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RESPONSE TO TERROR

U.S. General Finds Support as He Defends His Afghan Campaign

November 09, 2001|JOHN HENDREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Unapologetically acknowledging that he's "no Norman Schwarzkopf," Gen. Tommy Franks, the architect of the Afghanistan campaign, spent much of his wartime debut at a Pentagon briefing Thursday defending the pace of the month-old war.

"Do I believe that this campaign plan was too timid? Absolutely not," Franks said. "I'll simply say this: that the campaign plan which we have initiated . . . is precisely the plan that we intended to begin to initiate. . . . I am well satisfied with it."

Amid rising criticism that Franks' military tactics are uninspired, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld offered an introduction that was filled with praise. Some defense strategists say privately that recent speculation that Franks is on his way out may only have added to his job security.

"Gen. Franks is both a warrior, but also a wise and inspiring commander," said Rumsfeld, who said he speaks to Franks two or three times a day. "He has my full trust and respect, and I know he has the trust and respect of the president of the United States."

Franks, who talks with President Bush by telephone weekly, was in Washington to brief his commander in chief in person. The lanky four-star general was an intense but affable presence, towering above Rumsfeld, his blue eyes rarely blinking as the secretary brushed aside rumors that Bush plans to cut short Franks' tenure.

Management of War Draws Criticism

One month into the campaign, Franks, the head of the U.S. Central Command, is coming under increasingly pointed criticism from former military officers, analysts and observers--not for his lack of panache but for his management of the war. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has described it as weak. Former Defense Secretary William S. Cohen has called it ill-conceived.

"Schwarzkopf was a camera-friendly guy. Franks is not. We shouldn't fault him for that," said a senior congressional defense aide who requested anonymity. "Unfortunately, his actions have had no dramatic effect. . . . I'm not impressed."

Critics say the decision to lead off the military campaign with a series of strikes against Taliban air defenses and command-and-control facilities was based more on standard military doctrine than on the real capabilities of the foe.

"'We've been wasting our time bombing superfluous things, giving these guys more time go underground," said a senior military officer who spoke on condition of anonymity. "To spend a week establishing air superiority here--it's like spending a week beating up a 3-year-old child."

Many defense analysts say too much is made of the comparison to "Stormin' Norman" Schwarzkopf, the Persian Gulf War commander whose fondness for public statements made him perhaps the most charismatic military commander since leather-jacketed, pipe-smoking Gen. Douglas MacArthur swaggered through World War II.

Unlike his Gulf War predecessor, Franks, 56, is navigating uncharted military territory, said Michele Flournoy, a former senior Pentagon strategist now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington public policy center.

"He is fighting a war unlike any other we have had to fight. There's no playbook," she said. "Schwarzkopf had a military that was honed to fight the Soviet Union and used it to fight a much-less prepared enemy. . . . There's just nothing comparable in this situation."

Unlike other recent air wars, Rumsfeld noted, bombers must travel hundreds or even thousands of miles from aircraft carriers or allied air bases to their targets in Afghanistan.

"I think people have in mind Desert Storm and Kosovo, and they're beginning to compare different sortie rates and so forth. That is a misunderstanding of the situation, and let's get it right up on the table," Rumsfeld said. "If you can fly an aircraft two or three times in a day, because of the distance being close and the access you have, you're going to get a higher sortie rate."

Franks, whose Central Command oversees one of the world's most volatile regions, which stretches from East Africa through Central Asia, has conducted the war largely from his headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. Colleagues say his no-nonsense demeanor conceals a wry wit and an incisive mind.

As he and Rumsfeld ignored the last of reporters' questions, one asked, "General, do you even want to be Norman Schwarzkopf?"

The general stopped mid-stride and turned around. Apparently thinking better of his instinct to answer, he smiled, mouthed, "Thank you," and walked out.

*

Times staff writer Esther Schrader contributed to this report.

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