Operational Commander Gives His Take on War Against Terror
By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 8, 2001 The commander of U.S. operations in and around Afghanistan said today America should take great pride in its military forces and that this war is "unconventional rather than linear."
"These wonderful young people should give us pause for a great deal of pride as a nation," said Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla. He has operational control of all U.S. military missions in the Middle East and Central Asia. "They certainly give me cause to have that pride in their work," he told Pentagon reporters in a noon briefing.
Franks and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld briefed the media a day before the general is scheduled to brief President George W. Bush on the progress of the mission in Afghanistan. Both men stressed that people shouldn't try to measure progress based on how much ground is gained or lost.
"In World War II, you could see progress island to island in the Pacific and kilometer by kilometer in Europe. In the Cold War, you did not see progress," Rumsfeld said. "What you saw was the process which caused the Soviet Union and that empire to decay from within."
He predicted the same thing would happen to the Taliban. "Ultimately, the effect of all the pressure that's being put on (the Taliban) through law enforcement, through intelligence gathering, through financial freezing of accounts, as well as the air war and the work that's being done on the ground (will make life) so difficult for Al Qaeda and the Taliban that people will decide they prefer not to let them in their country," Rumsfeld said.
Franks reiterated that the war is right on schedule as far as American officials are concerned, and said it doesn't make sense for the media to ask for regular progress reports, because many things are happening behind the scenes.
"We like the progress that we have had up to this point," he said. "If you look at the wars in history, whether it be the build-up for our work in Kosovo or whether you look at prior wars, what you see is frequently we will undertake military operations at the same time we build capacity. When I say we're on our timeline, that's what I mean.
"And I don't think that it serves us well to try to articulate that in terms of geography," he added.
Rumsfeld urged people not to focus on the number of air missions flown as a sign of U.S. resolve. He said comparing sortie rates from the current operation to rates from previous conflicts results in "a misunderstanding of the situation."
"You have to look at the availability of ports, the availability of airfields, and the distances one has to fly. If you can fly an aircraft two or three times in a day because of the distance being close and the access you have, you're going to get a higher sortie rate," Rumsfeld said. "To the extent you can't, you don't."
He also refused to answer claims that the bombings are resulting in more support for the Taliban among the Afghan people. "There have also been reports, not surprisingly, that support for the Taliban has been diminishing because of the bombing," Rumsfeld said. "It seems to me that it's very difficult to go down and do a Gallup poll."
Franks said opposition and Taliban forces are fighting around Mazar-e-Sharif, and he acknowledged that DoD is interested in the outcome.
"We are interested in Mazar-e-Sharif because it would provide a land bridge to Uzbekistan, which provides us, among other things, a humanitarian pathway for us to move supplies out of Central Asia and down through Afghanistan," Franks said. He added that it is too early to tell the outcome of this fighting.
Franks also said the opinions of retired senior officials who act as analysts for news outlets are respected, but that they don't influence his decisions. "I simply don't take that as a form of guidance or pressure," he said. "Our commander-in-chief has said we have a plan. This is being done at our initiative."