Friday, May 23, 2003

Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who delivered President Bush two big battlefield victories in the war on terrorism, is retiring rather than seeking a new command, the Pentagon said yesterday.

No departure date was announced, but Gen. Franks’ three-year tenure as chief of U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., ends in July, capping a 36-year Army career.

The four-star general was among the names mentioned as the next Army chief of staff, which becomes vacant next month with the retirement of Gen. Eric Shinseki. But Gen. Franks was said to be leery of taking on the Pentagon post, with all its budgetary and policy infighting.

“He has served our country with great distinction,” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said. “I consider myself privileged to have worked so closely with him over these many months.”

Gen. Franks, 57, will leave the Army at the pinnacle of his career, having just planned and overseen a 27-day war to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. After al Qaeda’s September 11 attack on the United States, Gen. Franks also commanded forces that toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, thus denying Osama bin Laden and his terrorist group their principal base of operations.

In leaving now, Gen. Franks is at the height of name recognition and popularity, and can command large speaking fees and top corporate jobs, if he chooses.

He follows a similar path taken by the Desert Storm commander, Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who also decided to end his stellar military career after a big military victory — the eviction of Iraqi troops from Kuwait in 1991.

Pentagon officials say they had expected Mr. Rumsfeld to offer the chief of staff job to Gen. Franks as a reward for his war victories.

One candidate to replace Gen. Franks at Central Command — one of the Pentagon’s most important strategic outposts with responsibility for the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa — is Army Lt. Gen. John Abizaid. The Arabic-speaking general, a Rumsfeld favorite, has also been mentioned as a successor to Gen. Shinseki.

Although Gen. Franks and Gen. Schwarzkopf ended their careers in a similar ways, they are a contrast in style.

While Gen. Schwarzkopf graduated from the Army’s elite officer training ground at West Point, N.Y., Gen. Franks failed to complete his first stab at the University of Texas before joining the Army and going off to Vietnam.

While Gen. Schwarzkopf enjoyed the limelight and even bullied reporters at times, Gen. Franks had to be talked into holding press briefings.

Gen. Franks’ skill as a war planner was questioned by some inside the Pentagon, especially by unnamed Air Force officers. In the Afghanistan campaign, they complained that the general, an artillery officer by training, did not appreciate modern air power and micromanaged the process of picking targets.

But his No. 1 fan was the man who counted most — President Bush, his commander in chief and also from Midland, Texas.

The two are said to have bonded after the Afghanistan victory when Mr. Bush invited him to the Texas ranch during the 2001 Christmas holidays.

“I am real proud of the military, and I’m proud of the commander,” Mr. Bush said outside his home then as the general stood by. “Tommy has done everything we’ve asked. He is fulfilling the mission with patience and discipline and success. He’s a down-to-earth, no-nonsense guy — precisely the kind of man we need to lead a complex mission such as this.”

Jim Wilkinson, a Central Command spokesman, said Gen. Franks has not made definite post-Army plans.

He said the general, who is now back in Tampa after running the war from Doha, Qatar, plans to tour his area of responsibility, including Iraq, several more times before retiring.

“General Franks was extended for an extra year after his normal term,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “He served his nation with distinction, helped win two wars and I think he wants to look to future challenges.

“General Franks will spend every minute of his remaining time making sure that the troops in the field have everything they need. He has perhaps the busiest command in history, with operations in the Horn of Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq.”

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