Anaconda Battle Plan Sound, Franks Says
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 10, 2002 The senior commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan today defended the Operation Anaconda battle plan as sound.
Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, commander of U.S. Central Command, said the operation's going well on ABC's "This Week." He was interviewed on the Washington-based program via video teleconference during his visit to Fort Hood, Texas.
"I'm satisfied with our progress at this point," Franks said.
For a week, about 2,000 U.S., allied Afghan and coalition forces have been attacking hundreds of Al Qaeda terrorists holed up in the mountainous Shahi Khot region south of the city of Gardez in eastern Afghanistan. He noted that military operations are ongoing and would continue until al Qaeda resistance ends.
"We will not stop until each of the pockets (of resistance) we've identified has been reduced," he emphasized, adding that U.S. troops have been working to reduce a pocket for the past 24 hours. No senior al Qaeda leaders have been captured at this point, Franks noted, adding that he had received no indications that "top-tier" al Qaeda leaders were in the area.
Show co-host Sam Donaldson asked the general if some American soldiers around Shahi Khot were being pulled out of line, citing reports that up to one-third of the troops were being redeployed. Franks replied that some U.S. forces in the 60-square-mile Shahi Khot region, under the direct command of Army Maj. Gen. Franklin L. Hagenbeck, could be repositioned.
"I wouldn't question at all that some of the forces may have been moved out for rotation -- that's not surprising," Franks said. However, he added, "I think it's just as likely that we'll install forces in the area as we move them out."
When the Shahi Khot battle opened early March 2 (Afghan time), al Qaeda troops entrenched along ridges and mountainside caves used heavy machine-gun, mortar and rocket-propelled grenade fire to immobilize allied Afghan forces and to pin down U.S. soldiers as they disembarked from helicopters. Eight Americans were killed and dozens injured in that daylong battle, in which hundreds of al Qaeda troops are believed to have died.
Donaldson said some people claim the Anaconda plan was deficient, that more bombing of al Qaeda positions before U.S. ground troops moved in would have prevented U.S. casualties.
Franks responded: "I think that the planning that went into this operation by Gen. 'Buster' Hagenbeck was very, very good planning -- very thorough planning. I think that this operation has been carried out in a way that is absolutely terrific.
"I think that the intelligence information that was available to the force was put together in a very coherent way," he added.
Donaldson asked if the U.S. troops who were attacked and pinned down by al Qaeda fire on March 2 were surprised by the tenacity of the resistance.
"There will certainly be places ... where we'll encounter very, very substantial resistance," Franks said. "We will almost never have perfect intelligence information." He pointed out that intelligence is an inexact endeavor.
"I would not downplay the possibility that forces who moved into this area got into a heck of a firefight at some point that they did not anticipate. "I think that is entirely possible," Franks noted. "I think we've seen it in the past. ... I think we'll see it in the future."
Donaldson then asked Franks to comment on the difference between death benefits for families of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America and for families of U.S. service members killed in action. Families of Sept. 11 victims receive more than $1.8 million, Donaldson pointed out, while military families get considerably less.
"This nation -- for more than 200 years -- has done a great job of taking care of her men and women in uniform. I think the way our people and their families are cared for is something that every service member is aware of and, in fact, (is) proud of," Franks said.
"I suspect that anytime there is seen to be some discrepancy, such as the one that you've described, that this nation will take a look at it, and if it makes sense to change it, I suspect that it will be changed," he said.