WASHINGTON — The U.S. combat commander in Afghanistan said Thursday that apprehending Osama bin Laden isn't one of the missions of Operation Enduring Storm. But Gen. Tommy Franks' remarks may come back to haunt him Friday morning when he meets with President Bush to brief him on the war's progress. Bush has said from the beginning of the operation that he wants bin Laden "dead or alive."
"We have not said that Osama bin Laden is a target of this effort," Franks told reporters at his first Pentagon briefing since the war began a month ago. Usually, Franks, the commander in chief of Central Command and third in the war's chain of command after Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, is headquartered in Tampa.
"What we are about," he said, "is the destruction of the al-Qa'eda network, as well as the ... Taliban that provide harbor to bin Laden and al-Qa'eda."
Marine Lt. Col. Dave Lapan, Central Command liaison at the Pentagon, said Franks was trying to reflect the broader nature of the goals in Afghanistan. "If tomorrow morning someone told us Osama's dead, that doesn't mean we're through in Afghanistan," Lapan said.
Rumsfeld appeared with Franks at the briefing and described a strategy aimed at destroying support for the Taliban and bin Laden's al-Qa'eda. "What you're going to see is ultimately the effect of all the pressure that's being put on, through law enforcement, for intelligence gathering, through financial freezing of accounts, as well as the air war and the work that's being done on the ground," Rumsfeld said.
"Life will become so difficult for the al-Qa'eda and the Taliban that people will decide they'd prefer not to have them in their country at some point."
Franks, an Army general, is in charge of the same region commanded by the booming, blustering Gen. "Stormin" Norman Schwarzkopf of 1990-'91 fame in operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. His quiet, self-effacing demeanor in public contrasts sharply with Schwarzkopf, who ran press briefings like frontal assaults on entrenched enemy positions.
Inevitably, one reporter suggested, he may suffer by comparison.
"Tommy Franks is no Norman Schwarzkopf," Franks acknowledged, but he added with some prodding from Rumsfeld, "nor vice versa."