From 2000-2003 Michael DeLong was deputy commander to Gen. Tommy Franks at Central Command (CENTCOM), where they oversaw U.S. operations in the war in Afghanistan and then the invasion of Iraq. In this interview, DeLong offers inside stories about those campaigns and CIA-Pentagon relations during the Afghan war, and explains why the invasion of Iraq was necessary. He also talks about why the DoD worked with Ahmad Chalabi and his own experience dealing with Doug Feith. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted on Feb. 14, 2006.
- Some highlights from this interview
- Doug Feith's intelligence operations in the Pentagon
- The Franks-Rumsfeld relationship
- His view on Saddam and the case for war
- The decision to work with Chalabi
Sitting here at CENTCOM, you and Gen. [Tommy] Franks and others, pre-9/11, were you aware of the terrorist threat?
Pre-9/11, the area that we worked was the 25 countries in the Middle East, Egypt, Jordan, the "Stans" [Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan], Pakistan. That area of the world is probably the most dangerous area of the world when it comes to Islamic extremists, so we always were concerned about the terrorists. As you know, the [USS] Cole, we lost that ship in Yemen before 9/11, and we thought we were prepared, but they came up with a different tactic in order to try to sink the Cole.
Everything we did was terrorism and, of course, trying to enforce the U.S. sanctions in Iraq. ...
Pre-9/11, your impression of [former CIA Director] George Tenet -- who he was, what he was like, how effective he was, what his role was in the administration?
... He got to be a friend after 9/11. Historically, the relationship between the CIA and the U.S. military, all services, is at best friendly, at worst adversarial. But after 9/11 and during Iraq, the relationship between the agency and all the services couldn't have been any better. All I know is what happened post-9/11 with him, and I never saw a person who tried to get everything together and work with [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld, which everybody was concerned that that may be a problem, and it wasn't.
Give me a sense of Rumsfeld pre-9/11. What was he like?
He was a great steward of the American taxpayer. He was a CEO style, very hands-on. You couldn't outwork him. No matter how early you got there, he got there at the same time and left as [late] or later. He was always available nights and weekends. He was very demanding of his generals, very demanding. In other words, if you weren't on his page that morning, it was trouble. ...
He was tough on his people. Of course, he was tough with the press, but he was just as tough on himself. I'd never met a person who was more dedicated to what he did. ...
Could you tell he was a wrestler? Did you know he was a wrestler?
I did. You can see he's got the cauliflower ears. And he's combative on everything. You just don't walk into a room with him and, "How you doing, Mr. Secretary?" ... When things got tough when we were working an event and I was providing the information and making the calls, it was boom, boom, boom. But when I'm briefing him and he's not getting the answers that he wants, then it was a different story.
Did you see people get walked over?
Oh, yeah. Every day. I mean, that was his style. You never got immune to it because it was consistent, but some people would not go back in again. I had no choice. I had to brief him twice a day, usually video teleconference. I tried to do it by phone, he says, "I want to see your pretty face." I went, "Oh." [laughter] So we did a video teleconference.
But I will tell you, to this day we probably still had the best secretary of defense that we could have had from 9/11 on. I mean, there's a lot of controversy prior to 9/11, but I wasn't involved in that, didn't observe that. But from 9/11 up to the summer of 2003, I never saw anybody more focused. I've never worked for anybody that was tougher to work for either. ...
From your vantage point, what's the truth about where things stood right before 9/11 in terms of readiness and [the terrorists]?
Over in our area of the world, which was the Middle East, we knew mostly where people were. We knew when things were going to happen over there, roughly. Intelligence is imprecise. In other words, if somebody says, "This is going to happen tomorrow with this kind of weapon in that place," you'll never see that. What you'll find is there's a group of people that want to take out something in this area of the world sometime in the next six months. That's the best intel you ever got. It's the best we get today.
What would happen, though, is you hear that 15 times, and then you start narrowing down the country, the group, and where it's going to be, and that's how intelligence decisions were made. ...
[After 9/11, is it clear] that it is Al Qaeda?
No. When we had a video teleconference, Gen. Franks and I, we were having a video teleconference with the chairman, the vice chairman, the secretary, the president, Vice President [Dick Cheney], [Chief of Staff Andy] Card, [then-National Security Adviser] Condi Rice, [then-Secretary of State] Colin Powell, Tenet. Everybody is there.
... We're discussing back and forth, and Secretary Rumsfeld said, "Sure it's not Iraq?" And George Tenet said, "I'm sure it's not Iraq; it's Al Qaeda." Then something came out, which at least we had not known before because we didn't focus on the United States, that they had had some information from the FBI ... that these were Al Qaeda operatives and that where it had come from [was] Afghanistan. That was questioned again by Secretary Rumsfeld, and that's when Colin Powell said: "Hey, if it's only going to be there, that's where we're going. We're going after Afghanistan."
You mean, Rumsfeld kept trying to say --
He said it twice. I and Tommy Franks took it that he was trying to eliminate it or put it in, but make sure that we at least addressed it, that Iraq could have been one of the countries. But he also said Iraq, Iran or Syria. He didn't just stop with Iraq.
He thought [it was] state-sponsored?
He thought it was too hard, too well organized not to have been state-sponsored. I didn't take it that he was focused only on Iraq. He was just trying to eliminate possible players.
How was everybody on that video conference? You're an eyewitness to history. Did anybody stand out as being --
At that time, everybody had the thought that the president -- I mean, these are the words they were using -- that he was a pawn of the vice president. Well, I've got to tell you, in that room, he was no pawn. He was in charge; he set the agenda. He had a way of going around, and if two people didn't agree, he'd let them discuss it and then goes, "OK, this is what I believe," and then went to the next person. Before he came back to us, he said, "Dick, you got anything to add?" This is talking to Cheney. And Cheney put his two cents' worth in. The president said, "Tommy, what do you think?" And that's how we went. ...
So the vice president in these moments?
Just deferential to the president. He took notes. If he thought that one of the staff had missed something, he'd say, "Mr. President, here would be something I'd consider." But never, ever did he make a decision, try to make a decision. It always came from the president. And the president really didn't treat him much different than he did the other staff members -- always very professional. ...
