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Military Campaign in Afghanistan

November 8, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT
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BETTY ANN BOWSER: It was the first time the commander of the American military campaign in Afghanistan briefed reporters at the Pentagon since the air strikes began. Four-star Army General Tommy Franks was joined at the podium by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

GENERAL TOMMY FRANKS, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Central Command: This effort is 24 hours a day; it has been, and it will continue to be 24 hours a day. And the license, which I believe we have to conduct this effort in this way is a license that says we’ll be at this for as long as it takes.

REPORTER: General Franks confirmed reports of heavy fighting near the strategic town of Mazar-e Sharif in the northern part of Afghanistan and explained its importance.

GENERAL TOMMY FRANKS: We’re interested in it because it would provide a land bridge, as has been said, up to Uzbekistan, which provides us, among other things, a humanitarian pathway for us to move supplies out of Central Asia and down in to Afghanistan. And in fact, there is a gunfight that is going on in the vicinity of Mazar-e Sharif. I believe– as the Secretary said, I think yesterday, perhaps the day before– it’s a bit early for us to characterize this as the success that will enable our establishment of the land bridge. So, I’m not prepared to do that right now. But yes, there is a big fight that’s going on in the vicinity of Mazar-e Sharif.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: And reporters wanted to know if the General thought it was important for U.S. forces to make a major strike against the Tailban before Afghanistan’s notoriously cold winter moves in.

GENERAL TOMMY FRANKS: I simply don’t take that as a form of guidance or pressure. Our commander-in-chief has said we have a plan. This is being done at our initiative. Some is visible; some is not. And the timeline that we have associated with this in every case has to do with setting conditions to get to our main objective, which Secretary Rumsfeld has announced many times. It is the destruction of the al-Qaida network and terrorist organizations with global reach.

REPORTER: General Franks, since it is in your ballpark, so to speak, can you give us specifically– word underlined– an indication of the progress we are making? Not just “taking down the infrastructure,” not just “destroying training camps,” but what specifically are we doing to win this war? At the end of a month now, what can we show that says, “Hey, we’re winning”?

GENERAL TOMMY FRANKS: What we have said is that we like the progress we have had up to this point. We have certainly said that the tactical… the tactical targets, which you mentioned, which you alluded to, have been taken down. Along with that, it’s obvious – it’s obvious that we have postured forces in the region that give us a greater capability. It is only those who believe that all of this should be done in two weeks’ time or in one month or perhaps two months who are disappointed by this. If you look at… If you look at the wars in history, whether it be the buildup for our work in Kosovo, or whether you look at prior wars, what you see is that frequently we will undertake military operations at the same time we build capacity. So when I say we’re on our time line, that’s what I mean.

REPORTER: And if I could just follow up, the other criticism you hear is that this war, if it’s to maintain the support of the American people, needs to have a general commanding it who’s accessible to the American people, who helps make the case, along with the Secretary of Defense and the joint chiefs chairman. The comparison is constantly made to Norman Schwarzkopf in the Gulf War, and, with all due respect, sir, what you hear is “Tommy Franks is no Norman Schwarzkopf.” Your response?

GENERAL TOMMY FRANKS: Well, I suppose I’d begin sort of at the end, by acknowledging that Tommy Franks is no Norman Schwarzkopf. (Laughter)

SPOKESMAN: Nor vice-versa.

GENERAL TOMMY FRANKS: Nor vice-versa. What I think is that the Secretary and our President have asked me to do a job. I believe that the American people have every right to expect me to do that job. I believe that it’s important for us to think our way through and execute the strategy and the operations, which are important to our country. And what I have found up to this point is not a shyness for media; it very simply is an… (Laughs) …An insufficient amount of time to be able to do, sir, what you have suggested.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: In addition to air raids near Mazar-e-Sharif, American warplanes today bombed areas around the southern city of Kandahar, and Pakistani news agencies reported attacks in the western province of Herat. U.S. B-52 bombers and F-16′s also carried out a sustained bombardment of Tailban positions north of the capital of Kabul near Rabat and Bagram. Tailban positions did not respond to the pounding with antiaircraft fire.