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General Franks Briefs at the Pentagon

Presenters: General Tommy Franks, commander, U.S. Central Command
October 29, 2002 12:30 PM EDT

Franks: Good afternoon. How are you doing?

Q: Sorry you lost your title, General.

Franks: Sad thing, isn't it? (Soft laughter.)

Q: (Laughs.) We were just laughing about that.

Franks: Well, as you know, we remain active in the global war on terrorism. Certainly the United States Central Command is engaged in that, has been, will continue to be. Seventy countries involved in supporting our efforts, as we speak today; 27 of those countries actively represented inside Afghanistan; 43 of those countries with liaison elements at our headquarters down in Tampa.

The mission remains as it has been, and that is to hunt down and destroy terrorist cells inside Afghanistan, to work with the transitional government in that country in order to prevent the reintroduction of would-be terrorist activity into Afghanistan, continue to train the Afghan National Army, continue to work with Afghans to help them build a defense organization.

As I speak today, we are working with several hundred nongovernmental organizations inside that country. More than 5,500 offices and projects are ongoing in the country of Afghanistan as we speak. Almost 600,000 metric tons of food and humanitarian assistance have been delivered to the Afghan people. Literally thousands of pieces of mines and unexploded ordnance have been picked up and destroyed in Afghanistan. More than 140,000 civilians have been treated by coalition hospitals in that country. And as Secretary Rumsfeld has said on a number of occasions, more than 2 million people have returned to their homes in Afghanistan.

But a lot remains to be done. It's not over. Very, very dangerous environment. Uneven environment. We see senses of security and stability in some parts of Afghanistan, and we see ethnic and tribal issues in other parts of Afghanistan, so we just have to keep working.

The coalition that's been assembled is committed to doing just exactly that. And I think it serves us all from time to time to remind ourselves that the troopers and the sailors and the airmen from all these nations who are involved in that activity deserve our respect. And so I give them that respect, and I know you do, too. They're serving our nation and they're serving their own nations very well.

I'll stop with that, and I'd be pleased to take your questions.

Q: General, realizing the president has made no decision on Iraq -- (inaudible) -- there has been much speculation on when you, as the commander, would be ready to go to war with Iraq if ordered.

Could you tell us, at least, given the vast improvements that you have in transportation now since the Gulf War, that if ordered, if ordered to get a very large number of troops to the region, the Gulf region, within -- let's say 100,000 troops; could you do it within weeks instead of -- instead of months, like it took you before? How quickly could you get a very large number of troops to the Gulf?

Franks: Thanks a lot -- thanks a lot for the question. Let me say what you started your question with, and that is the president of the United States has not made a decision to use military force in Iraq. Our capabilities -- in fact, in a lot of areas, are much improved over what we saw 11 months ago.

With respect to what we have the ability to do in my region, I think Secretary Rumsfeld and a number of others have said on a number of occasions that we're prepared to do what the president of the United States tells us to do. In fact, that's what our planning activity is all about. And with respect to the numbers of troops -- may be large, may be small; may be fast, may be slow -- all of these represent combinations and permutations that deserve study, and that's what our business, as the planning headquarters, is all about. And I don't think it would serve me or the country well at all for me to talk about the specifics of what we believe our delivery time lines would be, and so I won't do that with you today.

Yes, sir?

Q: General, other than the thrill of being with us, what brings you here today?

And a second question, if I may. The former head of the Mossad is saying publicly that we're now in World War III, that World War III has started. And considering 9/11, and considering the fact that the United States and its allies are in a worldwide war against terror, is he correct in that statement?

Franks: Second question first. I don't know. I think we recognize that we live in -- that we live in dangerous times. I think if you take a look at defense planning guidance -- which obviously is outside my lane -- you'll find that we talk about capabilities basing; we talk about preparing ourselves to meet the uncertainties of the future. We recognize that there are uncertainties. Planning headquarters, like mine and European Command, Pacific Command and so forth, work to think about these possibilities, work to think about what the regional footprints of American force ought to be, what capabilities we may want to generate.

And then I'll close back in on the -- sort of the initial comment, and that is to say we have to get better and we have to think a lot, through capabilities, about how to react to the unexpected. Are we in the beginning of some other phase of human history or a world war or something? I can't give you a better answer than that.