Yes, we heard there was a plan, and Rumsfeld heard about it; Franks had heard about it. We knew there can't be two plans over in Afghanistan, so Franks went to Rumsfeld and said, "CIA has to work for you." Rumsfeld went to the president and said, "The CIA has to work for me, or this isn't going to work." That's what happened; the CIA works for Rumsfeld. Now, they can do their own intel gathering, but no plan. The plan is the Department of Defense plan.
You think George Tenet knew that he worked for Rumsfeld?
Yeah, but it's unspoken. These are men with a lot of pride, and so they're not going to say, "I'm working for you, Mr. Rumsfeld." That never happened. But it was our plan that went -- they provided the people to our plan; they collected the intel. Quite frankly, I worked with John McLaughlin who was the deputy director of the CIA daily, so we formed a relationship. Franks and George Tenet did; George Tenet and I did. We made it very easy for them to work together. ...
The team of McLaughlin and Tenet were formidable -- both smart, both talented and both able to work whatever they had to work. I was impressed.
Did you ever see Rumsfeld interact with those two guys?
No, I never did. He was frustrated with George sometimes, because I think George was too gregarious for Secretary Rumsfeld, and if there was media in the room, the media would probably go to George because he was easier to work with. I'm not sure that was something that the secretary cared for. Don't know -- it's just my impression.
... Because [Tenet] was a gregarious person that always told the truth as he knew it to be, or it appeared he did -- ... he saw that as his job, and he told the president, "Here's what I think." [If] the president didn't like it, fine, but I never saw him hold back on what he knew. ...
Things that were going on. It's the Al Qaeda in Afghanistan; it's not the Iraqis; it's not the Iranians. If they do have something to do with [Iraq], it'll be a side issue, but that's not the main issue now. ...
So from the very beginning, he was saying it's Al Qaeda?
It's Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
And Bush is hearing that?
He was hearing that?
Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick. I mean, there it is.
So now it won't surprise you to hear that the CIA believes that it was their plan, and Afghanistan was their success?
I think what Franks tried to do is not have any service -- Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines -- or any agency -- CIA, FBI, Justice Department. It was everybody working together that made that work. But to be honest, it was Franks' plan, and everybody else played in it, and the CIA was as important in that plan as any service. So their part in there was vitally important.
Why would they think they had the lead, that it was their plan and their success?
I don't know. I mean, the first team we had in there, Jawbreaker, [was a CIA team]; they're used to being independent. But I think you could ask the president, vice president, Rumsfeld, Franks, and they would give the CIA tremendous credit, but it wasn't their plan. ...
It goes extremely well.
It went extremely well on purpose, because [of] the amount of homework that we did. We went back to Hannibal, to Genghis Kahn and the Khyber Rifles, the Brits, the Russians, [asking] who had been successful in Afghanistan. And if they were, how were they successful?
The only ones that had ever been successful in Afghanistan were the ones who had used the Afghan people, and then when the war was over, the Afghan people got to govern themselves. And we figured, well, that's the way to go. The Russian way didn't work at all because they lost 50,000 people, hundreds of airplanes and helicopters. The Brits got almost a brigade destroyed there in the Khyber Pass. And so how are we going to do this? We bring in Russian platoon commanders, company commanders that were now generals back in '79, and they walk us through what they did, the problems they had, the issues they had.
But what we did is we went through a checklist. OK, here's the things we're going to do: We're going to use the Northern Alliance army. The Taliban had just killed the revered Afghan leader [Ahmed Shah] Massoud ... on the 9th or the 10th of September . That was a key right there, when he was assassinated. So we knew we had to use a Northern Alliance army somehow to get rid of the Taliban. We knew we had to get the Afghan people behind us, which meant we probably had to get stuff in there to feed them.
We had to provide [for] how do we get the Northern Alliance army that's about the fifth the size of the Taliban army -- how do we make them successful? Well, we thought we could do it with firepower, which meant injecting special forces teams that had access to air to drop bombs, precision weapons where we wanted it, and CIA intelligence teams together with them so they had the best intelligence in the world and the best weapons in the world. The terrain was so rough, you couldn't use artillery; you had to use air. So that was our plan, to feed the Afghan people to make the Northern Alliance successful, and at the end, allow them to elect their own leaders. From one month after we went in, [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai was elected as the temporary head, one month [after] the entire war. For all practical purposes, war fighting was over.
There was a lot of micromanagement before you went. Where was Rumsfeld in those early discussions? Did he want lots of boots on the ground, or was he with you guys on nimble, fast, short, quick?
It wasn't that easy, wasn't that simple. The service chiefs have two jobs. One of them is [to] promote their service and to get enough money to allow their service to survive for the next 10 years. Their other job as a joint chief is to work together and make the service work the best it can in wartime. They were getting confused in promoting, "This was my take, Franks' take and the secretary's take." The Army wanted more boots on the ground. The Marines wanted to come from the sea. The Air Force wanted more air. The Navy didn't want the Air Force to use their carriers for special forces. So there was all kinds of interservice rivalry going on.
The reason we had commanders in chief of specific areas is they're the war fighter, and Franks just put his foot down in what we'll call a tank session. All the joint chiefs were there with the secretary. The joint chiefs were posturing, because they were promoting their service. To be honest, if you were sitting there in their place, you'd maybe be doing the same thing because that's your job.
But Franks' job was to fight the war, and we had a timeline. So he got really angry with them, really angry, and the words he used with them were words we couldn't use on the air, what he called them. ... He said: "I'm running this war unless the secretary says I'm not running this war. I appreciate your input, but not very much. I'll tell you what I want, when I want it. Each of you services have a three-star that's been assigned to me from your service. If you think that's the wrong person, fire him and put your own person in there. Otherwise, help me and don't hinder me." Those were the nicest things he said that day to them.
They were angry. Franks didn't care, because we had what we thought was a great plan. Now, if it went south, we were all going to be fired, because quite frankly, our Army on the ground [with] Afghan soldiers, Northern Alliance soldiers, was small -- special forces, CIA teams embedded with them. That was it.
Was Rumsfeld along for the ride? Did he say, "General, go ahead"?
