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General Tommy Franks Gives Central Command Briefing

Aired May 24, 2002 - 15:32   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you now to Florida to the U.S. central command, where General Tommy Franks there is addressing people there, talking about the ongoing war against terrorism. Let's listen in.


GEN. TOMMY FRANKS, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: ... and it's interesting to me that when I was growing up I'm not sure that I ever actually realized -- when I was young, I'm not sure I ever actually realized the difference between Memorial Day and Labor Day. They just represented a time off.

But I think what we see ongoing today in this global war on terrorism gives us all to pause a little bit and think something about Memorial Day. In several events over the last few days have caused me to reflect on that a bit, and that's what I wanted to talk about.

Yesterday, I was up in Newport, Rhode Island, visiting some of the most incredibly bright, young officers at the Naval War College, and I saw in their eyes great eagerness to get on with business. And I saw a great intellect. And I saw the strength of their conviction. And I thought about them as both present and future leaders, and I was inspired by that.

And then last night I was in New York City at a great gala event that's associated with Fleet Week, which is a time when naval vessels come into New York Harbor from a number of nations. A great many of our own sailors show up there for about a week of festivities. And to watch the relationship between those people and the Americans of New York was also inspiring.

And then, over the last few days I've had a chance to review a set of after action comments that we'll talk a bit more about in a minute, that have to do with a mountaintop called Takur Ghar in Afghanistan.

And I think about seven incredibly brave young Americans who lost their lives on that mountain during Operation Anaconda. I thought about that, and it occurred to me that as we approach Memorial Day, we ought to think about that a little bit. So that's why I am standing before you now.

Most impressive, this business of Takur Ghar. Touching. Such an example of dedication to the mission, and bravery, selfless courage and, in fact, brotherhood. That fight is a microcosm of men and women who wear their nation's uniform every day.

Now, while the details of global war on terrorism, where it's been and where it's going, are very different than previous wars, the character of the war hasn't changed. Combat is a dirty, nasty, deadly business, and it costs us lives. Takur Ghar, that battle showed heroism, it showed fog, uncertainty, it showed friction -- elements common to every war I think we've ever fought. But at the end of the day what we needed was we needed to own a mountaintop called Takur Ghar. And in the end, the bravery and the audacity, and certainly the tenacity of the people involved in that operation carried the day.

I am terribly proud of the accomplishments of those people and all those who continue to serve in Enduring Freedom. You too will be proud as you receive a background brief, immediately following this press conference, to include a handout, which we'll have for you here in Tampa, that describes that operation -- entirely remarkable.

If you think back about Operation Anaconda and you think about the character of it and you think about the way I described it and other described it on a map in this room, you think about the fact that you had very high elevations, valley area in Afghanistan to the east and south of Gardez. Operation Anaconda sought to clear the enemy in that valley area and in those hills -- succeeded in doing so where many operations in history have not been able to get that done.

The character of that operation had reconnaissance forces, special operating forces in a whole variety of places around that battlefield at the start of Operation Anaconda. And as that fight developed, additional reconnaissance forces were added to key terrain, as a part of Operation Anaconda.

Well, that mountain, Takur Ghar, was one such location: a piece of key terrain. Elevation a bit above 10,000 feet, which will be described in greater detail later. But it was on that hilltop that the determination was made that were going to put a reconnaissance element.

When that reconnaissance element first went in on the insertion, the helicopter took immediate ground fire.

When that happened, a young SEAL by the name of Roberts was lost out the back of that helicopter, and the events that surrounded that will be described by a special young man here a little bit later.

That helicopter, which was terribly damaged, was able to get off that hilltop, move to the north some seven or eight kilometers, successfully get itself on the ground, but it also recognized, despite some terrible communications problems -- fog, friction -- that there was a young SEAL left on top of that mountain.

Well, over the course of the next hour or so, people were able to get themselves together, get on another helicopter and go back in. Some say, "Well, why would you go back in?" And the answer is brotherhood. And so this team went back in to get Roberts. The people in that team were able to get off of that helicopter on the ground up on top of Takur Ghar and begin their search for this young SEAL. As they did that, that helicopter got away and a quick reaction force was formed with some Rangers to go back in on Takur Ghar in order to pick all of these people up.

When that helicopter arrived up on this mountaintop, once again, terrible enemy fire, grazing fire on that helicopter, forced it to the ground. These young people got out of that helicopter, did what they needed to do, fought a ferocious Al Qaeda enemy up on top of that mountain.

Subsequently to this particular event, a more substantial reaction force was brought in and the event was brought to a conclusion.

A total loss of seven great young Americans. An incredible story of bravery. And I think that it's worth you knowing about and that it's worth you hearing. So as I said, I am proud of the accomplishments of these people. I think you will be.

