Skip to comments.The Commander: How Tommy Franks won the Iraq war
Posted on 05/23/2003 9:17:27 PM PDT by Pokey78
PRESIDENT BUSH had a slightly anxious question for General Tommy Franks, the commander of American and allied forces in Iraq. It was a week or so before the fighting began, and Bush was looking at a war plan with a dizzying array of separate but simultaneous actions, plus options and alternatives. It looked risky. "Is it normal for a war plan to have this many variables this late in the day?" the president asked.
It was anything but normal. But Franks, a self-confident artilleryman who had spent a year fashioning the plan in hands-on collaboration with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, reassured the president he'd made the right call in adopting it. Franks believes warfare requires risk--"prudent risk" or "moderate risk" is how he puts it--but never a gamble. He mentioned to Bush the plan involved political circumstances in Iraq's neighborhood which themselves had many variables.
The principal reason for the variables was the war plan itself. It represented a radically new kind of warfare that was bound to accelerate the transformation of the American military and redefine the concept of "overwhelming force." In Iraq, the plan meant that three different ground wars would be fought at the same time: a secret commando war in western Iraq, a war relying on Kurdish troops in the north, and an invasion by three divisions of American and British soldiers from the south. And in Franks's view there were two other fronts--the air and information (or mind-game) wars.
A myth surrounds the war plan. It is that Rumsfeld forced a new paradigm of warfare on an unimaginative and deeply conventional Franks. This isn't true. Rumsfeld was particularly insistent about deploying special operations forces--the Delta Force, Navy Seals, Army Rangers. And he has campaigned noisily for the transformation of the military into a smaller, more mobile, and less risk-averse force.
But the plan belonged to Franks, who began thinking about Iraq while the war in Afghanistan was still being fought. When he joined the president at his Crawford, Texas, ranch in December 2001, he promised "a small option [for Iraq] that's extremely fast and very risky" if war with Iraq became necessary--a plan quite different from that of the Gulf War a dozen years earlier.
With the Franks plan, American forces repeatedly achieved tactical surprise in the war, notably when American, British, and Australian special forces from Jordan captured Iraq's Scud missile sites in western Iraq two days before the larger war began. Iraqi defenders there "didn't have a lot of time to be caught by surprise because we killed them," Franks said in an interview last week at Central Command headquarters in Tampa. "I have to believe the regime was surprised."
There's a debate over whether operational (or strategic) surprise was attained--that is, something approaching total surprise of the Pearl Harbor variety. Franks thinks it was. Even though Saddam Hussein was aware of the gradual military buildup just outside Iraq, he was led to believe an attack was weeks away at the earliest and might still be averted altogether. The strongest evidence of operational surprise is that the Iraqi army neither went on the attack nor mounted a serious defense of any region, installation, or city, Baghdad included.
In any case, the swift victory in Iraq following the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan has stamped Franks, 57, as the greatest American military leader since Douglas MacArthur a half century ago. He has few competitors. General Creighton Abrams changed the course of the Vietnam war, but it was lost anyway. General Norman Schwarzkopf waged a two-dimensional war in 1991 that saw Iraqis decimated by B-52s and driven out of Kuwait. But Schwarzkopf erred gravely by letting Iraq keep the helicopters it subsequently used to kill thousands of Shias. General Wesley Clark's victory over Serbia involved only bombers flying at 35,000 feet, nothing more.
At the White House, Bush and Vice President Cheney are admirers. They believe Franks is the only general who could have scripted a revolutionary war plan for Iraq, dealt effectively with an overbearing defense secretary, suppressed longstanding rivalries among the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force, and directed allied forces to victory in less than three weeks.
Yet Franks, who will retire in July, remains a little-known figure and not quite an identifiable national celebrity. He has gone out of his way to differentiate himself from Schwarzkopf, the high profile Gulf War commander who delivered energetic press briefings almost daily. The press clamored for Franks to brief, but he did so only three times during his weeks in the war zone. When he returned to Tampa last month, there was no victory ceremony or parade. Franks and his top aides were met by their families at the MacDill Air Force Base terminal in Tampa and gathered privately afterwards. There was no TV coverage.
During the war, Franks ordered his subordinates, particularly his civilian public affairs aide, Jim Wilkinson, to talk to reporters and relieve him of that chore. He told aides his constituents were the mothers, fathers, and spouses of the troops in the field. And they wanted him to concentrate on winning the war, not waste time with television interviews. "We got hammered--I mean really hammered--by the press because Franks was invisible," an aide said. "He just didn't care."