Rumsfeld was a student of conversations. He listened. He figured that Franks had it about right; those were kind of his words. And he said, "Oh, by the way, you're the combatant commander; you've got it." Franks said: "If I do something bad, relieve me. I got that. But otherwise, stay out of my business."
That seems so unusual, because here's the Don Rumsfeld you describe and everybody else -- this is a micromanager of the first magnitude.
Ah, but now he's into a piece of war fighting he didn't know anything about. The other part, running a business, which is how he looked at the Defense Department, running the war, fighting the war, tactically fighting the war; he knew that wasn't his cup of tea.
Franks was a student of warfare. He was, as a war fighter, as good as I've ever seen, as good as I've ever seen getting people to work together. Hard to work for, but I think he was the right person at the right time.
Really tough. Franks and he had it out a couple of times. One time Franks said [to me], "You're going to be the new CINC [commander in chief] tomorrow, because I don't think I'll be here the next day." The tensions were really high, and Franks was not getting any more sleep than I was. By the way, he drinks maybe 15 cups of coffee a day, smokes two packs of cigarettes, cigars and chews, so he's running on adrenalin and caffeine and nicotine, so it doesn't take much to scratch that line. He and Rumsfeld went at it a couple times, and finally Franks said, "Hey, either let me run it or fire me, but I can't keep being second-guessed." [Rumsfeld] wasn't second-guessing. What the secretary was doing was asking him multiple questions. Well, pretty hard to develop a plan when you're getting questioned every time you move, so Franks changed his way of doing business in that he briefed the secretary more, so he quit getting the questions. Well, pretty hard to develop a plan when you're getting questioned every time you move. ...
One of the things when we keep talking about whose plan is it, ...I remembered a story, and you can put the lie to this, that Rumsfeld fairly early, maybe even at that Sept. 15 meeting at Camp David, looks at General Shelton and says, "What do we have for Afghanistan?" ...
We had no plan. I mean, to be honest, you have operational plans for different parts of the world. There was none. ... Tenet did have a plan because he had people in Afghanistan. So the reason there was a CIA plan that started to get bigger than it already was is they already had people there, we did not. ...
There's a meeting Franks comes to. It's where basically the Northern Alliance becomes the army for the United States.
The head of the Northern Alliance was [Mohammed] Fahim Khan, who ended up being the first vice president under Karzai. Editor's note: Fahim Khan is more widely known as Mohammed Qasim Fahim. Khan is a common honorific in Afghan names. [The meeting was held] in another country. It was [on] a C-17 at night, on a runway with no other airplanes. I know Franks had CIA operatives with him, senior ones, not the director or the deputy director, but he also had green garbage bags full of $100 bills, and they were in the C-17. And Franks is walking through. Franks knows to get the Northern Alliance to be his army, he has to trust them, and they have to trust him.
The Afghans are an interesting group of people, probably the most fierce fighters in the world. They would just as soon kill everybody in this room, your mother and father and your kids, and they even have a little slight smile on their face. That doesn't bother them at all. But they operate with influence and money. If you want them to do stuff, that's how you get it done.
So Franks is talking to Fahim Khan, and they're sitting at a table in the C-17, ... and then it eventually got down to "What's this going to cost me?" And Fahim Khan [said], "It's going to cost $3 million for each section of the country." Franks said, "Well, that's a little too much." He said, "That's just for me." It's what Fahim said through an interpreter.
Franks stood up, almost tipped the table over. That's when he walked out the back of the airplane. Franks is a big guy; he's about 6'4", leathery skin. He didn't look much different than they did. He walked out the back of the airplane, stomped out the back of the airplane and stood back there and smoked.
The word that went on in the airplane was, "Fahim, what the hell's going on?" I mean, that's basically what he was saying, paraphrasing.
Did they know there was money in all those bags?
... Well, Fahim Khan, his financial minister was there, so he knew this was a money deal. Finally, Fahim Khan gets up and says, "We need to work something out," so he walks back to the back of the airplane and taps General -- Fahim Khan's a short person; I mean short. So they come back on, and Fahim said, "We can do this for this amount of money here, this amount of money here, and this includes paying the soldiers." And Franks said: "Fine. And you have my trust that you'll have firepower when you want it and the people embedded in your armies where you need it." And Fahim said, "Fine," because already at that time, [Uzbek warlord] Gen. [Abdul Rasid] Dostum, who was up in the Mazar-e-Sharif, had a team embedded with him, and they had just started to surround Mazar-e-Sharif. It had taken the Soviets -- at one time, [the Soviets] had 500,000 people and couldn't take Mazar-e-Sharif, so we knew if we had the right firepower and the right general, we could probably do it fairly quickly. ...
You guys had no doubt in your mind that we were going to win?
We had no doubt in our mind that we had the most firepower. What we didn't know at the beginning was, did the Northern Alliance have the fortitude to stay with it? Because we had no other generals with them on the ground. The senior person on the ground with these guys now are captains and a couple majors, U.S. The rest are all Afghan generals. Franks is talking to them all the time back in Tampa, so we know what we could do; what we're not sure of is what they can do.
When did you know you had them defeated?
Mazar-e-Sharif. Of course, that story in itself, the Mazar-e-Sharif battle is one of the most interesting battles I've ever seen. We've got ... three Special Forces people around General Dostum who looks like a Soviet general. He's from the area, and everybody's on horseback. ...
You've got a city down here with tanks dug in, with antiaircraft barrels, [that] have been dropped down so they're the same height as people. You've got machine gun nests; you've got barbed wire. I mean, there's no way in heck that you can get your horses -- and by the way, the horses were lined up a hundred across. ...
The first time he gives the charge and down the hill they go. The guns are blaring from this side, these guys have got their swords in the air and shooting with their AK-47s, airplanes were laying down. So about a hundred of the horses and men are killed right away. So Dostum calls for a retreat, back up the hill again. ... Dostum said, "Let's wait up here just a little bit, let me watch some of these things disappear first."
[The Special Forces] look at their watch and said, "Okay, get your guys ready to go." Just as that happened, you could start seeing the tank holes, one by one, they're just going away, bang. And now the people on horseback feel emboldened, they feel good about it. They see bombs going on the barbed wire; the barbed wire is disappearing. All the automatic weapons fire is starting to disappear.
