WASHINGTON -- Tommy R. Franks, the Army general who commanded U.S. forces to battlefield victories in Afghanistan and Iraq, has decided to retire after 36 years in uniform.
He announced no plans, but a senior defense official said Franks had informed Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that he planned to step down as commander of Central Command "in the weeks immediately ahead" and that he would like to retire from the Army this summer.
The White House has not said who will be named to replace him as head of the military command most directly involved in the global war on terrorism. The job requires Senate confirmation.
Franks' senior deputy in the Persian Gulf, Army Lt. Gen. John Abizaid, is considered a leading candidate for the top job. The command is responsible for American military activities in 25 countries, from Kazakhstan in Central Asia to the Arabian Peninsula to the Horn of Africa.
Another candidate is Franks' other deputy, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Michael DeLong.
It had been widely expected within the military that Franks would retire after he decided not to take the Army chief of staff post that will be relinquished on June 11 by Gen. Eric Shinseki.
Franks said in an interview April 29 that while that job sounded interesting, it was "not on my scope."
His normal two-year term at Central Command was extended for one year last July by Rumsfeld, who worked closely with Franks on the Afghanistan and Iraq war plans.
When reports of Franks' planned retirement were mentioned during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Thursday, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said, "He's a great leader."
Jim Wilkinson, director of strategic communications at Central Command, said Franks' status will have no effect on the work of U.S. and coalition forces to bring stability to postwar Iraq.
"You can bet that Gen. Franks will spend every remaining minute of his time ensuring that the troops in the field have what they need," Wilkinson said. "He will continue to focus on three significant operations that he oversees -- in Iraq, the Horn of Africa and Afghanistan."
Military analysts generally give Franks high marks for the war plans he conceived for Afghanistan and Iraq. Both achieved success with relatively few American casualties.
Franks made no announcement Thursday. His decision to retire was confirmed by defense officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In a report published Monday, the St. Petersburg Times quoted Franks' wife, Cathy, as saying she was pleased that her husband was ready to keep a promise he made early in their marriage -- that at some point he would retire.
"I'm glad to know that he's a man of his word," she said. "He chooses to retire."
She said it was possible the general would stay on the job until fall if it took that long to get a replacement confirmed by the Senate. His one-year extension is to expire July 1.
Franks is 57 and has served as head of a warfighting command; there are few options within the military for him. His recent predecessors at Central Command have retired after serving in that post, including Norman Schwarzkopf, who led U.S. forces to victory against Iraq in 1991.
Like President Bush, Franks grew up in Midland, Texas. He attended the same high school as first lady Laura Bush, who was a year behind him. Tommy Ray, as he was known while growing up, loved fast cars, Elvis and hunting, according to boyhood friends.
After two years at the University of Texas at Austin, Franks dropped out and joined the Army. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1967 as a graduate of the Artillery Officer Candidate School at Fort Sill, Okla., and in short order he was serving with the 9th Infantry Division in Vietnam.
After the Vietnam war, Franks intended to leave the military but stayed on when selected for the Army's "Bootstrap" degree completion program for promising officers. He attended the University of Texas at Arlington.
Bush has called Franks a "down-to-earth, no-nonsense guy."
The Army has taken Franks from one world hot spot to another -- the demilitarized zone in Korea, a changing Europe, the Iraqi desert as deputy commander of the 1st Cavalry Division during the first Gulf War.
His commendations have included four Legion of Merit medals, three Bronze Stars with "V" for valor, an Air Medal with "V" and an Army Commendation Medal with "V."
Just months after Franks took charge of Central Command in July 2000, suicide bombers blew a hole in the USS Cole as it refueled in Yemen, killing 17 American sailors. It was Franks who had approved Yemen as the refueling site, a decision questioned by some in Congress because of anti-American sentiment in that country.
The Cole attack was only a taste of the worldwide terror threat that reached America on Sept. 11, 2001. On Sept. 12, Franks got the order from Rumsfeld to draw up military options for the president. Less than a month later, on Oct. 7, the airstrikes in Afghanistan began.
Franks said in a speech months ago that he already had worn the uniform for a long time.
"My wife reminds me frequently how long I've worn it," he said. "She reminds me that I told her on the day we were married I was going to get out of the United States military. I remind her that some day I am going to."
On the Net:
Franks' official biography: http://www.centcom.mil/aboutus/cdrbio.ht...
Central Command: http://www.centcom.mil