Tommy Franks: He's an Unlikely Revolutionary, a Ground-Pounding Grunt's General. but in an Exclusive Interview, He Reveals How He Learned to Play by Rummy's Rules and Put a Whole New Way of War to the Test
Thomas, Evan, Brant, Martha, Newsweek
Byline: Evan Thomas and Martha Brant
Military commanders have long touted boldness and surprise as keys to victory. "L'audace, l'audace," said Napoleon, "toujours l'audace!" But how do you achieve surprise in the age of instant information? All Saddam Hussein had to do was turn on his TV and any number of retired American generals would tell him, with apparent certainty, where and when the Americans were going to attack him and with what force.
And yet, Operation Iraqi Freedom was able to keep Saddam guessing. Using speed, unconventional tactics and some artful trickery, the Americans befuddled the Iraqi defenders. One ruse, NEWSWEEK has learned, played on Saddam's paranoia. Until it was too late, Saddam was led to believe that the Americans would attack from the north, through Turkey. The ruler of Baghdad was informed by secret agents that the Turks' refusal in early March to allow the Americans to unload in their ports was all a bluff--that at the last minute the Turks would change their minds and let the Americans use Turkey as a jumping-off point. Actually, this grand deception was itself a charade, disinformation planted by the Americans to prey on Saddam's conspiratorial turn of mind. It worked: the Iraqi strongman kept 13 divisions in the north, braced for a phantom invasion, while the real attack barreled up from the south.
In the end, the Americans, by sheer audacity, achieved true surprise. The Iraqis were never able to mount a coherent defense or take any number of steps, like blowing bridges and dams or using chemical weapons, which would have slowed the American advance. Gen. Tommy Franks, the overall commander of Operation Iraqi Freedom, surprised even himself. The war plan, as written, was expected to require up to 120 days, Franks told NEWSWEEK in his first published interview with a reporter since the war ended. It took less than three weeks to topple Saddam.
The principal architect of this feat is a somewhat unlikely hero. General Franks looks and sounds like Old Army. He is a ground-pounding grunt's general, a college dropout with a folksy, aw-shucks manner. He avoids the press and recoils at martial bombast. But under the persistent questioning of his boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Franks transformed himself into an avatar of a whole new way of war. He fashioned a war plan that was bold, yet not rash--or, as Franks drew the distinction, "a risk, but not a gamble." How he accomplished this personal and institutional reinvention is one of the most important and least understood stories of the war.
To fathom Franks, it is necessary to first appreciate the role played by his boss and goad, the secretary of Defense. When Rumsfeld took over as secretary of Defense in January 2001, he grumbled that the Pentagon culture was risk averse, that the military establishment was muscle-bound and sclerotic. One of its commanders likened the Special Operations Forces (SOF)--the elite highly trained units like Delta Force, the Rangers and the Navy SEALs--to a "Ferrari that's never taken out of the garage." A Delta Force plan in the late '90s to snatch a terrorist using only a four-man commando team became, after winding --through the bureaucracy, a massive operation requiring 900 men--so unwieldy that it never got off the ground.
Rumsfeld's initial attempts to transform the military--to make it faster, leaner, more flexible--were greeted with foot-dragging and subversive leaks to the press, especially from Army officers who feared their service would lose out. Then came 9-11. At first, Rumsfeld was embarrassed in front of the president by the Pentagon's slow and tentative response. When George W. Bush declared that he wanted "boots on the ground" in Afghanistan to chase out the Taliban, the CIA was able to infiltrate a team of paramilitaries within about two weeks. But the Pentagon planners floundered. The armed services protested that they couldn't fly in helicopters without search-and-rescue and elaborate backup plans. While the generals dithered, Rumsfeld steamed. To be around the secretary of Defense at this time, one aide recalled, was "excruciating."
But when SOF teams finally made it into Afghanistan and hooked up with native resistance fighters in mid-October, they performed brilliantly, at one point joining a 21st-century cavalry charge on Taliban positions. Rumsfeld loved that. More importantly, the military discovered that technology had given it a new edge. Precision bombing and better communications allowed ground forces to call in air power with devastating effect. (In World War II, it could require 3,000 air sorties to eliminate a single target; in the gulf war, it took only 10. Now one plane can take out 10 targets.)