So then down the hill they go. These are Genghis Khan-looking people, even our own soldiers look the same way. Down they come. And what the Afghans do is when they're defeated, they don't want to be prisoners, they want to fight on your side. So they rode down with 3,000 against 8,500 down there, they probably killed 1,000, they rode away with an army of 11.
Eleven thousand. Because the Taliban they had been fighting said, "Hey," turn their hat around, "I'm on your side now." And so when Mazar-e-Sharif, when the word went around Afghanistan, because that was the place they had held up before, the Soviets couldn't knock them out of. It happened, then they just started moving south and everything started to fall. ...
Those of us who have been around entirely too long and remember Vietnam were all waiting to see when the word "quagmire" was going to appear. ...
We knew how chancy it was to do what we did, but we also knew that you will never be able to get Afghanistan as a thriving country unless they do it themselves. We could have gone in there with 500,000 U.S. and just cleaned it up. But you had to kill civilians; you had to kill women and children, because they had a strong ethnic background; they wanted to be together. We knew the only way to make this country a country at the end of the war was to let them do it themselves. So we took a political risk. ...
[Were you ever involved in a Predator drone missile strike?]
Yeah, George Tenet and I were the ones that directed the one in Yemen [that killed Abu Ali al-Harithi, a senior Al Qaeda operative, in November 2002]. ... Franks was overseas. ... [Tenet] calls and said, "We got the target." I said, "Okay." I called General Franks. Franks said, "Hey, if Tenet said it's good, it's good." I said, "Okay, we're good. I'm going down to the UAV room." ... We had our lawyer there. Everything was done right. I mean, there was no hot dog. ... The rules of war, the rules of combat that we had already set up, the rules of engagement ahead of time. Went by them. Okay, it's a good target. ...
What does it feel like when you know you're going down there to kill somebody?
It's just war. It's no different than going to the store to buy some eggs; it's just something you got to do. These are the same people that just killed over 3,000 people in the Twin Towers, killed almost 200 people in the Pentagon. This was easy. But you don't look at it as anything else other than here's something you have to do to get rid of their leadership. That was one of the targets we'd set up ahead of time, was Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership. Those were the target set that we were going after.
So you walk in a room, you sit at a console or something, and there it is on the screen?
Instead of sitting up against the wall, I'm sitting back like this looking at the wall, and I'm talking to George Tenet. And he goes, "You got to make the call." These Predators had been lent to him, but the weapons on board were ours. So I said, "Okay, we'll make the call. Shoot them."
And so again, people got in their vehicle and they started to split up. So now we've got one bird without a Hellfire [missile] and one bird with. And he says, "Easy, this SUV over here is the one that has Ali in it." I said, "Okay, fine." So that followed it out, and they were far enough out in the desert, they lined it up and shot it. And when they shot it, of course it's a pretty good-sized explosive, and an SUV, you can imagine, a big explosion. You see one person crawl out and sort of expire. Then you see another person start to crawl away, they're crawling.
How can you tell they're crawling?
You see the body, instead of upright, it's out flat, crawling. ... They had no idea where things were coming from, getting hit. They knew when the jets were coming over, but they didn't know when a Predator was shooting. And then you could slowly see this guy down here, you could see the color start to go out, the heat, because these are [infrared] sources. You see the heat start to go out, and so he expired. So we knew everybody in the vehicle was dead. ...
... When do you get the feeling that Rumsfeld himself is interested in getting information off the battlefield that he can use in Washington, or they can use in Washington to protect America rather than just defeat an enemy?
Okay, it wasn't just to protect America, it was to protect the coalition. We had already formed the coalition and I don't know what time frame we're in right now, but by that time, we've got 20, 30, 40 countries here represented in Tampa and they're providing us with intel from their countries. They're closing down any kind of financial institutions that may be related to terrorists. They're involved worldwide with working together with these other countries they'd never worked with before. ...
When I left in September '03, and that made it about two years, we had already stopped -- I can't give the number, but somewhere between 30 and 100 major terrorist events were thwarted because of the information we had gotten from these enemy combatants and from our coalition partners. I mean, major events, some in the United States, major things that would have happened had we not gotten this information. ...
So how intense was the secretary's desire for information in those early days? Did you feel it, did you hear it, did you hear him talking about it?
Yeah, but these people were pretty strong, the people that were captured. They didn't easily give up information. And so getting information out of them was tough. ...
You had a positive view of the Central Intelligence Agency?
I did. In fact, when I was a captain, I went to the Defense Intelligence Agency School, so I was a DIA-trained intel person also. I appreciated what they did; I appreciated how hard it was. I also appreciated that they have, like any other organization, they have so many people that speak so many languages and have so [many] varied backgrounds, you end up with a potpourri of people that aren't always going the same direction you'd like them to go. To be honest, that's good as long as they don't go out in the open and say, "Hey, I know these secrets; I'm going to tell you." So I liked what they did; I knew how hard it was to run that organization.
We've spent a lot of time talking to CIA agents, many of whom say we had Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora. ... Did they have him?
Not to the best of our knowledge, no. What we thought was at that time, bin Laden was like Elvis: He was everywhere. He was over here; he was over here; he was over here. Was it most likely that after we had done what we had done in Kandahar and Kabul that he had probably gone up into the mountains? That's what we thought. We believed the agency, that we thought he was up there somewhere -- didn't know where, because there's maybe 200 caves up there that cross from Afghanistan to Pakistan. You can't watch them. ...
Never knew for sure. We had word from the agency that he may have been wounded, but we never knew.
Tora Bora is up on the Afghan-Pakistan border somewhere between about 6,000 to 13,000 feet. It's sort of a mountain range, really a tough area. The villagers up there don't claim either Afghanistan or Pakistan as their country. They are loyal to their village chief, and that's it. They don't like anybody else -- don't like the Pakistanis, don't like the Afghanis [sic], and for heaven's sakes, they don't like wide-eyed coalition forces, especially Americans. We knew if we had gone up there with U.S. forces that we would have been fighting villagers who really were doing nothing else other than protecting their village.
