MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – Among the options presented to President Bush for military action in Iraq are ways to deter Saddam Hussein from launching a pre-emptive strike against U.S. forces or Israel, says the four-star general who would lead that U.S. war.
"We want to be sure in our planning that the options we have are credible, that they are real options," Army Gen. Tommy Franks told The Associated Press in an interview Monday at his Central Command headquarters.
In his first interview since presenting Bush with Iraq options in early September, Franks said they are an updated version of plans that have been in the works for a decade. The options take into account today's changed circumstances, including new U.S. military capabilities as well as the military's broader access to -- and presence inside -- Gulf nations.
"There have been, I would guess, over the years a range of plans -- offensive, defensive, deterrent and so forth," Franks said. The newest version includes those plans and more, he said.
Franks said the options include a wide range of possibilities; it is not a single war plan. He offered no specifics.
The general said his forces in the Gulf region are prepared to carry out any option Bush might choose.
"Since the options that we provide are dynamic options, we have to be prepared to execute the options we have given," he said.
To see the options as a combination of possible U.S. offensive actions and U.S. responses to Iraqi actions is "the right sort of view of this," he said.
Franks did not specifically mention Israel, but among the Bush administration's concerns is the possibility that Iraq might try to draw the Jewish state into the conflict by firing Scud missiles at its territory, or that Saddam might launch pre-emptive strikes on U.S. forces in the region.
Asked about the likelihood that Iraq would use a weapon of mass destruction against U.S. forces, Franks said, "I am sure that part of the calculus of our nation involves how to deter that."
Franks said Iraq planning began at the end of the Gulf War in 1991, when Saddam Hussein agreed to a cease-fire arrangement that required him to disarm and to refrain from attacking minority Shiites in southern Iraq and Kurds in the north.
He said he has made no recommendations to Bush regarding the options for action.
"I want to be sure he [Bush] knows all the time what his credible options are," Franks said.
Dressed in tan camouflage battle fatigues and sipping from a cup of coffee, Franks spoke just hours after returning with his wife Cathy from a visit to his hometown of Midland, Texas.
Last week Franks toured the Persian Gulf to see officials and U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.
In late November Franks plans to move a portion of his headquarters staff from MacDill Air Force Base to al-Udeid air base in Qatar, in the central Persian Gulf. The purpose is to test out the command, control and communications links between al-Udeid and U.S. forces elsewhere in the region, he said.
Franks said it was too early to say whether his headquarters staff would move back to MacDill once the test is completed in December.
"We'll either leave it there or we'll bring it home," depending on what Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and President Bush want him to do, Franks said. If Bush decided to start military action against Iraq, then Franks would use Qatar as his operating base.
On other topics, Franks said he is:
-- Pleased by progress in ridding Afghanistan of its terrorist elements and stablizing the new government.
"I don't believe that we are seeing groups of Al Qaeda cells operating in Afghanistan, even in the southeast" part of the country where security is weakest.
-- Sure that U.S. forces will remain involved in Afghanistan for a long time.
"I'm not nearly satisfied that it's time for the United States of America's military formations to pick up and leave. We have a lot of work to do," he said. The U.S. military will be operating in Afghanistan "for the foreseeable future," he added.
-- Concerned by the level of international support for rebuilding Afghanistan.
"It is time for the international community to deliver what was promised" in financial aid, he said.
-- Looking for ways to accelerate the training of an Afghan national army so that Afghans can provide their own security and defense against any attempt by the Taliban to regain power.
"We want to accelerate it as much as we can," he said.