WASHINGTON - According to the General in command, the U.S. went to war in Iraq without expectation of the violent insurgency that followed or a clear understanding of the psychology of the Iraqi people.
"We had a hope the Iraqis would rise up and become part of the solution," said former Gen. Tommy Franks, who led the U.S. military's Central Command until his retirement last August. "We just didn't know (about the insurgency)."
Interviewed Monday in connection with the publication of his memoir, "American Soldier," Franks also said he had expected large numbers of foreign troops to join the U.S. in its Iraq effort. Franks attributes the stresses on American forces in Iraq now, in part, to the failure of that to happen.
A product of officer candidates school instead of West Point, Franks is a 37-year Army veteran who was wounded three times as an artillery officer in Vietnam and served as assistant commander of the 1st Cavalry Division in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. He is considered the architect of the U.S.'s initial victories in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he pioneered tactics involving heavy use of special operations troops.
In both book and interview, the retired general largely supported the administration's conduct of the war, and he said he admired President Bush for his leadership in both the Afghan and Iraq conflicts.
A Texan who attended the same high school as First Lady Laura Bush, Franks held out the possibility of campaigning for the president. Several prominent retired generals have begun doing so for Democratic nominee John Kerry.
As he noted in his book, Franks initially projected that troop strength in Iraq might have to rise to 250,000 for the U.S. to meet all of its objectives, but it never got higher than 150,000.
"The wild card in this was the expectation for much greater international involvement," he said in the interview. "I never cared whether the international community came by way of NATO or the United Nations or directly. ... We started the operation believing that nations would provide us with an awful lot of support."
Instead, the other members of the coalition the administration assembled have only about 22,000 soldiers in Iraq, and several nations have pulled out. Franks said he thinks the U.S. will have to maintain substantial numbers of troops in Iraq for three to five years.
Initial planning for the war centered on achieving a speedy victory in the major combat phases of the conflict followed by rapid reconstruction of the country, he said.
Though an insurgency was feared, there was no assumption it would happen, he said.
"I think there was not a full appreciation of the realities in Iraq - at least of the psychology of the Iraqis," he said.
"On the one hand," he continued, "I think we all believed that they hated the regime of Saddam Hussein. Over the last year, we have seen that come to pass. That's where the intelligence came from that allowed us to get the sons of Saddam Hussein.
"On the other hand, the psychology of the people - the mix of the Sunnis, the Shiites, the tribal elements and the Kurds - and what they would expect and tolerate in terms of coalition forces, their numbers, where they are and what they're doing in Iraq, I don't know that we made willful assumptions with respect to that."
Franks said he was not surprised when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld asked him to "dust off" Iraq war planning while the U.S. was still embroiled in fighting al-Qaida terrorists and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
"At the same time we were conducting military operations in (Afghanistan), we were continuing to fly Operation Southern Watch and Operation Northern Watch and our young pilots flying over Iraq were being shot at on virtually ever occasion," he said. "Sen. John McCain, a man I respect, asked why in the world would we continue to let our pilots be shot at without taking more stringent action against Iraq."
Franks said he fully expected Hussein to use some form of weapons of mass destruction against the American-led invasion. He said he was told personally by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah that they existed.
In his book, Franks quotes Mubarak as saying: "We have spoken with Saddam Hussein. He is a madman. He has WMD-biologicals, actually - and he will use them on your troops."
Franks quotes Abdullah as telling him: "General, from reliable intelligence sources, I believe the Iraqis are hiding chemical and biological weapons."
On Monday, wire services reported that spokesmen for both rulers denied there were such warnings. "Such a claim is void of truth," said Mubarak spokesman Magad Abdel Fattah. A Royal Palace official in Jordan said, "His Majesty did not have information that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction."
Franks wrote that U.S. troops occupying Iraq discovered large supplies of raw materials and chemicals that could be used to manufacture weapons of mass destruction - likening them to "the equivalent of a disassembled pistol, lying on a table beside neatly arranged trays of bullets."
Franks had terse words for some in the administration.
He used an expletive in the book to describe the Joint Chiefs of Staff because of what he called their insistence on championing their individual services rather than thinking of the military as a whole.
In his book, Franks referred to Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy and one of Rumsfeld's close advisors, as "a theorist whose ideas were often impractical."
"I generally ignored his contributions," Franks wrote of one meeting.
He was critical of former White House terrorism advisor Richard Clarke, saying in the book he "was better at identifying a problem than at finding a workable solution."
According to Franks, Secretary of State Colin Powell contacted him directly, without going through the chain of command, to voice his concern that the U.S. was invading Iraq with a comparatively small, highly-mobile force, instead of the kind of overwhelming massive force such as Powell deployed when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Persian Gulf War.
Franks said he considered Powell's views as from a different time and situation.
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