If we had done that -- and this is prior to the election of Karzai, just prior, by the way -- that we could have destroyed all the good humanitarian work we had done trying to build this country together. That's in the back of our mind also. Two, we sure as hell would like to get Osama bin Laden. So how do we combine all that together? Well, what we did was bring in Dell Daley, head of our special forces, two-star general. He's there. ...We got with him, and we said: "We're going to do something like we did with the Northern Alliance, embed these forces with you. But this time, Dell Daley's going to call the shots, not necessarily this other Afghan general that was going up in the mountains." But we also knew this was the right way to go, because the people he used were people from the area, and it would work well. And it did work well. ... Now, the other issue becomes how do you block this entire mountain line? It's like blocking the border of New Mexico from Mexico in hoping you can keep people from going both ways. With tunnels underneath, hundreds of them. ...
Were you in meetings about this? How were these decisions made?
They were always made the same [way], with the secretary, Franks, Tenet. The agency wasn't crazy about this, to be fair. The service chiefs wanted U.S. forces up there. ... But at the end of the day, Franks and I had this discussion. ... For the good of Afghanistan, if we did wound Osama bin Laden, great. We could have put the best forces in the entire world up there; anybody could have gotten through to the other side. It's the way it was. So for the good of the country, two weeks later Karzai was elected interim president, and we killed hundreds and hundreds of Taliban and Al Qaeda up there in Tora Bora with the weapons we used, and didn't kill any villagers. ...
Where was Rumsfeld on the debate about this from the beginning? Did he want them to go up there?
No, he agreed with us. These were all collegial discussions all the time, and not [just] what's going to happen today, [but] how is this going to affect tomorrow? And of course, we all wanted bin Laden, but we couldn't focus on bin Laden. If you kill his leadership, he by himself, a CEO with no managers, can't run a company. We were already seeing that the Al Qaeda were starting to splinter, because we were, quite frankly, getting rid of his senior leadership. It was disappearing. ...
Was George Tenet representing [the CIA on the ground], their positions, firmly and strongly?
He was representing their positions, but George Tenet, like us, [was] also looking at tomorrow and the next day and the next day. So he said, "Here's what my guys want to do, and here's why." Great -- we had some military leaders who wanted to do the same thing, but we knew this was probably the best call. ...
... He understood why we made the decision we made, and he never asked to review it after it was made. It was made, done. But he also knew that people he has in some of these countries, they've been there; they've been living with these people. Some of these agents are tough guys, and they want to do things their way. They've always done things their way, and they were not used to working closely with the military, definitely not working with a plan that we had put in place ... to use the agency with the special forces embedded with this Afghan eastern alliance --what they called their forces -- to go up and try to root Al Qaeda, Taliban out of the Tora Bora caves, using airpower where we needed it.
But everybody kind of knew in that room that when the rubber met the road, getting Karzai elected was in some ways more important than getting Osama bin Laden, if you were going to get him at all.
Well, yeah, but we also knew there was probably Taliban and Al Qaeda leadership up in Tora Bora, so we wanted to kill or capture as many of those as we could. We were systematically going through that, so it was happening. One of the issues also was guarding the border, and people said, "Well, the border wasn't guarded very well." Well, that's correct; it wasn't. Today it wouldn't be guarded very well, either. It's just too hard to do. ...
When are you first aware that Iraq and Saddam Hussein are on somebody's gun sights somewhere and that it may be job two?
Well, it wasn't lost on us when the secretary on Sept. 12 mentioned Iraq, Iran, Syria, so we knew it could come up at any time. We also knew we had thoroughly good intelligence that there was an Al Qaeda base on the Iraq-Iran border, that the Al Qaeda were coming through Iran into Iraq. We'll call it a dual-use base; in other words, chemicals that could be used for putting on your crops or chemicals that you could mix together and make a chemical weapon out of. We had on the ground intelligence that they were coming through there, and then some of them were meeting with some of the senior people in the Saddam administration, not with Saddam himself. We knew there was a tie to Saddam, to Iraq. And nothing happens in Iraq without Saddam knowing about it, so we knew that was true.
We also knew Saddam was paying $25,000 to each family of the Palestinian freedom fighter that was killed going after the Israelis. We also had seen in recent times -- because we're still protecting the U.N. sanctions, both north and south -- Saddam is shooting at us much more frequently and getting much closer to our airplanes now.
What's the timeframe, fall of 2001?
Yeah, and of course we're going after them and going after the air defense systems and the missiles. But they're shooting missiles; they've got radars on. It's getting much more intense. That's bothering us. We also had intel and saw ... he made unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs], [that] had affixed sprayers to the wings. We'd seen him test seven of these airplanes with sprayers. We had also seen during this period of time medium- to long-range missiles. He was testing beyond what he was allowed to do under U.N. sanctions, just blatantly doing it, testing missiles.
We also had seen he was working with the Chinese, putting underground cable into all the air-defense systems, which meant he was going to tie all the air-defense systems together, and we wouldn't be able to listen to any of the chatter; and that was bothering us. We knew that he had put in an order for nuclear/ biological/chemical suits, two apiece for each one of his Republican Guard people. Why would he do that? We also had seen through Romania that he had gotten from the Russians GPS jammers.
All these things were going on at this time. We made a list of them, and I just gave you a partial list of the ones I can give you. We went to the secretary and the president and said, "You'd be negligent unless you act on this." Now, this was after the secretary said, "I'd like you to review your op plan for Iraq." But all these things had already been building for us. We'd been watching Iraq now, and it was really troubling. ...
Were you aware that by the 21st of September, say, Tenet and the CIA had already delivered to the president and to others that there was no Al Qaeda-Saddam connection?
Yeah, we didn't agree. Now, the only place we saw it was this one compound on the Iraq-Iran border, which was so troubling to us. We almost took them out three months before the Iraq war started. We almost took that thing, but we were so concerned that the chemical cloud from there could devastate the region that we chose to take them by land rather than by smart weapons. ...
Did you think Rumsfeld wanted to go to Iraq, or was he reluctant?
I don't know. To be honest, Franks and I, at the end of the day, we had to look in the mirror, because it's our troops that are going to die, nobody else's. The issue was: Did we believe without any other input that this is the right thing to do? And the answer was yes. So we had to divorce ourselves from the politics, stay away from it.