After Private Jessica Lynch was snatched from an Iraqi hospital, Franks was wary of publicizing the rescue excessively. He reminded aides of the warning by Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry against spiking the football in the end zone after a touchdown. You don't want to look surprised at having scored. The actual rescue was watched live by Franks's aides on a monitor as it was transmitted by a Predator drone hovering above the hospital. Franks didn't stay up to watch. He went to bed.
RUMSFELD, like Schwarzkopf, is a strong presence. Partly for that reason, the media have given him the bulk of the credit for transforming the American military from a grinding, troop-heavy force into the modern, high-tech powerhouse that sprinted to victory in Iraq. Rumsfeld deserves enormous credit. But Franks was the indispensable man.
Rumsfeld and Franks are opposites. Both have impressive leadership skills, but the defense secretary is outspoken and passionate, Franks terse and unflappable. They did not always get along swimmingly. During the Afghan war, Centcom lawyers dithered over whether a caravan carrying Mullah Omar, the Taliban chieftan, was a legitimate target. By the time they decided it was, it was too late. Mullah Omar got away. Rumsfeld threw a fit, and Franks felt the brunt of it.
A Bush administration official said Franks is "easy to underestimate," and Rumsfeld initially seemed to do just that. He treated Franks like the rest of the military brass. He was brusque and demanding. With Franks, it didn't work. Soon, however, Rumsfeld and his aides concluded Franks was a valuable ally, a bit thin-skinned maybe, but smart and shrewd and able to provide quick answers to virtually any question the defense secretary might have.
On September 12, 2001, the day after the assault on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Rumsfeld asked Franks for a plan to attack al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan. A week later Franks presented one. "We showed him a concept with special operations forces working with locals, tied into CIA operations and supported by airpower," Franks said. Rumsfeld's reaction: "That looks pretty good." A few weeks into the war, there was pressure on Franks to jettison the plan and deploy more ground troops. He rejected the idea. It turned out to be the right decision. The troops weren't needed.
Afghanistan was a laboratory for military transformation. Lessons from Afghanistan were applied on a broader scale in Iraq. "We learned precision [bombing] is good and it makes the difference," Franks said. "We learned small units on the ground leveraging airpower are powerful. We learned the linkage of [CIA] operations with military operations is very powerful for both intelligence and operational purposes."
When Franks sat down with Bush in Crawford, the ostensible purpose of the meeting was to update the president on the Afghan war. But the discussion shifted quickly to Iraq. Franks showed Bush the Pentagon's off-the-shelf plan for conquering Iraq and deposing Saddam. It was Desert Storm Plus: 500,000 or more troops and weeks of airstrikes preceding ground operations. "This is not what we are going to do," Franks told the president. Rather, he'd come back with a pared-down, swifter, riskier war plan.
The two plans--the standby plan and the smaller option--were the "bookends" for a year-long struggle at Centcom headquarters and the Pentagon over a new strategy for Iraq, a struggle that occasionally pitted Franks against Rumsfeld, and branches of the armed forces against each other. The new plan, finalized last February, combined five elements of 21st-century warfare that reflect a remade military.
Speed. Franks is fond of saying, "Speed kills." His orders to commanders of American forces invading Iraq from the south were to race to Baghdad. "Be audacious and do not get bogged down with any major Iraqi force," Franks told them. "Bypass that force and move as quickly as possible to Baghdad." Critics of this strategy, Franks said, "didn't have the situational awareness I had."
Franks knew Iraqi divisions on the right flank couldn't get near the speeding Americans. Special ops forces had blown up bridges the Iraqis would have needed to cross to get at the Americans. So the Iraqi divisions sat in place "until they were decimated" by American airpower. "I never saw this operation as anything approaching a gamble," Franks said.
Speed raises "the possibility of catastrophic success," said Marine General Peter Pace, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which is roughly what Franks achieved. A small force moving rapidly can have the same impact--the same firepower--as a large force advancing slowly. And the smaller force has a striking advantage. It can gain a quicker victory with fewer troops and fewer casualties by surprising and discombobulating the enemy. Or, to use another of Franks's favorite phrases, by "getting into the threat's decision cycle."
