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Book- Bush misled public on war meeting

Sunday, April 18, 2004

WASHINGTON -- Following an important meeting on Iraq war planning in late 2001, President Bush told the public that the discussions were about Afghanistan. He made no mention afterward about Iraq even though that was the real focus of the session at his ranch.

"I'm right now focused on the military operations in Afghanistan," Bush told reporters after talks on Dec. 28, 2001, with top aides and generals.

A "war update" was the White House description of the news conference Bush held with Gen. Tommy Franks, who was in charge of the Afghan war as head of U.S. Central Command.

Details of the meeting's focus on Iraq have since emerged in a recent speech by Franks, who now is retired, and in a new book by Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward.

The book says Franks summarized Afghan operations before turning to planning for war in Iraq -- the point of the gathering.

In a Washington speech last month, Franks said he discussed with the president on that day the "growing storm" and the need to revise a long-standing military contingency plan for Iraq.

The meeting occurred while U.S. forces were in the heat of searching through the mountainous region of Afghanistan where Osama bin Laden had been hiding near Tora Bora.

First Iraq briefing

According to Woodward's book, Franks gave participants in that meeting the first briefing on Iraq war plans. He described options that could allow a war to start with as few as 105,000 U.S. troops, assuming full foreign cooperation with the force growing 230,000 over 60 to 90 days.

The meeting of the war cabinet included Maj. Gen. Gene Renuart and, on video screens, Vice President Dick Cheney from Wyoming, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld from New Mexico, and, from Washington, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Colin Powell and CIA director George Tenet, the book says.

When Bush and Franks spoke to reporters after the meeting, the president began by saying, "Tommy has just come back from the Afghan theater. He gave me a full briefing on what he saw and what he heard. We just got off of a teleconference with the national security team to discuss his trip and to discuss what's taking place in Afghanistan."

One reporter reminded Bush that "you've talked about 2002 being a year of war. What can you say to prepare the American people for what that vision is, what they need to be prepared for, as compared to what they've seen in Afghanistan?"

Bush replied: "I hope 2002 is a year of peace, but I'm also realistic. And I know full well that bin Laden and his cronies would like to harm America again; bin Laden and his cronies would like to harm our allies. How do I know that? I receive intelligence reports on a daily basis that indicates that that's his desires."

Bush then mentioned the thwarting of the attempted shoe bomber several days earlier aboard an American Airlines flight.

According to Woodward's book, Franks gave participants in that meeting the first briefing on Iraq war plans. He described options that could allow a war to start with as few as 105,000 U.S. troops, assuming full foreign cooperation with the force growing 230,000 over 60 to 90 days.

The books says Franks presented a list of assumptions that were behind the plan. They included that Iraq would be the main effort of the United States and would get priority on resources, and that the Afghan operation and the global fight against terrorism would provide a noise level under which Iraq operations could proceed. But these efforts would not diminish the Afghan or terrorism efforts.

In the Washington speech a month ago, Franks said he told the president at that Dec. 28 meeting that the existing contingency plan for Iraq had called for sending in a half-million troops, an operation so massive it would require a six-month buildup.

Franks said he told Bush that the long-standing plan needed to be redrawn and if the U.S. military did go in, "We should go all the way to Baghdad."

According to Franks' public account of the Dec. 28 meeting, Bush expressed the hope that "we don't ever have one boot on Iraqi soil except by invitation."

According to Woodward's book, Bush told Rumsfeld on Nov. 21, 2001 -- less than two months after U.S. forces attacked Afghanistan -- to prepare for possible war with Iraq, and kept some members of his closest circle in the dark.

The meeting with Franks on Dec. 28 was apparently the first briefing from him that the president had received since those instructions.

The book says Franks uttered a string of obscenities when the Pentagon told him to come up with an Iraq war plan in the midst of fighting another conflict.

In his public speech, sponsored by the Nation's Capital Distinguished Speakers Series, Franks said the new plan he developed for Iraq refined the objectives to include protecting the infrastructure for Iraq's water supply, its oil supply and guarding against killing large numbers of civilians.

Among the plan's assumptions were that Iraq would launch missiles against Israel and other neighbors, and that allied troops would be hit with weapons of mass destruction, Franks said.


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