TAMPA, Fla. – The following is a one-on-one interview between Fox News Channel Pentagon correspondent Bret Baier and Gen. Tommy Franks. It is the first interview the head of Central Command has granted this year.
CORRESPONDENT BRET BAIER: I appreciate your time.
GEN. TOMMY FRANKS: Bret, thanks a lot. We are glad to have you guys down here. We think this coalition is really important to us and to have you come down here and show an interest in it is very important.
BAIER: As you walk around the village it is impressive to see all those trailers — the biggest coalition yet really ever...
FRANKS: And how about all those flags lined up out there. That's powerful.
BAIER: How do you describe the interaction on Operation Enduring Freedom with all of these countries 46 here?
FRANKS: Actually, I think when we walk down the hall this morning we will add number 47. Just a couple of observations, it is interesting to me that this coalition is larger yesterday than it was a month ago and today it will be larger than it was yesterday and so as we continue this Operation Enduring Freedom work and the global war on terrorism what we find is that this coalition continues to grow.
No surprise, I think it is no surprise. I do think it is very important and the interaction goes on here about seven days a week and if I am in town I meet with these coalition members every day. When I am not in town my deputy general, Mike Delong, who I think you have met, meets with them every day and what we have is a very transparent — very, very, very open relationship — because these countries in fact do remarkable things and I actually could go on for 20, 30, 45 minutes just talking about that. But what we found is that when you have a coalition of the willing — a coalition of the willing — and what that means is that the mission is described and that all those nations that would like to be a part of it join based on that mission. That is a remarkable way to build a coalition and when you do that what you find is that one nation begins to help another nation who begins to help another nation and they will all work together. Two, three, four, five nations work together to accomplish one project. It's incredible.
BAIER: This project is obviously the war on terrorism.
BAIER: And Operation Enduring Freedom, how do you describe, despite the focus that's been on Iraq, how do you describe the success in the war on terrorism even though you know you don't have Usama bin Laden.
BAIER: You don't have some of the top deputies in Al Qaeda ... how do you describe with this coalition the success of ...
FRANKS: Since the eleventh of September of 2001, thousands of terrorists have been killed and thousands of terrorists are in fact in custody in a great many friendly countries around the world. And I think, I think that sort of provides an observation on the value of this coalition and we see it going on. We see it going on every day and the work continues. If you go back to the very earliest days when we started in Afghanistan, we started saying this won't be a matter of hours and weeks and months, this is going to go on for a long time — we have remained true to that sort of notion and we will remain true to that notion in the future.
The coalition that operates against or in the face of the global war on terrorism not only continues to grow, it continues to focus every nation ... What we have found is that when you are working in this number of countries around the world and when you are working with this number of countries from around the world what you want to do is be thoughtful. You want to be focused and you want to stay at it ‘til you get the job done and that is what we are going to do.
BAIER: This administration is trying to build a coalition of the willing for whatever lies ahead with Iraq.
BAIER: If the president orders military action — even if there isn't a second Security Council resolution — are you confident that there will be a large number of countries ...
FRANKS: Yes I am.
BAIER: How many? Do you know?
FRANKS: Yes, I wouldn't put a number on it. As we have said I think, I think when the time comes for the president or for [Defense] Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld to talk about the numbers involved in this coalition of the willing... um ... it will surprise some people. I can tell you that the coalition is substantial as we speak in terms of the number of countries that are conducting planning with us as we try to support diplomacy in the face of a regime that has time and time and time again showed that they are not willing to take the opportunities offered by the international community to disarm themselves. So, yes, I think that coalition will be large.
BAIER: One of the countries that is always a staunch ally is Turkey. They have been delaying a vote to allow U.S. troops in. Obviously there are cargo ships loaded with 4th infantry equipment at sea. At what point do you have to say you know maybe a 'no' is better than a 'maybe?'
FRANKS: Oh, I think what we would never want to do is foreclose any option that we have and so I don't think you get to a point where you say 'OK, well, it's yes for here and no for there' because the complexity of this operation and the planning that we have ongoing for it provides —provides for variables I guess is the way I would describe it and so I don't think it would serve anyone... I know for a fact that it wouldn't serve the operational purpose to talk about 'this happens— then we will do this'— and to try to put dates on that.
