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Three U.S. officials wage the war

©New York Times,
published October 25, 2001

WASHINGTON -- President Bush's three war chiefs for Afghanistan are blending a model used in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf largely ran the campaign, and the far more restrictive approach of the 1999 conflict in Kosovo, when top civilians from President Clinton on down reviewed bombing targets and rejected some as too risky.

Twice a day, in the morning and at day's end, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confer at long distance with Gen. Tommy Franks, the head of the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, assessing the campaign's progress, plotting its next moves and deciding on targets to avoid civilian casualties.

Ever since the Vietnam War, when President Johnson picked bombing targets from the White House, successive administrations have struggled with how much oversight to impose on its field commanders in times of war.

The New York Times quoted an official familiar with the conversations as saying that Franks presents his ideas, where he wants to be and what he needs and that Rumsfeld and Myers give him guidance and direction.

The war in Afghanistan was barely a week old when Franks told his Pentagon bosses that he wanted to escalate the fight by sending in AC-130 gunships, a turboprop airplane bristling with heavy machine guns and cannons capable of killing large numbers of troops and leveling buildings.

Rumsfeld and Myers quizzed Franks about the risks and benefits of sending in the gunship and the Special Operations forces that operate it, eventually giving the green light.

On Oct. 15, two of the fearsome aircraft blasted targets in or near the southern Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. Because the AC-130 can loiter over targets, laying down fire with pinpoint precision, it is also one of the most intimidating weapons in the American arsenal.

Franks, who is charged with running the Afghan campaign's day-to-day operations, has been given broad leeway to wage the war as he sees fit, within prescribed limits, Pentagon officials said.

"We have one military commander that has the responsibility, and that's Gen. Franks down at CENTCOM, and everybody understands that," Myers said last week.

Rumsfeld, Myers and, in rare cases, President Bush, intervene only when the campaign enters a new phase, as it did with commando raids into southern Afghanistan on Friday, or when a potential bombing target puts civilian lives at risk, according to the New York Times.

The newspaper quoted a senior officer as saying Franks has leeway so long as the targets fit within parameters that don't violate certain sensitivities or cause damage, such as hitting a mosque or a school.

The New York Times, citing a senior American official, reported that as of the 17th day of the war, Rumsfeld and Myers had overruled Franks's target selection only once, on a military target in a residential area that posed too great a risk of civilian casualties.

Despite the precautions, a handful of errant American bombs have hit residential areas, an unintended consequence of war, Rumsfeld has said.

Broad strategic decisions on the overall war against terrorism are made at meetings of Bush's National Security Council. But the crucial decisions on executing the war are largely hashed out in the twice-daily hookups.

Between the scheduled calls, Myers acts as a conduit between Franks, other commanders worldwide supporting him, and the civilian leadership in Washington.

It was from such a phone call, for instance, that officials fine-tuned details of the Friday hit-and-run raids against a remote airstrip and a headquarters compound of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban leader.

The New York Times reported that Pentagon officials said the mission won approval from Rumsfeld and the White House by midweek, and Franks gave the go-ahead on Friday when he thought conditions were optimal. The newspaper also quoted an administration official as saying the highest levels of government were involved in approving the mission, a phrase meaning Bush.

When sensitive, high-value targets pop up on the battlefield, the decision chain runs from Franks to Rumsfeld, with Myers advising, to the president.

When the military believed that it had pinpointed Mullah Omar on the first night of the war, Franks sought and won approval from Rumsfeld to attack, but the mullah escaped, according to the New York Times' report. Rumsfeld consulted with Bush as the attack unfolded.

The three men, who link up by secure line at least twice a day, are each steeped in different aspects of the military and the fierce politics that almost always surround security matters.

Rumsfeld, 69, a blunt former naval aviator, is back for his second tour as defense secretary, having served briefly in the Ford administration in 1975.

Myers, 59, a low-key former fighter pilot who flew combat missions in Vietnam and rides a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, became the first Air Force officer in nearly 20 years to rise to the chairman's job when he assumed the post on Oct. 1. He succeeded Gen. Henry H. Shelton, an Army general.

Franks, 56, a tall, lanky Army artillery officer who shuns publicity, is responsible for a 25-nation swath in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia that stretches from Kenya to Kazakhstan. He works from MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa because the United States has never found a politically acceptable way of basing his headquarters in the region.

After the commando raid on Friday, Franks quietly left his Florida headquarters for a tour of the region to meet with troops, commanders and foreign leaders. Before assuming command last summer, he was responsible for all Army forces in the area and developed close contacts with many leaders in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia.

Other officials are playing important supporting roles in this military drama. One is Rumsfeld's deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, who was the chief foreign policy adviser to Dick Cheney during the Gulf War, when the vice president was defense secretary. Special Operations forces have a major part in the fight now, so it is no surprise that Gen. Charles Holland, the head of the U.S. Special Operations Command, talks daily with Franks. The two generals have separate headquarters 3 miles apart at MacDill.

The job of generating the daily list of targets falls to Lt. Gen. Charles Wald, an Air Force officer who is Franks' air commander. From a sophisticated air operations center at Prince Sultan Air Base, near Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Wald assembles targets identified by American satellites, reconnaissance aircraft like high-flying U-2's and drones, and the Central Intelligence Agency.

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