Senator: Forces drained early from Afghanistan for Iraq
September 5, 2004
WASHINGTON – A former Senate Intelligence Committee chairman asserted Sunday that the general who ran the war in Afghanistan said more than a year before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that his resources were being shifted in preparation for taking on Saddam Hussein.
Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., contends that just months into combat in Afghanistan, Gen. Tommy Franks also told him that fighting terrorism in Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere should take priority over invading Iraq.
Graham said Franks told him he thought the United States knew less about the situation in Iraq than did some European governments, and the Bush administration should ask them for advice.
The senator, who is retiring at year’s end, said his conversation with the now-retired general came in February 2002, when Graham was chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
That was the month that Secretary of State Colin Powell told a House committee that President Bush was considering “the most serious set of options one might imagine” to bring “regime change” in Iraq, including the possibility of doing it alone. At least one European leader, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, said a few days later that Bush had assured him “he harbors no attack plans.”
The invasion began March 19, 2003, over the vigorous protests of Germany and most other major U.S. allies except Britain, which joined the invading force. Graham opposed the war.
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Graham said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that his meeting with Franks was at the general’s headquarters, Central Command in Tampa, Fla.
“He laid out a very precise strategy for fighting the war on terror,” Graham said.
“First, we should win the war in Afghanistan. Second, move to Somalia, which as he described was almost anarchy but with a substantial number of al-Qaida cells; then to Yemen. And that we should be very careful about Iraq, because our intelligence was so weak that we didn’t know what we were getting into,” Graham said.
Last week, Franks gave fellow Texan Bush a rousing endorsement in a speech at the Republican National Convention. Franks said he had seen in Bush’s eyes “the courage to stand up to terrorists and the consistency necessary to beat them.”
In “American Soldier,” Franks’ memoirs published last month, he mentioned none of the points Graham reported in his book. The retired general could not be reached Sunday. There was no immediate response to a message left at Tampa’s Central Command headquarters.
Graham wrote of his meeting with Franks in a book, “Intelligence Matters,” which goes on sale Tuesday.
In an excerpt read on the program, the senator said Franks told him “his men and resources were being moved to Iraq, where he felt that our intelligence was shoddy. This admission was coming almost 14 months before the beginning of combat operations in Iraq and only five months after the commencement of combat in Afghanistan.”