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CNN PEOPLE IN THE NEWS

Profile of Tommy Franks

Aired April 26, 2003 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANNOUNCER: Next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, he's the four star general who led the charge that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. TOMMY FRANKS, COMMANDER, CENTRAL COMMAND: We know that there is no regime command and control in existence right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: A West Texas native who stayed true to his down home roots throughout his rise in the military.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA PRIEST, "WASHINGTON POST": Bubba is the name that his friends call him and I'm sure he appreciates it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: He ran a successful campaign against Iraq, but faced questions about the war plan and his relationship with his boss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK THOMPSON, "TIME" MAGAZINE: There's always this tension and tug of war going on between Secretary Rumsfeld and General Franks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: The man who won the war, now faced with winning the peace. General Tommy Franks, his story now, on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

PAULA ZAHN, HOST: Hi, welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

I'm Paula Zahn.

To his troops, he is General Franks. To his close friends he is Bubba. And to his grandchildren he is simply Pooh, as in Winnie-the- Pooh.

But there's more to General Tommy Franks than his straight shooting style. He has successfully led the U.S. military through two wars, first in Afghanistan, now in Iraq. He is a seasoned professional warrior, a muddy boots soldier facing the daunting task of winning the peace in a very volatile region. Our look now at General Franks from Jonathan Mann.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKS: This will be a campaign unlike any other in history, a campaign characterized by shock, by surprise, by flexibility.

JONATHAN MANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's the general who knocked Saddam Hussein from power.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We gave Tommy the tools necessary to win. We agreed with his strategy and he's running this war.

MANN: A strategy where coalition forces blitzed their way to Baghdad, taking over a country and taking out a regime in less than a month.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: General Myers, the chairman of the joint chiefs, called it brilliant. I'm not so sure it was brilliant, but it was certainly clever in places and very solid and smart in others.

MANN: A war plan forged by debate between a general and his civilian boss.

THOMPSON: There's always this tension and tug of war going on between Secretary Rumsfeld and General Franks. Basically you hope it's sort of like banging out a piece of iron, the more you bang it, the stronger it's going to get.

MANN: A military victory led by a 57-year-old Vietnam and Gulf War veteran who shuns the spotlight.

PRIEST: Once I interviewed him and he said my business is a secret business and that's really how he feels.

MANN: Tommy Ray Franks was born in Windwood, Oklahoma in 1945. His father Ray was a mechanic, his mother Laurene (ph) a stay at home mom. When Franks was a young boy, the family moved to West Texas, the area he calls home.

LT. GEN. DAN CHRISTMAN, U.S. ARMY (RET.): And he always comes back to West Texas with stories, with the wonderful history of his own childhood in that part of the country.

MANN: The Franks settled in Midland, Texas. So did another family, although they didn't know one another, that of future President George W. Bush.

THOMPSON: They're similar. They're very tight with their family. They are men of religious conviction. They're both from the dusty flat plains of West Texas. I think those sort of fundamental forges make people, you know, sort of see the world in the same way.

MANN: Franks went to the same high school as future First Lady Laura Bush.

THOMPSON: The two didn't know each other at the time but associates of the General have told me that that certainly gave them a good, you know, initial ice breaking bonding thing.

MANN: There's still plenty of Texas left in Franks. He's got a fondness for cowboy boots and is known to sing country music while walking on his treadmill at four o'clock in the morning.

PRIEST: Bubba is a name that his friends call him and I'm sure he appreciates it -- feet up on the table, smoking cigars with the guys in the receptions.

MANN: Franks went to college at the University of Texas at Austin, but didn't last long there. He dropped out after just two years because, as Franks has put it, he needed to grow up.

In 1965, Franks enlisted in the Army. Vietnam was heating up as Franks entered the military. He was chosen for officer candidate school, was commissioned as second lieutenant in 1967 and went off to war.

There, Franks was an artillery officer. He was wounded three times, including taking a bullet that traveled the length of his leg.