With regard to why I'm in Washington, actually, every week or two I'll come to Washington in order to talk to the secretary; talk to him about my region, which certainly includes Iraq; talk to him about what we have going on with everything from the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan to what we're doing in Operation Enduring Freedom. And so that was the purpose of this trip up here. I just got back from the region last week, and he asked that I come up and share the insights that I'd gained during that trip.

Sir? Please.

Q: Foreign Minister Abdullah said recently that he viewed the next several months as absolutely critical to the future of Afghanistan; that if they didn't get a fairly large infusion of money, there was a danger that the government might not be able to survive, that it might not be able to provide what it needs to.

I realize you're not in charge of the money, but in your perspective there, how do you see the new few months and what do you see happening?

Franks: I think we've talked a lot about resources. And you know, there was a point maybe two or so months ago where we talked about the need to improve security in Afghanistan, and we talked about the need for some rebuilding and infrastructure work to take place in Afghanistan. And so then we had this debate about what is most important. Is it that we have to establish security so that we can handle reconstruction, or does reconstruction have to begin so that we can, in fact, enlarge the security that we see in Afghanistan right now?

We have had all along concern that the funding that was promised or pledged back during the Tokyo conference, the 4-plus billion dollars, should begin to -- you know, should begin to show up, so that the people in Afghanistan can not only hear the words of the transitional government but also can begin to see the tangible benefit of road construction, wells, schools, hospitals, medical facilities, veterinary clinics and so forth.

I'm a bit heartened recently because we have started to see some of this money show up, and we have started to see some of these projects take place. I mentioned the more than 5,000 projects and nongovernmental sorts of offices that we see operating all over Afghanistan. It's a very, very good thing.

Let me be quick to say that you also find, however, a very uneven situation in Afghanistan. There are places in Afghanistan that I think are very, very secure, and of course those become magnets to a lot of nongovernmental activity. I mean, if we're more secure, then that's a place where we feel like we can take NGOs and do a lot of work. The places where security is less sure, then there is a bit more reluctance -- and it's probably obvious to everyone -- to go into those areas to do the work which some of us would say is necessary to rebuild the infrastructure and so forth, in order to permit the security to improve.

Reasonably circuitous answer to a very good question. That's what we're all about in there right now.

Q: To follow up on that, could you talk about what you're doing with confiscated arms and ammunition in Afghanistan? Are any caches going to local militia leaders and warlords? And if so, does that undermine efforts to build a viable and strong Afghan National Army?

Franks: Right. The policy that we have and the policy that we have had -- it's not new -- is to bring these captured munitions and weapons to the Afghan National Army for the purpose that you describe. And that is so that we can provide the central government with a capability to provide for security of Afghanistan, as one would expect. It is also true, however, that on a number of occasions what you might call local militia -- I don't use the term "warlord". But there are Afghan forces which work with our forces inside Afghanistan, as they have since the very early days of this -- I mean, they work hand in glove, literally side by side. And on several occasions, weapons which have been taken from weapons caches have been used, some of the weapons and ammunition which has been taken from weapon caches have been used by those Afghan troops who are providing force protection to our own troops.

And so, you bet, what we want to do is we want to use these munitions and weapons for the Afghan national army. But candidly, there have been several occasions where people on the ground said, Well, okay, the man who is providing force protection for me is using a not-good weapon. And it made sense to him to hand over one of these weapons out of a cache to that troop. And so what's been reported is accurate, but the policy remains what it has been, and that's to use these munitions and weapons for the Afghan national army.

Please.

Q: Still with Afghanistan, you said earlier in your remarks that all the different nations participating deserve the respect and support of the United States. Could you specifically address the performance of the Australians in Afghanistan? There's been some complaint of their behavior, and that the Afghans, who don't always distinguish between the various English-speaking troops, are attributing the Australian troops' behavior to Americans.

Franks: The Afghans, in fact, respect what the Australians have done as well as they respect what the Americans and a whole bunch of other nations have done. The Australians have been with us from the beginning up until right now. And they remain committed to working alongside us. And so I -- the short answer is that I very much respect the Australian contribution, and I think they're doing a great job.