According to Pace, "you still have overwhelming force, but your overwhelming force is a combination of agility and size as opposed to simply mass humanity." This amounts to a new definition of overwhelming force, a concept touted by Colin Powell when he was Joint Chiefs chairman during the Gulf War. Then, it meant outnumbering the enemy or at least coming close to matching the enemy's troop strength. In the new warfare, it means applying the same or more firepower with fewer troops, equipped with cutting edge technology and augmented by airpower.
Precision. This is the ability to destroy what you want and nothing else. Precision, Pace said, allows "you to destroy military targets and not destroy civilian targets." In Baghdad, only military facilities were targeted. One result: Most civilians didn't flee the city. "The whole refugee problem was averted, in large measure because we were very precise in the way we did our business," Pace said.
Improved technology has made weapons far more precise than they were in the Gulf War. "At least two-thirds of the bombs used by coalition forces in Iraq were precision-guided by lasers of global-positioning satellites, compared with just 13 percent of the bombs we used in the 1991 Gulf War," President Bush has noted proudly. Not the least of the accomplishments of precision weapons was the shredding of Republican Guard divisions outside Baghdad. They were "depleted" before confronting allied divisions. When American troops advanced, they found "hundreds of destroyed vehicles" and minimal resistance, said Air Force Major Gen. Victor Renuart, the Centcom operations chief.
Precision also magnifies the value of airpower. Targets that once took many sorties to destroy can now be wiped out by a single precision-guided bomb. The change in ratios is amazing. In World War II, it took 3,000 sorties to guarantee the destruction of a target. By the Gulf War, that was reduced to 10. Now one plane can take out 10 targets.
Vision. The military calls it situational or battlefield awareness. With new technology, commanders can see, in real time, where the enemy is and where their own forces are as well. Drones, radar planes, and the like spied constantly from the air on Iraqi forces. Transponders with each American unit beeped their location. With this technology, "I am watching the transformation of warfare," said Franks.
At the Centcom command post in Doha, Qatar, none of the technology was older than six months. A flat blue panel showed exactly where each allied unit was. At one point, Franks picked out a unit on the panel and simultaneously watched a second panel with a live report from a journalist embedded in that unit. "It occurred to me I was watching transformation in more than one way," Franks said.
Here's how Pace describes the American advantage in situational awareness: "The combination of overhead cover and unmanned aerial vehicles and manned aircraft and special operations and the true integration of CIA assets with special operations folks really gave a clearer picture of the battlefield itself."
Jointness. This is an awkward word for the integration in battle of the four branches of the armed services. A goal for decades, it was achieved for the first time in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the Gulf War, the forces of each branch were "de-conflicted"--in other words, they operated on separate tracks. "This time," Franks said, "we had reliant operations, where one service is reliant on the performance of another service. I believe that is transformational." Jointness is designed to produce synergy. "By taking the strengths of each of the services and integrating these capabilities," said Renuart, you can produce an even greater effect "at a center point on the battlefield."
Troops dashing to Baghdad relied on airpower for protection. And by drawing Republican Guard divisions into the open, they created a target-rich environment for American warplanes. Army, special ops, and CIA agents worked together in northern Iraq to push the Kurds out front as a fighting force, just as they had done in Afghanistan with the Northern Alliance.
In the past, each branch sought to expand its own role, the Army arguing for more of its troops on the ground, and so on. Franks, an Army man, opposed that traditional practice as he wrote the war plan. "He was obsessed with not letting the Army be elevated," an aide said. It wasn't, causing heartburn among Army generals, but creating a more coherent force in Iraq.
Special operations. This is a Rumsfeld obsession, and rightly so. For decades, special operations forces were the neglected stepchild of the military. In the Gulf War, Schwarzkopf denigrated special forces as "snake eaters." And in that war, Iraq fired dozens of missiles on Israel from its "Scud zone" in western Iraq. Last March, the special ops forces that slipped into the west at night took out all the Scud sites before a single missile was fired.
In Afghanistan, it took only a few hundred special ops personnel and CIA agents on the ground to rout the Taliban. They leveraged their presence to locate targets for destruction by precision munitions fired by warplanes. In Iraq, an estimated 10,000 special ops troops spread across the country, seizing hundreds of oil wells and the bridges that allied ground troops would cross on the road to Baghdad.