I think it was December of 2001 that Franks goes to Crawford [to see the president. What happened?]
... Gene Renuart, who was a J-3 at the time, Gene and Franks go down to Crawford, Texas, and brief the president and the secretary. I think Condi was there. I don't know if Powell was there or not. But walked them through what's currently on the books ... which was not a whole lot different than the first Gulf War.
Big, 500,000 guys?
Big. And any time you have big, it takes a long time to get people there. It just takes time, or you have to have people already there. But the enemy sees them coming, and Saddam we knew was not going to wait six months for us to bring people in this time.
Did Franks want to go? Did he have real misgivings about going?
No, not after -- we sat down a couple of times. Gen. Franks likes margaritas and I've got a margarita recipe that -- of course, I'm a tequila connoisseur. And so we sat down and had some margaritas and tequila and walked through: Is this the right thing to do for us, for the country? Can we look our troops in the eyes and say, "You're going to die tomorrow and here's why." And the answer was yes. So after that, no misgivings whatsoever. If he had anything, he would have said, "I'm not doing this." He'd have walked. ...
[But] there's a kind of political momentum independent of what you guys want to do?
Well, the issue becomes if there's a trigger, how fast can you go? And that was a fair question. And Franks said, "Six months, the way we're currently situated." And everybody went, "Unacceptable, unacceptable." Well, that's the way it is. ...
The CIA guys that we talked to, ... they said [Iraq] was a gigantic brain drain. They say: "This was such a bad idea. It literally tore the heart out of our real war on terror effort."
Now, the agency probably did have to split some of the resources. We didn't. We probably put 500 more people into Afghanistan the day we kicked off the war in Iraq than were there before. ...
And this debate about weapons of mass destruction and developing all that information, all the talk about whether the stuff existed, did that ever cross your field of vision while you were down here, both running Afghanistan and preparing for Iraq?
Yeah, because we saw it in Iraq. We had people on the ground in all the different places, and we knew where the stuff was, and we also knew that the U.N. inspectors during this period of time had to tell Saddam a week ahead of time they were coming to place X. We watched trucks come in, take the stuff out, go to another place as the U.N. inspectors would go in. By this time now, this is 12 years that Saddam has been moving his chemical weapons around. So we knew there were weapons of mass destruction. Now, how much or what kind, [we] weren't sure.
But two days before we did go into Iraq, we watched truckloads of it go into Syria, truckloads of it. Now, these chemical weapons, you've got stuff here and stuff here that by themselves are not potent. You mix them together and you put them in the nose of an artillery shell or a bomb and you weaponize them, and it becomes a weapon. ...
You saw it how? How did you know?
With people on the ground and with technical systems. We saw it. It wasn't a matter of speculation; we saw it happen. Now, are they ever going to find it in Syria? Hell, no. Is there still some buried in Iraq? Yes, there is. It wasn't too long ago we uncovered an artillery round with sarin gas in the nose. I mean, it was old, but why was it buried? You've got a country the size of California in square miles, and we now find MiG-25s, the largest fighter in the world. Occasionally, our guys with metal detectors will say, "Oh, there's something here"; we'll dig up one of these MiG-25s that have been buried.
So you still believe --
No, this is truth. Whether they find it out or not, I don't know. But it went to Syria; probably some went to Lebanon; and maybe some even went from the south, went across to Iran. But we saw it go to Syria. ...
It was interesting. Just the name Chalabi evoked different emotions from different agencies in the U.S. government. State Department couldn't stand him; CIA couldn't stand him; Department of Defense believed he could help us in Iraq. One of them was the group of people [who believed] that he had, supposedly, a couple small armies in Iraq that we could use, similar to the tactics that we used in Afghanistan. We had to listen to both sides. We also knew that King Abdullah of Jordan had made Chalabi almost enemy number one because allegedly Chalabi had worked deals and stolen $1.2 billion out of Jordan, and King Abdullah was one of our friends.
And so we, trying to be "good soldiers," good Americans and still smart at what we did, had to stand back and try to determine what's the right thing to do here. At the end of the day, to make another long story short, we said, "OK, we will keep an eye open and work with Chalabi," which is what the Department of Defense was going to do anyway. So we needed to do that, but we were very careful in what we did with Chalabi, very careful on things we brought in, and the people he said he was going to provide us -- that would help us -- did not vet, meaning they didn't go through the checks we needed to have them go through. The ones that did, some of those people that he had brought in, were some of the people doing the looting there in some of the cities. Some of these expatriates had come back just to get what they could from Iraq; [they] could[n't] care less about the country, the people, the government. ...
Did you personally meet him?
Did you like him?
No, and the reason I didn't was because the people that I knew well in the State Department and the agency didn't. I mean, Rich Armitage, who was the deputy secretary of state, is a classmate of mine. We played plebe football together at the academy. And so people I did trust didn't trust him, and so that's where I got it from. ...
But to be loyal to the secretary and the deputy secretary, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, we did what we had to do. If he had something to offer, we tried to make it work. If he didn't, we dismissed him.
Did you ever look at the secretary or [then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul] Wolfowitz and say, "I don't trust this guy"?
Yeah. Franks did, too. Those weren't the words we used. To be honest, we said, "We're concerned about Chalabi." Fine -- do what you've got to do to try to make this work. It was a good thing. If it panned out, great; we had everything ready to go. If it didn't pan out, then we had backup plans that didn't even slow us down.
Why do you think Secretary Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz so connected themselves to Chalabi and the INC?
... The Democrats during Clinton's time didn't like the INC, or weren't real trusting of it, which made Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz more trusting of it. [laughter]
By the way, Chalabi was a very easy person to like if you wanted to like him. He was very warm, very friendly ... and people trusted him. That's the reason he had done a lot of the things he had done, some of them not good. So, I mean, I just think they trusted him.
They also wanted to trust him. If he worked out, he was the answer to everything. He could come in with his own army and help us take Iraq. He could run Iraq; he could put people in there and run the ministries. They could all be in one package. That's where I think it was coming from. ...
There was a lot of information that was coming up out of [then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas] Feith's office, raw intelligence ... moved up through the secretary and even over to the vice president. Were you privy to that information, the stuff about yellowcake, about Al Qaeda, all the weapons of mass destruction? Was that coming your way, too?
