In an October 16 New York Times op-ed piece, retired General Tommy Franks attempted to undermine Senator John Kerry's assertion that the Bush administration "took its eye off the ball" with regard to pursuing Osama bin Laden and prosecuting the war against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Franks claimed: "Neither attention nor manpower was diverted from Afghanistan to Iraq." But highly specialized personnel and equipment that had been used successfully against Al Qaeda and bin Laden were reassigned in March 2002 to the impending invasion of Iraq.
From Franks's October 16 op-ed piece:
As we planned for potential military action in Iraq and conducted counterterrorist operations in several other countries in the region, Afghanistan remained a center of focus. Neither attention nor manpower was diverted from Afghanistan to Iraq. When we started Operation Iraqi Freedom we had about 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, and by the time we finished major combat operations in Iraq last May we had more than 10,000 troops in Afghanistan.
While it is true that troop levels have increased, Franks's assertion that "neither attention nor manpower" was siphoned from Afghanistan into Iraq contradicts numerous news reports. According to an April 12, 2004, article in The New Yorker:
In the early summer of 2002, a military consultant, reflecting the views of several American Special Forces commanders in the field, provided the Pentagon with a briefing warning that the Taliban and Al Qaeda were adapting quickly to American tactics. "His decision loop has tightened, ours has widened," the briefing said, referring to the Taliban. "He can see us, but increasingly we no longer see him." Only a very few high-level generals listened, and the briefing, like Rothstein's report, changed nothing. By then, some of the most highly skilled Americans were being diverted from Afghanistan. Richard Clarke noted in his memoir, "The U.S. Special Forces who were trained to speak Arabic, the language of al Qaeda, had been pulled out of Afghanistan and sent to Iraq." Some C.I.A. paramilitary teams were also transferred to Iraq."
From a March 29 USA Today article:
In 2002, troops from the 5th Special Forces Group who specialize in the Middle East were pulled out of the hunt for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan to prepare for their next assignment: Iraq. Their replacements were troops with expertise in Spanish cultures.
The CIA, meanwhile, was stretched badly in its capacity to collect, translate and analyze information coming from Afghanistan. When the White House raised a new priority, it took specialists away from the Afghanistan effort to ensure Iraq was covered.
A March 26 article in The Guardian went into greater detail:
The fact that the Pentagon pulled the fighting force most equipped for hunting down Osama bin Laden from Afghanistan in March 2002 in order to pre-position it for Iraq cannot be denied.
Fifth Group Special Forces were a rare breed in the US military: they spoke Arabic, Pastun and Dari. They had been in Afghanistan for half a year, had developed a network of local sources and alliances, and believed that they were closing in on bin Laden.
Without warning, they were then given the task of tracking down Saddam. "We were going nuts on the ground about that decision," one of them recalls.
"In spite of the fact that it had taken five months to establish trust, suddenly there were two days to hand over to people who spoke no Dari, Pastun or Arabic, and had no rapport."
Along with the redeployment of human assets came a reallocation of sophisticated hardware. The US air force has only two specially-equipped RC135 U spy planes. They had successfully vectored in on al-Qaida leadership radio transmissions and cellphone calls, but they would no longer circle over the mountains of the Pakistan/Afghanistan border.
From a September 5, 2003, Knight Ridder article:
U.S. intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because intelligence matters are classified, said that as much as half of the intelligence and special forces assets in Afghanistan and Pakistan were diverted to support the war in Iraq.
Franks served as commander-in-chief of the United States Central Command from July 2000 to July 2003. He led the 2003 American invasion of Iraq and served as commander-in-chief of the American occupation forces. He is the author of American Soldier, has endorsed Bush's reelection, and is a member of Veterans for Bush.