Franks 'well-satisfied' with progress of campaign
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In his first briefing at the Pentagon, the four-star general in charge of the daily U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan said he is "well-satisfied" with the current operation and deflected criticism that he has been too unavailable to the news media.
"What we have initiated is precisely the plan that we intended to begin to initiate. And as I said, I'm well-satisfied with it," said Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM).
"Do I believe that this campaign plan was too timid? Absolutely not," he said.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who also attended the news conference, said critics of the campaign are not making adequate comparisons when they cite the Gulf War and other operations in which sorties often reached more than 1,000 a day. Just over 2,000 sorties have been flown so far in the war against terrorism.
"I think people have in mind Desert Storm and Kosovo, and they're beginning to compare different sortie raids and so forth. That is a misunderstanding of the situation," Rumsfeld said.
Franks said Operation Enduring Freedom has struck at Taliban frontline troops, command and control centers and other key targets throughout the country. He said suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden is not a target of the campaign, but his al Qaeda terror network is.
"What we are about is the destruction of the al Qaeda terror network as well as the ... Taliban that provide harbor to bin Laden and al Qaeda," he said.
Franks said he could not quantify how many Taliban soldiers had been killed, but said: "However many Taliban troops were in this at the beginning, that number are not in this today."
"We like the progress we have made up to this point," he said. How long will the campaign last?
"I've described this as an effort that will, in fact, take as long as it takes," Franks said.
He said special operations forces in Afghanistan have helped "provide more perfect knowledge" of the campaign's progress and Taliban troops' location.
He said those forces were aiding advances on the ground by opposition troops allayed against the Taliban, especially around the crucial crossroads city of Mazar-e Sharif. The United States views that northern city as a key land bridge "to move supplies out of Central Asia and down into Afghanistan," Franks said.
"There is a gunfight that is going on in the vicinity of Mazar-e Sharif," he said.
Franks, who is in charge of thousands of military personnel in operations covering 25 nations in Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East, saluted his subordinates.
"These wonderful young people, who as we speak are engaged, many of them in harm's way, should give us pause for a great deal of pride as a nation. They certainly give me cause to have pride in their work," Franks said.
He also declined to rule out in Afghanistan a larger presence of U.S. ground forces or ground troops from other nations.
"We won't speculate on what tomorrow might bring," the general said.
Appearing in his first news conference at the Pentagon since the military campaign began more than a month ago, Franks said he has simply been too busy running the operation to give constant briefings to reporters.
"What I have found up to this point is not a shyness for media, it very simply is an insufficient amount of time," he said.
He shot down any comparisons to Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who had Franks' job during the Gulf War and held near daily briefings on the campaign against Iraq.
"Tommy Franks is no Norman Schwarzkopf nor vice versa," Franks said.
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