FRANKS: I learned the value of trust in people. I learned about the military chain of command. I didn't have a global view then, but I sure learned a lot.

MANN: Following Vietnam, Franks rose through the ranks, serving in locations from Germany to the Pentagon.

THOMPSON: As an artillery man, he was innovative. He talked and discovered and figured out ways to take on moving columns of armor tanks with artillery fire. This was a pretty radical notion.

FRANKS: I am honored to ride with you anywhere, any time.

MANN: Franks was an assistant division commander in the first Gulf War, overseeing ground troops and helicopters. Franks' rise to the rank of four star general was also helped by his talent for dealing with others. He's known for his quick wit and a flair for using four letter words, a soldier's soldier.

CHRISTMAN: He is very, very close to his troops and I think one saw this as Iraqi Freedom unfolded. He was probably his most emotional, his most warm, his most embracing when he was with his soldiers.

MANN: Franks also has a reputation for letting people know when he's unhappy, especially with those who work for him.

THOMPSON: He's a big guy, about 6'3." He envelopes you in his presence and from people who I've spoken with who have been yelled at him, it is not a pleasant experience and it is something he does quite often. MANN: On the home front, Franks has been married to wife Cathy (ph), a high school history teacher, for 34 years.

FRANKS: My wife reminds me that I told her on the day we were married I was going to get out of the United States military. And I remind her that some day I am going to do that.

MANN: The couple have a daughter, Jacqueline, and two grandchildren who call Franks Pooh after the stuffed bear.

In June, 2000, Franks was promoted to four star general and the job he has now, the head of U.S. Central Command.

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: You look for someone who is battle tested, battle hardened, someone who obviously has leadership qualities. And looking over all of the candidates for Central Command, I look to Tommy Franks.

FRANKS: None of us know what the future holds, but we know there will be challenges and there will be opportunities.

MANN: When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues, the challenges come first, terrorist attacks and an uneasy relationship with the secretary of defense.

PRIEST: There were some rough spots and there's a lot of talk that Rumsfeld was very harsh with him, very brash, like he is with others.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKS: How come you done that? You don't ever do that before, Gunny (ph). You all go back to work.

MANN (voice-over): Four Star General Tommy Franks is the man in charge of U.S. Central Command. It's an area of responsibility that includes 25 countries, from the Horn of Africa to Asia, including much of the Middle East and Iraq.

THOMPSON: It's a tough neighborhood. If you look at where our troubles have come from in the last generation, an awful lot of them have come from there.

MANN: Just four months into his command, Franks faced his first major challenge -- terrorists attacked the USS Cole while it was refueling at a port in Yemen. Seventeen American sailors were killed, 39 wounded. Franks was called to Capitol Hill to explain why.

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R-VA), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Why Yemen? Why Yemen when there are continuing State Department travel warnings in effect for that country?

FRANKS: The decision to use Aden as a refueling port was based on solid military judgment and I agree with that judgment.

PRIEST: People were looking to pin it on somebody, so I think he caught the wrath of Congress, not because he was necessarily responsible, but because they wanted to blame somebody. So terrorism became an obsession right away.

MANN: And obsession that soon became a mission. The September 11 attacks put Franks on the front lines of the war against terrorism.

FRANKS: It is, indeed, an honor to be part of a war that is righteous in its goals and has the support of the American people.

MANN: Franks' first task was to take out the Taliban in Afghanistan, a government that had sheltered and supported Osama bin Laden.

O'HANLON: Well, it appears there were actually three key players in the Afghanistan war plan -- General Franks, Secretary Rumsfeld and George Tenet of the CIA, who had a lot of his own operatives already in Afghanistan and poised to enter in greater force.

PRIEST: People, especially Secretary Rumsfeld, came to the quick conclusion, I think, that they needed an unconventional approach to that war. And it is not clear that Tommy Franks initially was the best suited for that.