Sir.

Q: General, two questions. First, three recent episodes -- the sniper in Kuwait, the attack on the French tanker, and the Bali massacre -- that have led to a lot of talk about the reconstitution of al Qaeda, what is it that you are seeing in the region, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, that suggests pro or con on that question, and what is being done to confront it?

Question two: we heard yesterday that more detainees are likely to be sent to Guantanamo in the near future. What is the status of detainee operations in Afghanistan, who are you finding, and are any of those shedding light on the subject of reconstitution of al Qaeda?

Franks: Detainee operations inside Afghanistan, we do -- we do maintain a detention facility inside Afghanistan, as we have in the past. I think at one point we had perhaps two -- one in Kandahar, one up in the vicinity of Kabul at Bagram air base. Now we use one that is up in the vicinity of Bagram. I didn't look this morning, but I suspect that the number of detainees there is between 20 and 30, as of today.

We just shipped about -- between 20 and 25 to Guantanamo Bay over the last few days. That number is reasonably stable. If my memory serves, that number of 20 to 30 that we have -- detainees that we have in Bagram probably represents between six and 10 nations in terms of the nationality of those detainees. One finds a mixed bag in that.

I think it's not a stretch to say if you go out on a military operation and you see -- and you see people who are acting in a strange way, or you see people who are using threatening gestures with weapons, or if you receive some intelligence reporting that indicates that a compound, for example, should be searched, when our troops go and search that compound, in some cases they will find things like travel documents, they will find things like communications devices. When our people find something like that, then that indicates one of two things. It indicates either a direct affiliation with non-Afghan nationalities in that country, or it indicates someone's trying to make money out of that, and preparing travel documents and so forth. In every case, those people are detained so that we can determine which of those two categories they fall in. And yes, we do continue to get meaningful information on al Qaeda, as well as the structure of the old Taliban inside Afghanistan.

So yes, they continue to have use for us.

Q: And the first question about these three episodes leading to the talk about reconstitution.

Franks: Yeah. My overall take -- yeah, my overall take is that if you -- you have to start by backing away from Afghanistan. Look at the 60-plus countries where we have said for a long time that we see al Qaeda and terrorist organizations with global reach trying to conduct operations. We continue to see -- and I think George Tenet made reference to it the other day -- operations on that sort of global scale by terrorists with global reach.

If you then localize from that down into my area of responsibility, there certainly are fewer al Qaeda in Afghanistan today than there were there a year ago. Some of those al Qaeda have gone to other places around the world. Some of them doubtless are inside Pakistan. President Musharraf continues to work the Pakistanis very hard to get after the cells that he sees inside Pakistan. And I think you're familiar with recent raids in the vicinity of Peshawar, over around Karachi, where the Pakistanis have done a good job taking those down.

Now, if you take both ends of that spectrum, from the very large global view down to what we're seeing in Afghanistan, what it says to me is that these terrorist organizations retain capacity; they are capable. We should continue to be vigilant, to include in our own country. We should pay attention. We should continue law enforcement and military operations to continue to run them down and rout them out. We find a lot of places where we've had some success in doing that. But once again, a lot of work remains to be done.

Best I can do.

Sir?

Q: You have a very impressive list of accomplishments in Afghanistan. One of the things --

Franks: I see it coming. (Laughter.)

Q: -- that is happening in Afghanistan that you have not talked about, that is one of the underpinnings of the economy -- Afghanistan has returned to the number-one position as a producer and exporter of heroin. It underpins many of the warlords or militia heads that you and the government of Afghanistan is trying to work with. How is the U.S. dealing with this? Is it a complex set of dealings, because to squash it, we'll also be squashing some of the people who you need the most?

Franks: It is complex. The drug issue on its face is quite simple, and that is that a drug-exporting economy is helpful and healthy neither for the occupants of the country -- in this case the Afghans -- nor for those around the world who receive the product -- in this case heroin and poppy-based sort of product.

Deeper than that, we have generations worth of Afghans who have made their living either by growing, as a farmer, growing this product, or by processing it, or by transporting it and selling it. And so if one is to deal with that, then there are going to be, I think, not -- not a simple set of solutions to that particular problem.

