Ted Koppel Interviews Gen. Tommy Franks

Retired Gen. Tommy Franks, who served as commander of the U.S. Central Command from 2000 through July 2003, led the invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq. He discusses his life and career in a new book, American Soldier, released this week. The following are excerpts from an interview he conducted with Nightline's Ted Koppel.

KOPPEL: I want to take you back to an anecdote you tell in your book in which you say, in effect, when the president ended up on the carrier out there saying that major combat was over, that was you? You did that?

FRANKS: Yeah. I, I, I confess I did that, Ted. It's a, it's a sort of an interesting thing. I think initially reporting was pretty simplistic about, well, you know, there's great jubilation and joy, and, and so the president lands on the carrier and says, "Well, major combat operations have been completed."

And factually, I had recommended to [Defense] Secretary Don Rumsfeld several days before that that the president make such an announcement for a couple of reasons, actually. One reason was that I wanted all the troops who had been working hard on the ground in combat in Iraq to get some sense of closure. You know, the statue was down and Saddam was no longer in charge of Iraq, and I thought closure for the troops was a good thing, perhaps a bit selfish on my part.

Secondly, there were a number of nations who had indicated that they would provide force levels, troops to work with coalition forces up in Iraq, as soon as major combat operations had been completed. And so, yes, that was my suggestion.

KOPPEL: Now, you didn't suggest that he put on a flight suit and sit back seat on a plane landing on a, on an aircraft carrier, did you?

FRANKS: No one asked me about, about how he ought to do it, Ted.

KOPPEL: And I assume you didn't paint the banner that said "mission accomplished" either?

FRANKS: No, but I would have agreed with it, and as I looked at the president's comments on the 1st of May, I thought, "Good for him, good for him," and I appreciated that, that he did what he did. KOPPEL: Clearly, as we look back, the mission was not accomplished. A significant portion of the mission was accomplished, and as you suggest in your book, it was accomplished quickly, it was accomplished brilliantly, it was accomplished with far fewer forces than a lot of your colleagues in the Pentagon thought necessary.

FRANKS: Uh-huh.

KOPPEL: But the fact of the matter is, Phase Four of the war, which you describe as being the post-major combat phase, the phase that we're in right now, really hasn't gone well at all.

FRANKS: Oh, I guess it's eye of the beholder, Ted. I talk to a lot of people all over the country about the difference between hope and expectation. Gosh, I had a hope that the Iraqis would embrace a new government, would establish a new Iraq very quickly, and, but I never had that as an expectation.

I guess the expectation was, as the president said, it will take as long as it takes. And so I hoped it would be quick, but I expected that it might take much longer, perhaps three to five years.

Are We Safer?

KOPPEL: As you and others have pointed to what's happened in Afghanistan and Iraq, and said that you feel that the world and the United States are a safer place now because of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm not quite sure on what basis you say that. How does one measure the security when indeed the number of attacks has gone way up, and the face and form of al Qaeda has changed, and perhaps most potentially of all, Osama bin Laden is still free?

FRANKS: Ted, I think that's a fair question, and I think part of it goes to the issue of safe harbors. I recall back during the Vietnam War, all the discussion that we had during those days and have had dialogue on so many years since then, about sanctuary inside, inside Cambodia and so forth. If we think about the sanctuary that had been created in Afghanistan between the earliest arrival of al Qaeda on the scene and the sanctuary that we saw in Iraq, where our young, where our young aviators, our young pilots, had been flying for 10 or 12 years post Desert Storm over Iraq and being shot at, but we had not put any ground forces at all in Iraq, then one begins to see a pattern of sanctuary.

And I believe as it has been in the past, we will see it in the future, Ted, that we cannot afford to provide terrorists sanctuary, and so I do believe that, that the United States of America is safer today than at the time that we entered Iraq.

KOPPEL: Do you take issue with the suggestion that the United States is a less popular place around the world among not only our previous enemies, but our former friends and allies, too?

FRANKS: No, Ted. I would agree with you. I think, I think we are less popular. People have asked me from time to time, "Well, General, what do you think about the United States of America being thought of as a bully?"

And on the one hand I don't want my country to be thought of as a bully, but on the other hand, I believe that, that we should retain the flexibility to act in our own self defense wherever it may be necessary.

KOPPEL: No question about that. But does not acting in our self defense also include having the support and assistance of nations around the world, many of them nations who traditionally gave us that support and friendship?

