- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 7, 2004

On March 7, 2001, Gen. Tommy Franks met with the new secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, in the Pentagon. The military needed transformation to meet the challenges of the 21st century, the new secretary declared. When hearing of Rumsfeld’s intentions the general noted, “Good for him.”

Gen. Franks concluded from the meeting that U.S. policy on al Qaeda was also changed. The frustration with “pinprick, standoff retaliations,” what the president had described as “swatting at flies,” was building both frustration within the Pentagon and the intelligence community. He was relieved that a new policy of eliminating the terrorist swamps was being adopted. As the threat information was nearly universally pointing to an attack in the Middle East, Gen. Franks sent a note to his commanders warning about “small planes loaded with explosives.”

A few days later the attacks of September 11 occurred. The general remembers thinking “Today is like Pearl Harbor. The world was one way before today, and will never be that way again. We stand at a crease in history.” He was in almost immediate contact with the secretary of defense again. The president wanted a full range of operational concepts for removing the Taliban and eliminating al Qaeda. The message was clear — no more token retaliation. No more “million-dollar [Tomahawk missiles] into empty tents.”

As Gen. Frank recalls, there were no plans for conventional ground operations in Afghanistan, and none had even been contemplated since at least 1993. The president was convinced to do the right thing, whatever it takes, and thus the general was determined to avoid a “wrist slap” plan that launches missiles and “hopes for a good outcome.” The administration leadership was determined to transcend traditional thinking that looked at Afghanistan in 2001 the way we looked at Desert Storm in 1991. Thinking “outside the box” was the watchword.

Critical to this was the use of anti-Taliban warlords and other “tribals” belonging to what was then a fractured Northern Alliance. The United States had poor intelligence on Afghanistan, explained Gen. Franks, and needed the help of Afghan generals for the effort. Complaints that such help was “outsourcing” the war effort are completely misinformed. For example, only with the help of these warriors did the United States eliminate the Taliban and al Qaeda in what turned out to be, in historical terms, record time. The commanders in the Northern Alliance, says Gen. Franks, “delivered Taloqan, Konduz and Heart… vital towns in the north… in rapid succession.” As a result, U.S. forces “fought one of the most tactically skillful and courageous small-unit actions in American military history.” On the afternoon of Nov. 9, the United States and its allies routed the Taliban and al Qaeda and captured Mazar-e-Sharif. The allied U.S. Special Forces teams were able to fight with flexibility and rapidity. Would the critics have us run a war in slow motion?

Some have argued that in Tora Bora U.S. forces left the fighting to the Afghans and thus failed to kill or capture Osama bin Laden. Again, Gen. Franks shows such a claim is nonsense. The laser guided GBUs, the JDAMs, the AC-130 Specter gunships, the SOF forces and the three brigades from the 101st Mountain and Air Assault Divisions, as well as Marine Expeditionary Units, were American forces. Yes, they worked with Afghan forces, but aren’t these critics calling for the United States to use the help of its allies?

Now what of the additional claim that the administration rushed to war in Iraq once the Taliban were toppled? You would think the commander of the war itself would know the answer to this question. And indeed he does. Gen. Franks explains that early in 2001, the defense secretary emphasized that the sanctions against Iraq were collapsing, the 1991 coalition had dwindled to the United States and Great Britain, and containment could no longer work. He said we needed a plan to deal with Iraq, the threats to U.S. pilots in the no-fly zones and the overall threat posed by the regime. Ironically, some 18 months before, Sen. John Kerry had said exactly the same thing during a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and during an appearance on CNN.

But Gen. Franks also notes that the president hoped that “diplomacy and international pressure will succeed in disarming the regime” in Iraq. But if that approach wasn’t successful, said the president, prudence required “we have to have other options.” The president further explained: “The worst thing that could happen to America would be a combination of WMD and terrorism. There have been no U.N. inspections in Iraq since 1998. We do not know what kind of weapons they’ve developed, and we don’t know Saddam’s intentions… but we do know he used WMD before.”

Gen. Franks, too, was worried. Camps belonging to Ansar al-Islam, under the direction of Abu Musab Zarqawi, who had previously joined al Qaeda in Afghanistan, where he specialized in developing chemical and biological weapons, were appearing in northern Iraq. A terrorist cell trained in these camps was arrested in Britain in January 2003. In its flat were traces of ricin, a deadly biological toxin the terrorists were planning to use to poison the food supply. Added to this was the discovery in Afghanistan by U.S. Special Forces that these same terrorists were attempting to acquire chemical and biological weapons.

Gen. Franks praises the president because he “expressed a fundamental premise in the Global War on Terrorism — and what he said made perfect sense to me. American has been attacked… we had defeated the enemy in one theater. But the country could not withdraw into a defensive crouch and wait to be attacked again — this time, quite possibly, by weapons much more destructive than hijacked airliners.”

Peter Huessy is president of Geo Strategic Analysis.

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