O'HANLON: It does appear that Franks' initial instincts on Afghanistan were to have more troops.

MANN: The war plan that developed seemed to favor the ideas of Rumsfeld and Tenet.

O'HANLON: The basic idea still was let's try to use special forces more, let's try to make greater use of air power and let's see if we can't break the back of the enemy government with a strike against its command and control.

MANN: The first month of the war in Afghanistan featured plenty of air strikes, but seemingly few tangible results. Franks answered questions over whether operations and getting troops on the ground were going too slowly.

FRANKS: It is only those who believe that all of this should be done in two week's time or in one month or perhaps in two months who are disappointed by this.

MANN: The Taliban collapsed soon afterward.

THOMPSON: By most accounts, you know, folks give General Franks a B. I mean it was a good performance. It wasn't great, but it was good.

MANN: One area of the plan failed was in capturing Osama bin Laden.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The idea of bombing these Tora Bora mountains in December of 2001 but having no American forces around those mountains to prevent bin Laden's escape was a bad idea.

MANN: Franks also faced criticism for not being available to the media.

FRANKS: Five minutes of unimportant questions, all right? Nothing too tough.

MANN: Especially compared to a general who had previously held his job.

QUESTION: With all due respect, sir, what you hear is Tommy Franks is no Norman Schwarzkopf. Your response?

FRANKS: Well, I suppose I'd begin sort of at the end by acknowledging that Tommy Franks is no Norman Schwarzkopf.

QUESTION: Nor vice versa.

FRANKS: Nor vice versa.

THOMPSON: General Franks' reticence with the media has endeared him wonderfully to Secretary Rumsfeld because despite all of Secretary Rumsfeld's protestations, the fellow is like, you know, a moth to a flame when those TV lights come on. And so Tommy Franks, I think, compliments him well.

MANN: However, the relationship between Franks and Rumsfeld would reportedly be tested again during war planning for Iraq. Rumsfeld was asked about the process during the war and explained how it had started, by dusting off an old Iraqi war plan.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: And it didn't reflect any of the lessons from Afghanistan and it didn't reflect the current state of affairs in Iraq and it didn't take into account the capabilities of the United States in terms of the shift away from dumb bombs to precision bombs. And we all agreed that he should develop a plan that would be more appropriate.

MANN: However, developing the plan reportedly had more than its fair share of bumps along the way.

THOMPSON: The sticking point initially was the number of troops. How many was it going to take?

PRIEST: You had Rumsfeld wanting it to be more unconventional, using special operations more and you had Franks with a war plan that looked much more conventional Army.

O'HANLON: General Franks thought you do this with a big force, perhaps comparable even to Desert Storm, maybe even close to half a million Americans, for all we know, and Rumsfeld thought maybe 50,000.

THOMPSON: So what happened was Rumsfeld tipped it back and Franks did slim it down a little bit.

O'HANLON: My understanding is there were more than 20 versions of the war plan that were proposed before it was ever approved.

MANN: The end result was a hybrid.

O'HANLON: Rumsfeld recognized the need for a big force. General Franks won that debate. And then Rumsfeld kept pushing General Franks to produce more creative use of certain capabilities, like special forces.

THOMPSON: I think it's really been, based on everyone I've talked to, some of whom despise Rumsfeld, some of whom hate Franks, they all acknowledge it's been a real team thing.

O'HANLON: So I would say General Franks was the author and Secretary Rumsfeld was the editor.

MANN: When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues, the war plan gets tested and criticized.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MANN (voice-over): March 19, the strike that launched the war with Iraq. General Tommy Franks' war plan, a strategy that had been debated and worked on for months, got a last minute revision. Intelligence reports on the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein prompted coalition forces to move up their timetable and launch a decapitation strike against the Iraqi leader.

FRANKS: That target was worked on an amazing time line.

MANN: The coalition's main strike force, the 3rd Infantry Division, raced towards the heart of the Iraqi government. In eight days, they were just 50 miles from the capital.