BAIER: But, you are running out of time as far as moving equipment, aren't you?
FRANKS: No, I don't think you ever run out of time, because the president of the United States has not announced that he is going to undertake military operations. What we have said is that Saddam Hussein is working very, very hard to, um, to throw away his last chance the international community has been working on this problem for what? Seventeen Security Council resolutions and so we are still in the business of supporting diplomacy. We are preparing, we are preparing to give our country and the international community military options should the leadership decide to take those options —- and options come with lots and lots of variables so we won't foreclose any of the options and we won't foreclose and of the variables.
BAIER: Let's try it a different way. If Turkey says 'no,' how much does that complicate what I understand is already a pretty complex war plan?
FRANKS: Oh, I don't know that I would characterize something as simple or complex. What I would say is that in every case with a good war plan, there are many ways to accomplish the mission that we may be given and I have told people, because I absolutely believe it, that if the president of the United States calls on this coalition to undertake military operations, we will win those operations.
BAIER: Do you expect Turkey to come around?
FRANKS: I would not want to forecast. I think Secretary [of State Colin] Powell and people in Washington will do what they do. You know, every nation on this planet is a sovereign state and they all make decisions based on what they perceive to be in their own best interests. I don't think it would serve an operational commander like me to, you know, poke sticks in the eyes of various countries who in a great number of ways are very good friends to us. And so we will let the diplomacy continue to play out, Bret.
BAIER: A couple of more things, Secretary Rumsfeld has talked about a list that he has in his desk drawer about risks of action — risks of military action in Iraq.
FRANKS: He has one — I have one — and they agree.
BAIER: What are your major concerns?
FRANKS: I think that the concerns that we all should have if it comes to military conflict in Iraq is the brutality of Saddam Hussein — the way he has proven time and again that he will treat his own people, the Iraqis, the way he has invaded his neighbors. He has proven that he will use weapons of mass destruction — and so any list of things that we — I'm not going to say worry about — I think it is matter of thinking about what we do is — we think about things that can happen in the event that there is a military operation and then we develop plans in accordance with what we think about the things that we perceive could go on.
BAIER: Any specifics that you are really concerned about?
FRANKS: Just not beyond the ones that I mentioned. I think we worry about his weapons of mass destruction, we worry about his destruction of his own oil fields, we worry about his destruction of the infrastructure in his own country, the destruction of dams that can inundate his own people and the crops that his own people try to grow — it is that sort of thing. Look, we have in our own country and in the countries represented in this coalition one of the most capable military forces this world has ever seen, so there are no problems that our militaries cannot handle. There are problems that I personally hope Saddam Hussein and that regime will not create for the people of Iraq.
BAIER: Two more questions.
FRANKS: One more.
BAIER: Well, if it's one more, it will be a multi, if you don't mind. 'Time is running out.' We have heard from the president, 'weeks not months,' last month is what he said. Is there an ideal point for you if he orders military action and does it get too hard past a point. And when are you heading over to Qatar?
FRANKS: (Laughs) Bret, the ideal point and the ideal time would be when the president of the United States says it's time to go and the president of the Untied States has not said that.
People talk to me all time about, 'Isn't weather a consideration?' Of course weather is a consideration. I mean, for the sake of our own people, our equipment and so forth, cool is better than hot. Dry is better than wet. But you know the armed forces that I have worked with every day have the best capability that we have ever seen to fight when its daylight. To fight when it is dark. To fight when it is cold. To fight when it is hot. And so the very best timing will be the timing that the president of the United States selects.
BAIER: And when are you heading over to As Saliyah?
FRANKS: It has been my practice over the last two years to be over in the region at least every month for 5 to 10 days and at this point I would see no reason to change my past practice.
BAIER: General Franks, thanks a lot.
FRANKS: Bret, thanks a lot for coming down here. I really do appreciate you being here because I think what is going on around this building and in this building is important and I appreciate you being here to see it.