THE NEW WARFARE wasn't the sole source of the success in Iraq, nor is it the only aspect of transformation. Old concepts carried out more efficiently played a part. One was deception. The Turkish gambit was Franks's boldest effort to deceive Saddam. There's no proof, but the best guess is it affected Saddam's expectations of when an invasion might occur.
Weeks before the war, American military officers learned from their Turkish counterparts that Turkey was unlikely to allow the U.S. 4th Infantry Division to invade Iraq from Turkey in the north. Such an attack was a critical part of the Franks plan. But absent a northern front, Franks wanted Saddam to think an invasion from Turkish soil was still likely and that the war couldn't begin until weeks after the Turkish issue was resolved. So Franks insisted ships with the 4th Infantry's tanks and equipment remain off the shore of Turkey for weeks, as if awaiting the Turkish okay to unload. In fact, disinformation that the Turks would ultimately permit American troops to operate from their soil was slipped to Saddam's inner circle.
If that didn't persuade Saddam that he had, in Franks's words, "more rope," the American commander had another trick. Instead of sending ground troops into Iraq after weeks of bombing, Franks sent the 3rd Infantry Division, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, and a British Division across the southern border the day before bombing began. Then, despite talk of a pause before moving on Baghdad, Franks agreed with ground commanders to send tanks and troops into the city immediately on a "thunder run."
Had allied forces encountered serious resistance, Franks had alternatives. Pace refers to them as "pre-planned audibles," like the calls a quarterback might make at the line of scrimmage. Had special ops failed in the west, Franks had Plan B, sending a large contingent of forces from Kuwait to attack the Scud sites. Because the Turkish option didn't materialize, Franks turned to a backup plan to combine a small American force with Kurdish fighters. It worked.
A final improvement was in logistics. In the Gulf War, equipment, fuel, and food poured slowly into Kuwait. It took 25 to 30 days for an item, once ordered, to arrive. Now it takes little more than a week. When soldiers in Afghanistan said they needed saddles, they were delivered in four days.
In Iraq, each shipped item had a radio transmitter tag rather than a bar code. It could instantly be determined exactly where the item was and how soon it would arrive. Major General Dennis Jackson, Centcom's logistics boss, is a fan of Jeff Bezos, the Amazon CEO who established a state-of-the-art distribution system. Jackson may have gone Bezos one step better. During the war, he told Franks the military now has the capability to feed its troops in the field forever. Franks, by the way, is a consumer of MREs, the meals ready to eat for troops in the field. Franks eats them on plane trips.
FOR HIS WAR PLAN to succeed, Franks had to win the confidence of the commander in chief, Bush. Without the president's faith in the plan, it might be jettisoned at the first sign of trouble. Bush had inherited Franks as Centcom commander from the Clinton administration. Though Franks had grown up in Midland, Texas, and had graduated from Midland Lee High School a year ahead of Laura Bush, he didn't meet the president until the spring of 2001. The occasion was a White House gathering of Bush with top military commanders and their wives.
At the time, Bush mentioned he knew of Franks's Midland connection, but he left it at that. Over the next two years, Franks returned to the White House to brief the president on war plans at least a dozen times. The most dramatic meeting was by teleconference several days before the invasion of Iraq.
Bush and Rumsfeld were at the White House, Franks in Saudi Arabia, and his sub-commanders spread from Qatar to Bahrain to Kuwait. Bush addressed the commanders one by one, asking how each felt about the strategy put together by Franks. Each one endorsed it, as Bush already had. And soon enough the war was on.
He certainly did. One of the things General Franks said prior to the war was, "Our goal, in this campaign is neither retaliation nor retribution, but victory."
If I don't get to say thanks again this weekend, Have a great Memorial weekend
This is the mark of a "CLASS ACT" and those who were under his command will go to their graves respecting him for not taking the credit for their victory. The fact is Tommy Franks is a class act.
If I ever get the chance to go to Midland Texas, I'm going to force my 2 Grandsons to drink lots of their water, as the Mazda commercial says "Sumtins Up" in Midland Texas :-)
Where the air smells like...."money."
A commendatory word must be said about this article. It's journalism at its finest. When I scrolled back up to see who wrote it, I wasn't surprised to see it was our friend, Fred Barnes. I knew it couldn't be a liberal scribe.
Fred's a fine writer. It also looks like he's getting the benefit of some real inside stuff from the administration.