As soon as Al Qaeda was routed from its Afghan sanctuary, President Bush was determined to show off American power by taking out Iraq's Saddam Hussein and his alleged weapons of mass destruction. ("We're still confident we'll find them," a senior administration official said last week.) "The president told me, 'Get a plan'," Rumsfeld recounted to NEWSWEEK. "I told him there was a plan, but not one you'd want to implement. 'Get one,' the president said," Rumsfeld recalled. The plan on the shelf for invading Iraq was essentially "Gulf War II," says Rumsfeld. It required 500,000 men for a ponderous and protracted campaign.
Rumsfeld called in General Franks of Central Command. Franks did not need to be persuaded to come up with a leaner, more up-to-date plan that took advantage of new technology. Though he had been trained as a traditional Army man to believe in heavy-armor divisions that slug it out on the ground, he had seen how air power --worked wonders in Afghanistan. Still, there was nothing in Franks's background that would have predicted strategic genius. Decorated in Vietnam as a forward artillery observer, he had risen through the ranks in fairly predictable fashion. He was hardly a contrarian like Rumsfeld, who was known as an ambitious risk taker.
So began an intricate dance between two strong but different men. Both politely describe the grinding back-and-forth planning sessions as "an iterative process." Fortunately, their strengths and personalities were complementary. "I ask questions," says Rumsfeld. "He's a person who thinks things through." By most accounts, the relationship was a good one, leavened by large doses of teasing and jokes. The two men often went out to dinner together. The first time, Franks reached for the check, but Rumsfeld grabbed it away. "Why?" asked Franks. "Because I have more money than you do," answered Rumsfeld. Noting Rumsfeld's celebrity and curious septuagenarian sex appeal, Franks told the Defense secretary that he was a "Beltway babe." Back in the office, there were inevitably moments of tension. Rumsfeld is very demanding. "If you don't know your job, if you're not professional, and you don't meet the high standards that he sets for himself... you're not going to have a good day with him," says Gen. Peter Pace, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who attended almost all the planning meetings with Rumsfeld and Franks.
Though some generals found Rumsfeld abrasive, Franks says he never did. "His style is direct. He doesn't waste a lot of time. But in-your-face, absolutely not," Franks told NEWSWEEK. Some Pentagon officials and senior officers, watching Franks locked in Rumsfeld's tough-love embrace, thought they could see him grow in confidence. Post-Vietnam and -Watergate, in the prosecutorial atmosphere of Washington, the military brass has remained wary that civilians will not back them up if the body bags start coming home. As Franks put it, "You lose some people and the witch hunts start." Rumsfeld and Franks discussed the Pentagon's "culture of risk aversion... for about two years," Franks recalled. Franks agreed with Rumsfeld: the problem was real and deeply rooted.
Rumsfeld was able to reassure Franks that President Bush and the rest of the civilian leadership wanted an aggressive commander--even if that meant risking casualties. During frequent visits to the White House, Franks also bonded with Bush. "Tommy and I speak the same language," Bush told an aide, who added that the two men shared a "west Texas" perspective on the world. Bush appreciated that Franks is "not a 'me' guy... he is not trying to find the next press conference," said the aide. Franks told NEWSWEEK his faith that his civilian masters would stand behind him "grew over time... I convinced myself that the president actually meant it. That's very powerful."
At the same time, Franks became increasingly assured that his high-tech tools of war allowed him to fight in a whole new way. The key, in Pentagon jargon, was "jointness." Historically, when the different armed services went into combat, their chief goal was "de-confliction," i.e., trying not to kill each other. To keep them apart, the services generally fought in sequence: a naval or air bombardment followed by a Marine or Army ground assault. Communications between the services were poor to nonexistent. But technology, necessity and discipline changed all that in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The different services learned to work together, to trust each other to be "on time and on target." "Simultaneity" became the buzzword. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force officers routinely razzed each other, always a sign of respect. During one early videoconference, Franks asked Gen. Michael Moseley, the air-war commander, if anyone of the people in the room with him were "worth a s--t." Moseley replied, "Maybe one or two." Franks, a fellow Texan, wondered if they were "all Aggies" (Texas A&M grads).
