Knight Ridder News
WASHINGTON — Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the tall Texan who has commanded the U.S. Central Command for the past three years and led American and coalition forces to victory in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, has asked Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for permission to leave his job "in the weeks immediately ahead."
Franks' normal retirement date would be July 1. But the word that Franks wished to leave the CentCom commander's post in a matter of weeks was a surprise at the Pentagon. CentCom spokesman Jim Wilkinson confirmed Franks' intentions.
Rumsfeld said of Franks in a statement: "He has served our country with great distinction. I consider myself privileged to have worked so closely with him over these many months."
Rumsfeld had recently offered Franks the job of chief of staff of the Army if he would remain on duty another four years.
Gen. Peter Pace, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said no one had been nominated to replace Franks, and that how quickly Franks could leave would depend on how quickly a replacement was named and confirmed.
The leading candidate is said to be Gen. John P. Abizaid, one of two deputy commanders at CentCom. Abizaid also has been mentioned as a possible nominee for chief of staff of the Army to replace Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, who retires June 11.
Franks earned the praise of President Bush and Rumsfeld for his command of operations in Afghanistan in 2001, which toppled the Taliban government, as well as his handling of the Iraq war, which led to the capture of Baghdad and overthrow of Saddam Hussein in a three-week campaign.
The low-key native of Midland, Texas, has served on active duty with the Army for 38 years. He was commissioned a second lieutenant of artillery in 1967 upon graduating from Officer Candidate School at Fort Sill, Okla. During service in Vietnam, Franks was wounded three times.
He had planned to leave the Army after his service in Vietnam to get a college degree but stayed when the Army offered to send him to school under the "Bootstrap" Program.
Franks served tours of duty in Korea, in Cold War Europe with various armor units and as assistant commander of the 1st Cavalry Division during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the last Persian Gulf War.
The 6-foot 2-inch general — who enlisted as a private in 1965 after dropping out of college — is a quiet family man fond of good cigars and country music.
He has been continuously in the spotlight since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. On Sept. 12 of that year Franks was ordered to prepare a plan to topple the Taliban and root out the al-Qaida terrorists they were sheltering in Afghanistan. Less than a month later, the air strikes began.
From the outset, Franks agreed wholeheartedly with those who said he was no Schwarzkopf, a reference to the larger-than-life Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the CentCom commander in 1991's Gulf War. Franks was largely content to leave the briefing of the war to others on his staff and rarely granted interviews.
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