FRANKS: We believe that we are on our time line, as we say, and I am satisfied with what I see up to this point, sir.

MANN: But coalition forces would run into difficulties, most notably attacks behind the lines by Fedayeen militia groups loyal to Saddam Hussein. Ground commander General William Wallace was quoted as saying, "The enemy we are fighting is different from the one we'd war gamed against." Franks insisted the Fedayeen resistance was not a surprise.

FRANKS: We know that the Fedayeen has, in fact, put himself in a position to mill about and I can assure you that contact with those forces is not unexpected.

CHRISTMAN: Were there surprises? Heck, yes, there were hundreds of surprises. But the key point on this is not whether or not there were surprises, but how the coalition reacted to the surprises once they encountered them. MANN: Franks deployed reserves to help subdue Fedayeen forces and secure the supply lines that stretched over 250 miles. But military analysts and pundits began asking the same question that had been debated during the war planning -- did Franks have enough troops to do the job?

O'HANLON: All those things were proper things to worry about if you were a military planner or if you were a commentator on television, it was the right thing to talk about. It does not mean the strategy was really in jeopardy.

MANN: Franks himself was asked whether he had wanted a larger force?

FRANKS: No, I did not request additional troops before the beginning of what you refer to as the ground war.

MANN: Questions persisted. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers weighed in.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: There is not one thing that General Franks has asked for that he hasn't gotten on the time line that we could get it to him.

RUMSFELD: I would be happy to take credit for it, but I can't. It was not my plan. It was General Franks' plan and it was a plan that evolved over a sustained period of time, which I am convinced is an excellent plan.

FRANKS: Thank you very much.

MANN: After his initial comments on the troop strength controversy, Franks characteristically stayed out of the media fray. In fact, he appeared at just three organized Central Command press briefings in quarter as the major fighting was going on. His lack of visibility and CENTCOM's carefully orchestrated briefings came under fire.

MICHAEL WOLFF, "NEW YORK MAGAZINE": We're no longer being briefed by senior most officers. I guess my question is why should we stay? What's the value to us for what we learn at this million dollar press center?

To show up and not get Franks himself and, in fact, to get a one star general, it's like you expect the CEO of the company but you're getting a middle management representative.

MANN: While Franks stayed out of the spotlight, his coalition forces quickly regained their momentum. Less than a month after the war began, General Tommy Franks was in Baghdad, sitting in one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces. The city was under coalition control, but Franks faced questions about whether his military strategy had done enough to stop the looting in the capital and across the country.

FRANKS: I think any time you see a bad outcome anyplace, looting or any form of lawlessness, you know, you're always sad. But I don't have any regrets about the way the campaign was conducted.

CHRISTMAN: He probably understood when he went in that there was going to be a risk as a result of that quick movement with respect to stability and the vacuum that unfolded. I think General Franks had to make a call and history will tell whether that call was the right one or not.

MANN: Franks remains the senior military figure for Iraq, as the process of rebuilding the country begins in earnest. Whether he succeeds or fails to accomplish that task will perhaps be the final piece of Franks' legacy.

THOMPSON: He is probably, for Americans, the first American 21st century officer. He is not wedded to the doctrines of the past.

O'HANLON: I'm not sure I would call Franks a genius, but he was the author of two very good war plans, for whatever reason. And he at least knew how to work with Rumsfeld and Myers and others and his own subordinates. At a minimum, you have to give him credit for that.

MANN: Franks' tenure as head of CENTCOM, which was already extended once last year, is scheduled to end in July. As for his future, perhaps not surprisingly, the man from West Texas doesn't have much to say.

(on camera): What's next for you?

FRANKS: Oh, gosh, I don't know. That's up to the secretary and the president.

MANN: Are you going to stay in the Army for a while?

FRANKS: Well, that's up to the secretary and the president.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: That's it for this edition of PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

I'm Paula Zahn.

Thanks so much for joining us.

Hope to see you again next week.

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