FRANKS: I think, Ted, it certainly can. And you and I, as well as so many others, recognize that a coalition of some 65 nations, as it stands today, I think it was above 60 when I left the command a year ago, is the largest coalition ever built. And so from time to time, people will say, "Yeah, but they don't provide any troops." Well, actually, they do provide troops. They provide moral support. They deny sanctuary to terrorists around the world, and so, you bet, I think we need to have an international coalition. I don't think we have to go so far as to give up our right to defend ourselves in order to get it.

KOPPEL: You said a moment ago that you believed that there would be more foreign governments that would send troops in once Baghdad was taken and it was clear that the major combat phase of the operation was over.

FRANKS: Right.

KOPPEL: Why hasn't that happened, and what makes you think it's likely to in the future?

FRANKS: I don't know that it is likely to in the future, and I don't know why it hasn't happened to, to the full extent of what I may have expected.

We have seen large numbers of nations. I think there are some 20-plus, perhaps 23 nations today with troops on the ground in Iraq, but not in the numbers that, that we would like to see there. I think that that is diplomatic work to be done. I have every confidence that, that the bosses in Washington are working on that. Whether they'll be uniformly successful or not, I just don't know.

KOPPEL: General Franks, you surprised me in your book by actually dismissing the suggestion that Osama bin Laden was any kind of a coward. I actually felt it was a very sensible thing that you wrote there. It's much too easy to dismiss our enemies as cowards, but you didn't …

FRANKS: And a lot of people are going to take me to task for that for sure.

KOPPEL: Well, you …

FRANKS: But that's my view.

KOPPEL: You didn't elaborate on it in the book, so elaborate on it now. What did you mean by that? FRANKS: I think, I think it's at our peril if we underestimate our enemy. Excuse me.

I think we're, we're at peril if we underestimate our, our enemy. Going back into the '90s, Osama bin Laden indicated that he had great capacity, that, that he was ideologically supported by a lot of people. And he may or may not be a personal coward, but I do know that he is a worthy adversary, and it is in our best interest to, to treat him as such. And that, that actually is what I meant in the book.

Weapons of Mass Destruction

KOPPEL: Let's go back — actually, we haven't gone to it at all yet, but let's just quickly go to the subject of weapons of mass destruction. You write in your book that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told you Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. You write that …

FRANKS: Actually, biologicals, right.

KOPPEL: Biologicals. You write that King Abdullah of Jordan told you the, Saddam has and will use weapons of mass destruction.

FRANKS: That his intelligence services had given that to him too.


FRANKS: Yes, that's correct.

KOPPEL: Both governments today — you know, kings don't answer to books, as you know, and either do presidents, but your book has apparently made its way around to both those capitals, and both the office of King Abdullah and the office of President Mubarak deny that, say they never told you that.

FRANKS: Uh-huh. Not, not, not surprising, Ted. I think one sort of has to be aware of the way, the way politics works in the Middle East, and so I'm not at all surprised by that. I'll simply stay with what I said.

KOPPEL: Then explain on the basis of what you said why you think they were as wrong as they were? FRANKS: The same reason we were all wrong. I believe that … well, I'll speak for myself. I was wrong with respect to my appreciation of the weapons inventory that Saddam, that Saddam Hussein had.

Ted, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind when we entered Iraq on the 19th of March of last year that our troops would see weapons of mass destruction used against them. When they didn't, I was surprised, and actually, I suspect most of the Arab leaders, if not all of the Arab leaders, were also surprised by the fact that these weapons were not used.

KOPPEL: Do you believe that what you were told by both these men was the best intelligence they had or maybe a little bit of disinformation on Saddam Hussein's part?

FRANKS: It's very difficult to call it. I, I, I believe that what they gave me was, in their view, the best information they had.

KOPPEL: You know that as of 1998 — 1998 is probably the last time that we know for sure that there were fairly substantial quantities of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Do you agree with that?

FRANKS: I don't know that we knew for sure, but according to the '99 report by the, by the weapons inspectors, there certainly were large quantities of biologicals unaccounted for.

KOPPEL: Do you have a, do you have a favorite theory as to what happened to them, and would any one of your favorite theories include the possibility that those weapons have been moved out of the country and shipped to some other country in the region?

FRANKS: Ted, could have been moved out of the country. I think it's a possibility. Could have been dismantled into the precursor elements that one needs in order to build biologicals and chemical weapons very quickly.

I'm not sure, based on having read David Kay's, the results of David Kay's work in Iraq, which of those models obtained in this case. I make a point in the book that says we need to remember that to have left this regime alone to either own or to grow or produce weapons of mass destruction would, would have actually, in my view, would have been irresponsible by our government in a post-9/11 world.