... Feith wasn't somebody we enjoyed working with, and to go much further than that would probably not be a good thing. To be honest, we blew him off lots of times. Told the secretary that he's full of baloney, his people working for him are full of baloney. It was a real distraction for us, because he was the number three guy in the Department of Defense.
What was wrong with him, General?
He had some people around him that weren't very good. He thought he knew more than he did, which is dangerous. That's about it. I don't know anything else other than that, except that I had some knockdown, drag-out discussions with him.
Things that he was doing, things I didn't agree with. And he said, "Well, this is what we're going to do." And I said, "Well, if you do, we're both going to the secretary; we're going against you." He said, "Well, you're not going to --" I said: "Yeah, we are. We don't believe in what you say. You're full of baloney."
... There [were] a number of the things that we just didn't agree with: that he was pushing them to the secretary instead of running them by us first, which we always did to him -- run it by him. The secretary would say, "Well, what about this?" And I'd say, "Where'd you get that from?" "Douglas Feith." Well, yeah, of course Feith would always -- we never did anything behind anybody's back. We said: "We don't agree with him. Have Feith explain it to you. We'll walk through our reason why not; let him walk through his reason why."
The secretary was, again, even with Feith, was unmerciful. When Feith started to stumble, he said, "It's obvious you don't know what you're talking about; we'll go with Franks." ...
[Feith] strikes me as a guy who had his mind made up: "We're going to drain the swamp," as he said. "We're going to get Iraq out of there; we're going to go in and impose a democracy."
It may be that he had that [perspective], but the good news is we never rolled. The good news is we were as senior as we were; what are they going to do to us? We'll give them our best, and if it looks like it's so far wrong, then we would have to quit. ...
The preparation for the war -- we've all heard there was a kind of jawbone back and forth between Gen. Franks, you and the secretary for the size of the force, and that Rumsfeld kept whittling it back, and you guys kept saying: "Wait a minute, wait a minute. We need more; we need this; we need that." How realistic is what we've read and what we've heard about the jawbone between Rumsfeld and Franks and you?
It was more Franks than myself. It was the secretary, deputy secretary; it was the chairman, the vice chairman and the service chiefs. I mean, they're all involved in this discussion, and the issues are huge. Part of it has to do with transformation; part of it had to do with not just this war, but tomorrow's war. If you make the force for this war, how does that affect tomorrow's war? And this goes back to when the secretary asked all his combatant commanders to relook at their operational plans for their area and find out, do you need as many people? Do you need as much lift? Can you pre-position some stuff? How can we do this smarter, better and cheaper? So all that's playing. It's not a simple, "We're just going to do it with a few people."
The other issue becomes, for Iraq, we haven't gotten Turkey yet. We now are having huge discussions. We've got Gen. Jim Jones, who's now the supreme allied commander [Europe], NATO, who's trying to get Turkey open, and Turkey's not opening for us; no other country's opening. If this goes down, we've got one funnel coming through this little country of Kuwait, and if you've got 500,000 people, where do you stage them, and how do you squeeze them like a tube of toothpaste in through that little hole that squirts all over Iraq at a time you need it to be there to fight the plan you have? Can't do it.
The issue becomes smaller force early is probably a good thing. ... At the end of the day, given the amount of air we were going to have; the different ways that we were going to use special forces this time, which was much different than was used during the first Gulf War; the way the agency was going to be used; the people we were already going to have on the ground that were never there before during the first Gulf War; we had, rightfully so, convinced ourselves that we probably had about the right number of people if things went according to plan. Things didn't go according to plan.
You mean the right number of people to win the fight? ... But not for Phase IV?
Phase IV -- we had had numerous promises from the expatriate Iraqis and from a certain number of Iraqis internally that they were going to help us with Phase IV. What we didn't know was that two days before we kicked off the war, Saddam opened the doors to his prisons. Kept the political prisoners locked up, but every one of the felons, murderers, rapists, thieves, were let go -- 50,000 criminals let go throughout the country. Two days later, the entire police force in all 18 provinces took their uniforms off and walked home. ...
We're bringing in what we think is a slim but enough force to do what we have to do, but not to guard museums, not to guard things that people are going to be stealing. We didn't bring in MPs, not in that number. We don't have that number. So from day one, things started to tumble backwards on us. That was a problem.
But wasn't it Feith's office that was in charge of Phase IV?
Well, to be fair to everybody, ... the people that should have been running Phase IV, in my humble opinion, was the State Department, because the military, Department of Defense, taking care of a country and helping a country after it's been defeated is not something they're trained to do. But to be also fair to the State Department, Secretary Rumsfeld didn't want them to have that authority, so he kept it.
Why? Do you know?
Same reason as everything: He wanted to run this stuff. Thought he could do it, because he had never failed before. He's never failed in his life. He's always done things that he's done well. So in my humble opinion, we had the wrong agency doing Phase IV, and that included the Department of Defense. Central Command played in that. ... When you do stuff like that, you have to take it away from the other things you were doing, which is war fighting and keeping the peace.
There was the whole fight between [Gen. Eric] Shinseki, [Secretary of the Army] Gen. Tommy White and Rumsfeld about how many troops to have on the ground. Where were you on that fight? What do you make of that? ...
... Gen. Shinseki was chief of staff of the Army. One of his jobs is to preserve the Army for the future. If in fact you could do a major war like this with less people, was not necessarily good for the Army. Not that that was his motivation, but you've got all these things going through his mind.
He's also looking back and he's getting recommendations from prior commanders that have fought in Iraq, and the number came out. If you're a general, you usually never want to take a risk. You go in [with] overwhelming force; it's just easier. That's sort of the Powell doctrine. ...
We couldn't do overwhelming force and also have surprise. So the number 500,000, first of all, we couldn't get them there. ... Given the size of the force we had at the time, you'd never have any backup. That thing lasted longer than six months, ... you got no more people. Right now, we've used our guard and reserve twice. They've been over there as much as active duty has.
So when you know that Shinseki and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz are fighting in front of Congress, how was that for you guys? You just think it was all political chaff?