At the end of the day, the solution is going to come from the Afghan government. At the end of the day, the solution is going to come by the people in Afghanistan choosing to take a different course of action. The specifics of each of the approaches to interdiction of growth, to interdiction of transportation, interdiction of sales and so forth are issues that I'm not competent to stand here because of the magnitude of agencies and nations, as part of the coalition, who are involved in assisting the Afghan national government to come to grips with the problem. So, complex problem, long ways to go to solve it.

Q: Sounds like, from a military perspective anyway, you are stepping aside and letting the local forces go as they will and doing nothing.

Franks: From the military perspective, the job that we have in Afghanistan is the destruction of terrorist organizations with global reach.

Is there capability to do a great many things? Of course there's capability to do a great many things. But there are some things that the military forces of the United States of America are especially good at, and there are other things that the militaries of other coalition countries can provide equal capacity. And so we'll continue to balance the work done by coalition members, the international community, with the work where we focus our attention, which is on the destruction of terrorism in order to take care of our own country and assist our friends internationally in taking care of themselves in the face of terrorism.

Sir?

Q: General Franks, President Bush and Secretary Powell and others have said in the last few days that if there is no U.N. -- satisfactory U.N. resolution in the next few days, perhaps by the end of next week, that the United States should be prepared for some fundamental decisions about taking action with a coalition of the willing. From a -- from your point of view, from a practical operational perspective, how different, how much more difficult would it be to carry out military action without a U.N. resolution?

Franks: I think it's difficult to give you a straight-up, honest answer. The preference is to work with the international community in order to solve the problem of the regime in Iraq, a problem that potentially represents the nexus of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. The best case for us is to be able -- as the president carried the case back in September to the United Nations, to be able to build our force list, our coalition, based on work by the Security Council within their charter. And so our country is working very, very hard every day to do that.

I think the one thing that is not fully appreciated is the depth of commitment of nations around this world to -- their depth of commitment to the notion that the regime in Baghdad is not helpful, either within the region or around the world; that the threat is present, that the threat is growing.

In terms of how many nations would join the coalition, I don't know. And I have to leave it at that. I will say that my sense, visiting the region -- and I mentioned that I had just come back -- my sense is that we have a great many friends, partners and allies who see the situation the same way we do. And I'll leave it at that.

Q: With or without a U.N. resolution.

Q: Talking about that nexus, we haven't really heard from you on your views about that nexus. In other words, what ties do you see in Iraq with terrorist groups between the weapons of mass destruction and the link specifically to al Qaeda? Do you believe there is a link between the two? Do you see irrefutable evidence that there are ties between the Saddam Hussein regime and al Qaeda?

Franks: Iraq is a state sponsor of terrorism. Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. The linkages between the government of Iraq and other transnational terrorist organizations like al Qaeda is not the issue with me. The issue is the potential of a state with weapons of mass destruction, passing those weapons of mass destruction to proven terrorist capability. And I believe that that risk exists, yes ma'am.

Q: But more specifically, do you actually see a nexus between the Saddam Hussein regime and the al Qaeda? Do you believe they have been in communication, do you believe there have been al Qaeda members inside Iraq with government approval operating in the country with al Qaeda active in Iraq?

Franks: Barbara, I have seen an awful lot of speculation about whether there have been direct links between the Iraqi regime and al Qaeda, and I just simply won't enter into the speculation. It is not helpful -- it's not helpful for me to join in that debate by saying that I have either seen one or five or 55 pieces of intelligence that would indicate to me that there is a linkage. And so, that's why I tried to tell you that it actually doesn't make any difference whether it's al Qaeda, or whether it is other terrorist capability. The fact is that the nexus of state sponsorship with terrorists and weapons of mass destruction is a present and growing danger to the international community. And so, that's why I prefer to keep my focus.

Sir?

Q: Can you give a speculation?

Q: There was a report in this morning's New York Times that the coalition naval forces believe they are catching about 90 percent of the oil being smuggled from Iraq to the Persian Gulf. When did that reversal take place? It's a marked change from this time last year. And are you taking similar measures to overland smuggling, which has been a major problem in the past?