And here we are at the start of Memorial Day. So we're about to have this holiday again this year. And I think that it may be that over time we have forgotten a bit about the significance of this day. The events of the past few days, as I just described them to you, have reminded me of the value of service, sacrifice and what these people do. I wanted to share that with you.

And now I'd be pleased to take your questions.

QUESTION: I'm wondering -- although we'll get the details about what you're referring to -- how has -- what you know now, how is that shaping the decisions that are being made as we go forward?

FRANKS: In the same way that what we learned in Mazar-e Sharif shaped our subsequent activity or in Allikhal (ph) or in Tora Bora or in a variety of the specific fights and battles that we've undertaken. We have a process called after-action review. And what we do -- and I think many people will ask, "Well, how about the investigation, how about the inquiry?" In fact, that's a different, sort of, set of issues. What we do with every action we undertake, is the people involved in that action at all levels will go through the results of that action and see what we can learn.

And we break the things that we learn into two categories. We'll try to decide what didn't go as well as we wanted to and why, and we'll try to decide what went just like we wanted to, and we'll sustain that. And so that's the process.

And this particular event actually is not different than others we have seen during the course of Enduring Freedom.

QUESTION: The Post article today indicated a breakdown in liaison between SOCCENT (ph) and Hagenbeck. I'm wondering, did that contribute to the problems? FRANKS: In terms of communication, communication issues, fog and the friction of broken radios and that sort of stuff, to be sure. But in terms of the personalities, their relationships to one another, their ability to coordinate, I think, not a factor.

I think the best thing is to take the results -- the unclassified results, which are substantial -- and we'll pass them out to you -- and you can form your own view, but that's my opinion.

QUESTION: Is any blame or responsibility being laid here for not knowing at higher levels that those helicopters would take immediate and heavy fire when they landed which, in large measure, was responsible for the deaths of the seven?

FRANKS: I wouldn't validate your question. What I would say is that those we find responsible for this particular activity are Al Qaeda. They were on that mountain top and most of them are dead. I think that any tactical situation that we find ourselves in, as I think I've said before, we'll never have that perfect intelligence. We just really won't.

And so, each time, we put people in one of these assault helicopters to move into one of these locations -- and as you'll recall, we went into a great many locations in helicopters in Operation Anaconda -- I think that we all recognize that we're subject to come under immediate attack when we do that.

And so, that's, sort of, the assessment that I make of it. And I think we'll continue to see that, because we'll never have the precise picture of any particular place where we're conducting an operation.

QUESTION: General, what changes, if any, have you made to the Joint Forces command structure in Afghanistan as a result of this? You mentioned that there was some fog, some difficulty in communications between General Hagenbeck, and the Special Operations Forces Command. Have there been any changes made to help smooth that as a result of this?

FRANKS: Actually, I have not found that there was a breakdown as you indicated. What I found was that a variety of radios and helicopters which had been struck during the course of this firefight made it not possible for people who were actually on the ground operating in these helicopters to contact the people who were controlling the overall operation. I have no finding with respect to the point that was made earlier that there was some breakdown in communications at a higher level. I actually have not seen that.

I think General Pete Pace's comment earlier in this is a valid comment. And I know you heard it. But let me, sort of, restate it.

The view that we will inevitably get from two or three different people involved in an operation like this will be absolutely factual and valid in the view of the people who are absolutely and honestly on the ground seeing what they saw. And so I would not debate the reports or comments that people have made. I will just -- I'll simply say that I think the relationships between the command elements are pretty solid in this. So I did not see the breakdown that you described.

QUESTION: General, there's no -- please don't read any criticism or second-guessing implied in my question, but I'm just looking for a little information really. This gets to the fog of war. But why didn't the first helicopter, when it went in, know that there was so many enemy forces in that area?

QUESTION: Why didn't the second helicopter that went in know that Petty Officer Roberts was already dead? Why didn't the third helicopter that went in know that the SEALs had already moved off the ridge? It seems like all of those were pretty major factors.

FRANKS: And I won't -- I really won't read criticism into it. I think the questions are valid. And I think the detail in the briefing that you're going to get in a few minutes will provide some information that you're looking for.

Let me say that in a period -- during a time of year, at an elevation above 10,000 feet, where one's constantly seeing snowfall, then I think it's not unreasonable to expect that periods of reconnaissance over a prolonged period of time may or may not be able to identify that you have enemy located on top of that hill. So that is, sort of, the response to the first part of your question.

The only response that I'll give you with respect to the second part of your question, in some cases, where there is not communication that is telling people what's going on on the ground, it'll be because you have some sort of a radio problem or a radio has been shot or something like that. In other cases, you may well know that there is an enemy situation at a point on the ground, but you may still choose to go there in order to do the work that needs to be done. And I think, once again, there's more insight that you'll get out of that as you go through the details.