Well, to be honest, there was only a very small number of people that knew the plan. The plan started with a small number and could have gone big. So we were comfortable that we had the right size force and if we had to go to 500,000, we could have gone to 500,000. We had them standing by, ready to go. But we didn't think we'd need them. And we had the right size force to get in there early.
To be honest, this was another tactical, operational -- not just a success. The way this war was planned was only second to the war the war was planned in Afghanistan. I think 20 years from now, these will go down in history and Franks will be the Napoleon of the 21st century because of Afghanistan and the way he fought -- not phrase IV -- but the way he fought both these wars. ...
When did you know things were going south in Iraq?
... First of all, the recommendation from Jerry Bremer -- and he doesn't say it in his book -- do away with the Baath Party came from him. ...
We said, "Whoa, this is like the Communist Party in Russia. If you do away with everybody in the Baath Party, the people that turn on the lights, that run the water, that pick up the garbage, that clean the streets -- they're all Baath Party members. You fire all them, all the small, menial jobs in the country stop." "It's not a problem." Well, they went away, everything stopped. So now, not only do we have guerilla war and insurgency starting to foment, we've got to hire people and vet people to do these other menial jobs. ...
The other issue becomes one of our recommendations was we think we should save some of these Republican Guard guys, some of them are really good, to be the base of the new army. ...
All the recommendations that we were making now in the phase IV part weren't being taken by Bremer or Rumsfeld. So that when it was time for us to sail off into the sunset.
You guys are sitting here with ideas, solutions?
Well, we think so. ... We gave them our recommendations in writing and they said, "Well, no." Part of this also came back to Feith always pushing to get rid of the Baath Party, get rid of the army, clean it. Because those were some of the things they had gotten from Chalabi. So we weren't comfortable now. We weren't comfortable before, but we were no longer comfortable.
And that's when Franks said, "I'm done." They said, "Well, you'll be chief of staff of the Army." He said, "No, I'm done. What would I do?" The president asked him. "Nope." ...
When you think right now about the war on terror, everything that started that day on the 11th of September, when you watched that second plane hit that building, how are we doing?
I'd start before then, to be honest. If President Clinton had gotten Osama bin Laden when we were offered him twice while he was in Sudan, it could have ended. It could have been it, right there. If we'd have been serious about when the Marines got hit in Lebanon -- people in the United States, God bless them, are very comfortable if their military fights a battle not on our shores, and if military people get killed overseas, it's a volunteer force, and that's what they signed up to do. ...
First of all, we needed a strong president who would follow through, but it took a 9/11, unfortunately, to get the country together to go after this new type of war fighting in the world, which, to be honest, is what a lot of people don't know, what they're trying to do is undermine our future. Whatever that is, whatever we want, they don't want it to happen. So I think it's going to be a continuous fight. We're going to have to have intel; we're going to have to act on the intelligence. We're going to have to have a force that's able to do those things in certain countries so it doesn't end up on this shore.
I think there's going to be another major event in the United States in the next two years. Already been planned probably three years ago. These guys are patient. Where is it going to be? Don't know. We've stopped so many of them, but there's a lot of sleeper cells still here in the United States.
Here we are in 2006 [with] a kind of lack of focus on this other shadowy war on terrorism. ... And the enthusiasm of the Central Intelligence Agency -- even the skill of the Central Intelligence Agency -- has been devastated, closed down essentially. ... We don't know how to fight this new kind of asymmetrical warfare. ... We've kind of lost our enthusiasm. We're busy with Iraq. The Army is on the edge of being broken. Has it been broken?
No, and I would politely disagree with the first part. I think the focus on terrorism is the same as it's been. What happened now that's much, much stronger [is] the agencies are working closer together. Some of the old central intelligence people that have been around for years that, granted, were very, very good, were released, and they're bitter. For either good or bad reasons -- don't know -- they're saying that the agency's going downhill. I don't think it's going downhill. I think the intel they're getting is as good or better than it's ever been. You've got the National Security Agency, NSA, working with CIA, working with Defense Intelligence Agency, working with the service intel agencies. You've got Rumsfeld, who's now poured money back into special forces who are now able to do things now much more secretively than they've been able to do before. Where the agency used to be the force outside the United States [that] would do things clandestinely, now you have other people that are better trained to do stuff like that.
Everything depends on our coalition forces working together. ... The importance of the coalition at the beginning of Afghanistan is the reason that we're in at least fair shape today, intel-wise and terrorist-wise.
And, of course, I made a statement that Franks liked: The coalition was more important than the war on terrorism, because as the coalition stayed together, they keep the war on terrorism spread out all over the world and were capturing people. I don't think you're going to lick terrorism, but the way you're going to keep it under control is with other countries working with us. ...
[What happened with the strike on Dora Farms that started the war?]
Yeah, we are sitting around getting ready to go to war, but then Tenet calls Franks. Or calls Myers first. And then Myers gets Franks, Tenet on the line and of course I'm on the other phone. And he said, "Here's what we have. Uncorroborated, but I think it's a good target." Meyers said, "Franks, how fast can you--" Well, first of all, we got nothing set to do this. Of course, the expletives are rolling out of Franks like crazy right now. [laughter] ... He goes, "Hmm. Let me get with my air component commander," who is now the chief of staff of the Air Force, Mike Mosley, "and see what we can do." Because this has to be done in such a way that it doesn't trigger the war. So how do we do this?
So he gets with Mosley, Mosley says, "Okay, I can get two C-117s airborne in this amount of time, and drop on there and they'll never know where it came from and we won't even trigger any anti-aircraft systems." So they talk about it, get a brief together, go to the president.
The president said, "Didn't you guys hear what I said? I gave him 48 hours, it's my word." And they go, "Well, he may not be there then." He said, "That's your problem. If you want to drop at 48 hours and 30 seconds, hey, make my day. But otherwise, I've given him 48 hours to surrender or get out of Dodge." And so that was the plan. ...
And when it doesn't work, how do you know it doesn't work?
We don't know because that building was a mess. We didn't find out until, to be honest, until we got Qusay and Uday a day later, we weren't sure.
Yeah. Because the secretary wanted DNA only. ... We'd already gotten DNA samples from Saddam's relatives, from Osama bin Laden's mother, so we knew if we got somebody, we had DNA results. ...