Interview With U.S. Commander

March 13, 2003 -- Following are excerpts from an interview with Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. Central Command, by ABCNEWS' Peter Jennings. The interview was conducted at Franks' headquarters in Qatar.

PETER JENNINGS: From a purely military point of view, would you like to have more time before the battle begins?

GEN. TOMMY FRANKS: I think, first off, as you know, a decision has not been made that battle will begin and — it's a cliché, it's also true — that the person who likes war least is the soldier and I'm no different. So one, I think, hopes to never have a war.

On the other hand, one is wise to not try to turn hope into a strategy, and so I think what we do every day in the military is get ourselves better and better and better prepared for training and other sorts of approaches....

JENNINGS: Well, now, I ask you this, because, you know, there's a huge political delay in the talks again, and deadlines get extended, and I wonder whether or not, from your point of view, it isn't safer to have a delay. For one thing, in your case, you have the possibility of getting the 4th Division in from the north. You get the 101st to get their equipment. In other words, does time, in some respects, work for you? People always say you can hardly wait to go.

FRANKS: Well, Peter, I think it depends on who you talk to. If you talk to a young trooper on the line, most young troopers on the line will say, "Let's go." You know, sooner is better than later.

In order to answer your question about whether a delay is good for me with respect to deploying units and the positioning of units and all of that, [that] assumes an insight into our ongoing planning, the validity of which I'm not prepared to accept. In order to say, "Well, wouldn't it be better if we waited for some deployment or something to happen?" assumes an insight into the planning of what is in fact necessary to do, what we may be asked to do, and it's hard for me to answer that sort of question.

Are There Enough U.S. Troops?

PETER JENNINGS: Let me ask you the question that Americans want to know. Do you have enough men to win the war and do you have enough men to win the peace?

FRANKS: There is absolutely no question in my mind that if the president of the United States decides to take military action, that we have sufficient — I use the word "capacity," not levels of troops, not counts of bombs — we have sufficient military capacity to do the job that America's military would be asked to do....

JENNINGS: Do you have enough men to liberate the people of Iraq from Saddam Hussein and enable them to at least begin the process of democratizing, without costing American lives?

FRANKS: Without costing American lives — never will one get a guarantee, because wars have a way of not being able to be well calculated at the beginning in terms of the loss of life, but the nature of war is the loss of life. What we want to be sure we have in place is capacity to be able to do what the nation asks us to do at the least cost of human life and at the least cost of national treasure. Now in that context, Peter, my answer to you is, "Yes, we have the capacity."

JENNINGS: Let me just try this once more without beating it to death and use a sports analogy. Do you think you can currently, with your capacity, win this war 5 to 4 or 15-nothing?

FRANKS: I think it's hard to put it in that kind of a context.

JENNINGS: But military men do that all the time.

FRANKS: Well, this military man would prefer to say, "If called on to do this mission, there is no doubt about who is the victor. There is no doubt."

Minimizing Iraqi Casualties

JENNINGS: Is there such a thing as a cautious war? By that I mean you are about to — possibly — attack a nation which you hope to set free. Do you have to be particularly cautious, given that set of rules?

FRANKS: The term 'caution' probably has a lot of implications. Cautious we will always be. I think you saw [an] example of caution in our approach to Afghanistan. That's positive caution. It's thoughtful caution. It means that, again, the one who holds the key to civilian casualties — to use but one example — inside Iraq is Saddam Hussein.... We continue to see examples of the placement of military command and control, and military weapons, close to hospitals and close to schools and close to mosques and that sort of thing.

JENNINGS: Any target off-limits?

FRANKS: Off-limits in my view? Targets that provide for civilian casualties without a very clear military reason are targets — I won't say they're off-limits. No, I won't say they're off-limits. I'll say they get my very careful review.

JENNINGS: So if there is a tank near a mosque, if there's a piece of artillery in a school yard, if there is a missile right next door to a hospital, off-limits or —?

FRANKS: No, it requires a decision in each case, and I think you can understand exactly what I'm talking about. If you take intelligence information such as what you just provided that says there is a tank, there is artillery, there is something beside an institution or infrastructure in a country ... what one does is, one takes a very careful look at that and balances cost and reward. I think American armed forces have done that for a long, long time.


JENNINGS: Would you not attack Iraqi units if they gave the slightest sign that they did not wish to fight?

FRANKS: I think one wants to minimize casualties in war, whether they're civilian or whether they're military, and it's in the same category, er, Peter, as the question that you just asked. In the event that any military formation decides to capitulate, decides to surrender, imposes no threat either to the civilian population or to our military forces, of course we take that surrender.Of course, we want to take that capitulation.

Chemical and Biological Threat

JENNINGS: If you were Saddam Hussein, do you think that chemical and biological weapons would be a legitimate tool in your box, in your tool kit?

FRANKS: I would never place myself, Peter, in the mind of the leader of the Iraqi regime.

JENNINGS: Isn't that part of what a commander's supposed to do?

FRANKS: No, sir. I think what every commander will do is study the psychology and study the outward manifestations of what may go on in an adversary's mind. In terms of his view of whether or not weapons of mass destruction could be or should be used, I'll tell you I think about it. I believe that the use of weapons of mass destruction is beyond the law, in every case.... Would he judge to use them? I don't know. I do know that our people are very prepared to operate in such an environment, which we hope we never see.

Commanding a War

JENNINGS: For better or worse, sir, you're about to have a place in history. At this point, what would you like history to say about you?

FRANKS: Oh, gosh, Peter. I'd like history to reflect that I'm an American who takes his job very seriously, that I'm a family man, that I have great confidence in my own country, I have great confidence in my own family and I have great confidence in my faith....

JENNINGS: I talked to soldiers and Marines on the front who openly admit they're afraid. Is fear a factor for the commander as well?

FRANKS: Of course. I'm afraid all the time. Courage has to do with controlling fear and it seems to me that focus has a way of overcoming anxiety. Absolutely.

And you know why?... The greatest obligation that commanders feel is to get their job done, accomplish the mission, to be sure. But you know as well as I do, Peter, what their second concern is, and that is to take care of their own people. And so commanders at every level will for sure get the job done but they will have fear, they will have anxiety about taking care of their own troops. So, of course, I think they have fear.