I'm very comfortable that this particular fight evidences a variety of things. I think it evidences the fog and the friction that I referenced and you also reference. And what's that mean? Well, what that means is that things break, and people have attention on one thing or another thing when, in fact, there may be a great many things on the battlefield where attention will be drawn from time to time.

And so I think you'll see all of this.

But I think what you'll see is that the reaction of the people to the situation they saw, given the terrain upon which they were operating -- good reaction.

I've asked that you be given a shot of what this terrain looks like -- photography -- as you look down on it, as well as what you're able to see once you're down on the ground.

Helicopters will only land in certain places. And this is a reasonably, isolated, peaky kind of a place. And when one considers how long it would take to land a helicopter down off the mountain, walk people up and so forth, I think you'll find that that played a part in the decision-making that was made on this date.

QUESTION: These are details that will probably come later in the briefing, but I thought I'd at least ask. What made it so difficult to combat these Al Qaeda forces in there specifically? Was it the fact that they had so many numbers there, was it the positioning, the cliffs, the places where they were hiding per se?

FRANKS: Essentially the latter. I don't recall exactly the number of people, Al Qaeda, that were up on that mountain, of course, changed over time. The number was not a terribly large number. I mean, you're not talking about 100 people up there or something like that. Although, over the course of this battle one may well find that at some point there were 15, at some point there were 35 or something like that, but it was not one of these very large formations of Al Qaeda.

The terrain was a major factor. And I think once you see the map and once you see the photography, and see what the point of this particular mountain looked like, then you can see that it is key terrain, because the visibility that one has from up on top of that hill is just enormous. And so, I think those are probably the factors.

QUESTION: I realize that we're going to have a background briefing later, and we keep pointing to that.

But for the American people who are not going to be able to see that background briefing, could you explain to them the importance of this report, what you see as the significance, and just a general overview of it?

FRANKS: Sure. I think the general overview is what I gave you a minute ago. This battle is characteristic of so many battles in our history where we have seen a group of wonderful people doing their job in the toughest possible terrain. It is the stuff of which heroes are made.

I guess my message for the American people is, as we approach Memorial Day, let's think a little bit about where we have people serving where it's tough, who do not back away from the mission.

And as Jamie McIntyre asked, why would you do it again, and again and again? Because we needed to have somebody on that hill; that was the mission. That's the mission that these young people took in stride. And coupled with that is the business of brotherhood. One never leaves a brother behind.

And so I think that's the message that I'd take from it.

QUESTION: Now you -- correct me if I'm wrong, but I understand that most of the ground forces that you have are light infantry and special forces. Has your review of this action suggested maybe beefing up these forces or anything along those lines? FRANKS: Fair question. Actually, the review has not indicated the necessity of changing the force mix. As one can -- well, we talked about it the other day, but as one thinks about the altitude of this operation, the cross-compartmentalization of the terrain in here, light forces, well equipped, which our people were, and special operations forces are the right forces to have been used here. And I truly believe that.

QUESTION: Can you tell us specifically what specific changes have been made in the command relationship at whatever level either within between special forces and conventional forces, or within those two areas, as well as any specific changes in equipment that you all have made as a result of this after-action review?

FRANKS: The answer is, command arrangements, command relationships, we have made no change.

In terms of the equipment being used, the briefer may be able to indicate something to you. I'm not aware of the change of any equipment. I think that the equipment that we expect to serve our people, serves our people very, very well. I think what one also finds is that in the middle of a firefight, things will get shot up and things will get torn up and we'll certainly -- on one occasion or another we'll go on the wrong frequency and we'll talk to the wrong person, and that sort of stuff. So there's a human dimension involved in this.

But I'll tell you this: if you drop a plumb line all the way through this from top to bottom, and you consider the mission that was to be done, the quality of the people who did the mission, the quality of the equipment which supported the mission and, to the very best of my knowledge and understanding at this point, the judgments that were made around that plumb line then what you find is a bunch of people serving their nation well who went into harm's way, and seven great Americans died.

WHITFIELD: You have been listening to General Tommy Franks from the U.S. Central Command in Florida responding to questions as they pertain to the sequence of events of March 4. That is the beginning stages of Operation Anaconda and that is when seven U.S. servicemen died.

He said that this holiday weekend, Memorial Day weekend, it would be only fitting to honor those seven U.S. servicemen who died during Operation Anaconda. He said they showed selflessness, courage and brotherhood. He says combat is dirty and it is a rotten business and it costs lives, but those seven people gave it their all during Operation Anaconda.




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