Franks: What you see when you look at oil being smuggled out of Iraq is, as you suggested, you obviously get it going a couple of ways. You get it going overland, and you get it going by sea. Actually, the maritime interdiction operations have for quite a while been reasonably effective. They were less effective when Iranian territorial waters were somewhat open to Iraqi smugglers to be able to come out of the Khor Abdullah or the Shatt-al-Arab, and then move through Iranian waters and so forth. The Iranians have taken a hard stand there now.

And so what that means is, whatever is coming out of Iraq now is coming out into open water, and that makes it possible for coalition naval assets -- note the word coalition naval assets -- to be able to stop, you know, to challenge and to take a look, to see what's there. And so in fact, of the oil that would like to be smuggled out of Iraq using the Northern Arabian Gulf, pretty successful -- we're pretty successful with that.

I think you're continuing to see a variety of oil leave by way of pipeline and by way of trucks over ground routes coming out of Iraq, and so -- not as successful there.

Sir?

Q: General, could you talk in some detail about the planning for Internal Look, as to what the dates are or what -- the elements of the groups that are going with you and the possibility of you staying longer than just for the exercise?

Franks: The exercise can be, I guess, defined in a couple of ways. The amount of time that I will be associated with the exercise will be a week, 10 days, and it will be in the early December time frame. And it will be in a number of countries over in the region. If you back away from that specific exercise period and look to the deployment part that goes on before it and the cleaning-up part that goes on after it, it may well last a month to six weeks. And so if you scope it sort of in the late fall, early winter time frame, with that early period in December as the actual timing of the exercise, then you'd be pretty close.

Now, what's it all about? Unified commands, combatant commands in our country have not, by and large, had deployable command and control capabilities like their smaller formations have had for a long, long time. We call them TOCs -- tactical operations centers. Well, over the last year Central Command has built a deployable command and control capability. And what that actually means is containers of communications gear, very large communications pipes that we're able to put in the back of an airplane, fly it a long ways, land it on the ground and then set up a command and control complex.

This Internal Look exercise gives us the opportunity to deploy that command post. It takes about 600 to a thousand people to operate it. And the purpose of it is command, control, communications, to be sure that we have the right bandwidth lined up, to be sure that we can talk to our components -- by that I mean air component, land component, maritime component, and special operations component. And so that's the piece that will be exercised in early December over in our region. It's no more than that, it's no less. Does it give us increased capability? You bet. It gives us increased capability. How long will it be there? Well, we'll make that decision when the time comes.

Q: You mentioned it involves several countries. In what way, and what are the countries you're talking about?

Franks: Yeah. It involves several countries because the footprint of U.S. forces over in my region right now is found in several countries. We have subordinate commands in a number of places in the region.

Q: You're talking about communicating with those forces, is what you're talking about.

Franks: Sure. Sure. The linkages. And the linkages with our home command in Tampa. We'll have all that lashed up together.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: Sir, in your opening statement you mentioned all this humanitarian improvement that's going on in Afghanistan.

Franks: Right.

Q: Can you explain some specific instances of things that you've seen that have changed between visits that you've made over there that you consider are particularly heartening?

Franks: Well, I actually haven't counted. But I probably have been in Afghanistan somewhere between 10 and 15 times over the past 12 months.

My first visits to Afghanistan had no children on the street. Now one sees children on the street carrying books. And when you follow the children, you find the children go into schools that didn't exist a year ago. And when you follow the female children, the little girls, then you find they're going to school. And they hadn't done that before. When you're able to walk into a hospital in Kabul that eight months ago was completely falling down and had absolutely no capability to provide medical assistance to anyone and you find that that hospital is now not only treating civilians, it's actually treating women who, during the period of the Taliban, were unable to receive medical treatment because females were not permitted to be seen by male doctors, and there were no female doctors. When one drives through the streets in Kabul or in Mazur-e Sharif or in Kandahar or in Herat now, one sees children flying kites. One hears music.

Now, that's all very, very positive. It does not mean -- it does not mean -- that we don't still see fractious behavior by some of these ethnic and tribal groups, with which all of you are very familiar, because we do. Everything is not all calm and peaceful, and there's a lot of work to be done in Afghanistan, and it's going to keep going on for a long time.

Sir?