The coordination was unusually close between Special Forces and the Air Force. Gen. Gary Harrell, in charge of Special Operations, was able to sit in his command center (dubbed "the Ghetto") in Doha, Qatar, and follow troop and air movements on a plasma screen. "Blue" forces were friendly, "red" were enemy. Harrell watched as a blue icon--a 12-man Army A Team--moved to confront several red icons in Kurdish northern Iraq. "Sir," a nervous aide asked. "You realize those icons on the map are brigades?" meaning --that a dozen Americans and some Kurds were about to attack a few thousand Iraqis with tanks. "Yeah, I know," said Harrell, shrugging. "They're doing OK." He could afford to be nonchalant because he knew the A Team could call in airstrikes from some of the roughly 1,000 U.S. aircraft loitering over Iraq. (As it was, the A Team still had to do some hairy, close-in fighting: one sergeant took out three tanks with shoulder-fired Javelin missiles and his squad mates finished off the last attackers with shotguns.)
Throughout the war, Franks got no second-guessing from Washington--"none," Rumsfeld flatly told NEWSWEEK. Says Franks's operations chief, Gen. Gene Renuart, "It was General Franks's fight. No one in Washington felt any need to inject themselves." Back at the Pentagon, General Pace insists, "there was nothing but calm from the very first day." That is not to say Franks was serene. "He was tense, grumpy," says a close aide. "He was consistently driving his ground commanders to take risks, daily. Every day, he wanted ground operations to go faster. When we would come to a town at a certain time of day, he'd say, 'Get in the town'." Says Franks: "Speed kills."
The original plan was to bypass the towns on the road to Baghdad, seal them off and keep on going. For a brief time, attacks by Saddam's death squads on the Americans' thin supply lines seemed to complicate this plan--and caused dire headlines back home predicting a long and bloody war. But the ground commanders quickly discovered that, as Franks dryly put it, "the enemy was not entirely brilliant." Rather than scatter their guerrilla forces, the Iraqi Fedayeen collected in one or two buildings, typically a Baath Party headquarters. By sending a few tanks crashing into town, it was possible to make "the enemy puddle itself," says Franks. The commanders began calling these armored thrusts "thunder runs." By the time the Third I.D. arrived in Baghdad, Franks was confident enough to OK a thunder run right into the heart of Baghdad. "A new kind of urban warfare," says Franks.
Franks was not insensitive to brutal images of American power. He ordered his spokesmen to stop showing video footage of precision weapons smashing targets. At the same time, he could be merciless: "Treat 'em rough," he would tell his commanders as they closed with the enemy. "If they don't come in [surrender] by sundown, kill 'em." Franks is careful not to gloat about his victory or his own place as an innovative commander. He felt uncomfortable about Gen. (Stormin') Norman Schwarzkopf's showy triumphalism after Operation Desert Storm. But when Franks arrived in Baghdad, he permitted himself a victory tour of one of Saddam's palaces with his commanders. The United Nations' Oil-for-Food Program had been corrupted by Saddam into an "oil-for-palaces program," Franks joked as he examined the gold-plated faucets. Franks sat down in one of Saddam's gilded chairs and lit a cigar. How did he feel? "Terrific," he said.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Tommy Franks: He's an Unlikely Revolutionary, a Ground-Pounding Grunt's General. but in an Exclusive Interview, He Reveals How He Learned to Play by Rummy's Rules and Put a Whole New Way of War to the Test. Contributors: Thomas, Evan - Author, Brant, Martha - Author. Magazine title: Newsweek. Publication date: May 19, 2003. Page number: 24. © 2009 Newsweek, Inc. All rights reserved. Any reuse, distribution or alteration without express written permission of Newsweek is prohibited. For permission: www.newsweek.com. COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group.
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