Retired Gen. Franks Speaks Frankly on Wars; New Book American Soldier Talks about What Lies Ahead in Afghanistan, Iraq; He'll Sign Books at Beaches This Month

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Byline: GREGORY PIATT, The Times-Union

The United States will require large numbers of troops in Iraq for up to five years to stabilize the Persian Gulf nation, retired Gen. Tommy Franks said Monday in a telephone news conference with reporters from around the country.

The former U.S. Central Command chief -- who toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan, invaded Iraq and ended the Saddam Hussein regime -- also added it will take the same amount of time for the United States and its allies to withdraw their troops in Afghanistan.

"I think major operations in both countries will have a duration of three to five years," said Franks, who was promoting his 590-page memoir called American Soldier. The book goes on sale today.

The almost 18,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan need to bolster the work of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, hunt Taliban and al-Qaida militants and keep the country from spiraling into chaos, said Franks, who will visit Jacksonville Beach during a book tour this month.

In Iraq, the increasing number of Iraqi security forces should help reduce U.S. troop presence there over time, Franks said. Currently, there are about 141,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

The general predicted that in six to eight months violence will begin to decrease.

"Sometime around the first of the year there will be increased stability in Iraq," he said. "In general, I think as the stability increases . . . the specific U.S. troop presence will come down."

Franks defended his 2003 battle plan and troop strength for attacking and occupying Iraq in the book and to reporters Monday. He agreed with Central Command predecessor, retired Marine Corps Gen. …