Crete so his aircraft crew could rest en route to Pakistan. He had just returned from shopping when a staff member advised him to turn on the television. Franks watched with the rest of the world as terrorists flew a hijacked jet liner into the second tower of New York's World Trade Center on live TV. He told American Forces Information Service the moment is "indelibly burned" in his memory.
Gen. Tommy Franks speaks about how the events of and following Sept. 11th have affected his life. Franks spoke to American Forces Information Service on Jan. 4, 2002, from his office in Tampa, Fla. Franks is the commander-in-chief of U.S. Central Command. Photo by TSgt. Steve Faulisi, USAF.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"There was no doubt in my mind that this was a terrorist act," he said. And it didn't take him long to figure out that he'd play a pivotal role in America's military response.
"I guess my sense was that Central Command would be very much involved in what would happen post-9/11 simply because, of the 25 countries in our area of responsibility, there are a number of sponsors of state terrorism," Franks said. "And, of course, I knew there were a number of terrorist networks operating within Afghanistan."
Since that day Franks has been a man with a mission.
Perhaps one of the reasons the coalition response to Sept. 11 events has been so successful in Afghanistan thus far is that Franks believes so completely that the good guys will win in the end. "There is no doubt America will solve this problem of global terrorism," he said. "It's only a matter of time, and I think this country has infinite patience."
He also believes completely that Osama bin Laden won't get away with attacking the United States Sept. 11. "Whether he is alive inside Afghanistan, or dead in Afghanistan, or whether he has escaped to some other place I don't know," Franks said. "But I do know that the planet is not a large enough place for him to be able to get away."
Still, catching one leader or another shouldn't be used as the only measure of success for operations in Afghanistan. "Let's look at Afghanistan, and lets satisfy ourselves that there is no longer a way for a terrorist network with global reach to operate inside Afghanistan. Are we there yet? Not yet. How long will it take us to get there? Not sure, but I'm a patient man," Franks said.
He described ongoing operations in Afghanistan as rooting out pockets of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters. When U.S. forces get intelligence information that suggests such a pocket they go check it out to confirm or disprove that information. "If we get people who want to give up, we take them. If we get people who do not want to give up, we kill them," Franks said. "That has been the process that we've used, and I think we'll just stay with it."
The American-led coalition didn't suffer the same fate as occupying Soviet forces that were forced out of Afghanistan in the 1980s because the Afghans believe it when America's leaders say they don't plan to leave an occupying force.
The Afghan interim government, led by Prime Minister Hamid Karzai, came to power Dec. 22. Franks said they understand fully that "we do not have any political motivations that cause us to want to control anything inside Afghanistan."
"We're there to provide support and assistance to the Afghan people as they prepare themselves to govern themselves," the general explained. "Once that's done, our formations will be out of Afghanistan."
Franks also said having an international coalition strengthens America's chances of defeating terrorism worldwide. Twenty-six nations have sent representatives to Tampa to assist in planning, and Franks said "16 or 17" countries have forces operating in and around Afghanistan.
He said the representatives in Tampa provide insight into political sensitivities in their countries, which helps U.S. defense leaders nip potential problems in the bud.
Prosecuting a war on international terrorism has also forced the military services to reach a new level of joint operations. "Who would have ever believed that we would have men on horseback directing the activities, directing the focus of combat power from B-1s, B-52s and high-performance aircraft operating between 20,000 and 30,000 feet above the ground?" Franks said. But precisely that has happened in Afghanistan.
He likened his role in the operation to putting together a puzzle -- one in which no piece will make sense without the piece next to it. "It is simply a matter of placing the appropriate puzzle parts together in a way that is appropriate to this particular mission, enemy, set of terrain, troops, and time available."
The U.S. military services had the individual "puzzle pieces" of air, naval and special operations forces "fully trained and appropriately equipped" before the war on global terrorism was thrust upon the country, Franks said. "I think the ingredients for this campaign were standing on Sept. 11," he said.
Franks said he believes military service members have always viewed what they do as a profession much more than just a job but that events on and since Sept. 11 have brought that sense of purpose into much sharper focus.
"From time to time there come periods where one has extreme focus, and the thing I have seen in my own personal life since the 11th of September is a very sharp focus on the work to be done," he said.
Franks is a commander who has unshakable confidence in those he commands. "I see in the troops the same thing that I see in the streets of America, and that is honestly a depth of commitment, a depth of resolve, a sense of accomplishment that I have not seen in the 35 years that I have worn the uniform," he said. "I think these people are absolutely marvelous."
The first thing Franks said he tells service members under his command is thanks for their service to this nation. "In many cases these young people are about a half a world away from everything that's important to them," he said.
The second thing Franks tells troops is thanks for making the world safe for his grandkids to enjoy the kind of freedom he enjoyed growing up in the United States. "That's what this is all about," he said. "I don't think any commander in chief has ever been more proud of a group of people than I am of them."