Q: General, back to Internal Look. General Myers said some time ago that there's a possibility, in fact, likelihood -- the way he put it -- that some of the command staff that go over for Internal Look will actually stay. Is that your supposition, that some of those people will stay there?

Franks: I think -- I think General Dick Myers' comment was in the category of "could." If you look at our footprint in the region -- and you're all aware of this -- we have had, over the last 12 months, 10 or 15 or 20 different footprints. And when we have this deployable command post established forward, then we have a couple of options. One is we can pack it all up and we can bring it back to Tampa -- and we might. Another one is that we could leave it there and leave some people with it, to include some staff officers. That's a possibility. Another is we could leave it there, bring the staff officers home and leave a caretaker detachment with it. And actually, we haven't decided yet which of those courses we'll take.

And you and I both could speculate about well, if we see this, then I bet you're going to keep these people there, and if you see something else, then I'll bet you'll bring them home. And so we'll just wait and see how it turns out.

Ma'am?

Q: General, there's been some discussion of sending additional forces to the Horn of Africa. Have you seen -- is there some indication of more al Qaeda fleeing to the region? What would be the rationale for sending more forces?

Franks: In fact, we do have more forces in that region, down around Djibouti. If you look at the global war on terrorism, then what you see, that we said a long time ago, we said a long time ago, first off we're going to rout the terrorists out of Afghanistan and get rid of the Taliban. We also said that there are going to be some friendly nations and we're going to want to work with them in order to help them help themselves get over the terrorist problem. And we also said it may be necessary from time to time to coerce others to get rid of the terrorist problem.

Well, as we have better refined and defined our relationships and what we're looking at, it seems to make sense to us to put this capability -- Marine capability -- in the vicinity of Djibouti to work with countries in the Horn of Africa. But you can see a lot of things in that. You can see, well, it's tied to the global war on terrorism -- and for sure it is. But you also know that we have security relationships or engagement opportunities -- however you choose to think about them -- in a great many countries in the Horn of Africa: Kenya, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Yemen. And so having that force there gives us the ability to increase our exercise work with all those nations. And so the answer is, it's all of the above.

Last question.

Q: How big a force?

Q: General, before she gives you the hook, there has been some speculation that if we do go to war with Iraq and we're going to stay for a while, there will be a military commander. And your name has been mentioned. Would you take the job if the president asked you to?

Franks: (Chuckles.) I think anyone who serves this country in this uniform always has to be, one, very respectful to the Constitution of the country and, two, very respectful to the commander in chief of the country. And so the -- no one has suggested to me that that eventuality might come to pass. I saw the speculation. I simply grinned about it, and we moved on.

The president has not made a decision about what to do in Iraq. And so since he hasn't made a decision, I sure don't know about it, and I wouldn't want to speculate about what might happen next.

Franks: And sir, back to you, the question is 7(00) to 800.

Q: Seven to eight hundred Marines.

Q: General, just one more brief one --

Q: In Djibouti or based in Eritrea?

Franks: No, they're based in Djibouti. They're not based in Eritrea. Some are ashore and some are afloat. We have an afloat command and control capability that we move around, and so one may well see that afloat capability.

The duration has not been -- (inaudible) --

Q: General, General, could we ask you just very briefly about the friendly fire incident on March 2nd southeast of Gardez? Has there been any determination on the AC-130 gunship --

Q: Can you go back to the microphone, sir, for -- (off mike)?

Franks: Sure. Yes. Yes, Barbara, I will. (Laughter.)

Okay, no joke, no kidding. Last question.

I was told by -- in an article Eric wrote that that investigation had been completed. I have not yet seen that investigation. When I saw Eric's article, I asked my people, "Where is it? When am I going to see it?" And the reason I haven't seen it is because there are classified pieces in that because of the tactics, techniques and procedures we use with AC-130 gunships.

Before that is brought to conclusion, the desire was to have all the classified information, you know, taken out, redacted, so that we could put together an appropriate, open, public release.

So that is where it stands right now. It has not yet been given by my lawyers to me, but it has been given by the investigators to my lawyers. And so that's where it stands right now.

Q: And you would give the final stamp on it?

Franks: I will give the final stamp on it.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Thanks for coming. Come back and see us.

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