As the head of a large regional command, Franks and his staff not only managed the campaign in Afghanistan but also oversaw a complex set of military challenges. In practical terms, CENTCOM was also managing a second campaign in Iraq—overseeing the two U.S. no-fly zones and enforcing the U.N. embargo. For Franks, Iraq was a constant preoccupation: “throughout the operation in Afghanistan, the situation in Iraq remained an issue—it was always within my peripheral vision...It was a low-grade war, but a war just the same.”22 Moreover, one of his primary roles was to develop contingency plans for an outright invasion of Iraq. Based upon pre-9/11 discussions with both Rumsfeld and President Bush, Franks believed that an invasion of Iraq was the preferred long-term solution for dealing with Saddam Hussein, and planning for this invasion became a central priority of his command: “Even while I was absorbed in Afghanistan, Iraq never left my mind. At some point I knew that America would change or abandon its containment strategy, which had not succeeded…Planning for that day, I thought, was the only wise course of action.”23
At the end of November 2001, in the midst of the second month of fighting in Afghanistan, planning for a potential invasion of Iraq became a top priority for the CENTCOM staff. It would remain so throughout Operation Anaconda. On November 27, President Bush, via a phone call from Rumsfeld, ordered Franks to begin preparing contingency plans for an invasion of Iraq. Franks was ordered to “dust off” a set of older plans and update them with lessons learned from the Afghan campaign.24 After three weeks of exhausting work, Franks presented a “commander’s concept,” a strategic overview of a potential operational plan, to Rumsfeld. This first step alone had consumed “hundreds of hours” of staff work, and Franks had briefed Rumsfeld personally several times during the process.25 After initial approval of the “commander’s concept,” Rumsfeld asked for revisions that required further staff work. On December 28, Franks briefed the President and Vice President on the concept for the invasion of Iraq and received approval to begin translating it into an actual operational plan. From January until the end of March 2002, planning for the invasion of Iraq continued.
Beyond consuming the time and energy of Franks and his headquarters, the anticipated invasion of Iraq affected the Afghan campaign in other ways, especially when it came to deployment decisions. A key decision in the Afghan campaign was which conventional forces and division-level headquarters to deploy to the theater. Planners ruled out the Army’s armored divisions as inappropriate, leaving three light infantry divisions: the 82nd Airborne, 101st Airborne (Air Assault) and 10th Mountain (Light Infantry). The 82nd Airborne served as a global quick reaction force, capable of deploying around the world as a national reserve. So its deployment was off the table, leaving a choice between 10th Mountain and 101st Airborne.
The choice should have been clear. Half of 10th Mountain’s headquarters staff and a brigade were deployed as peacekeepers in Bosnia, and another battalion was deployed in the Sinai. Moreover, the division had the dubious distinction of being the Army’s most deployed unit, and a Government Accounting Office report stated that the unit required a major refit. By contrast, the 101st Airborne had an intact headquarters element, the majority of its units were at home, and its commander, Major General Dick Cody, a former Army Delta Force officer, personally knew many of the special operations commanders in Afghanistan. In addition, the 101st had a capability perfectly suited to the fight in Afghanistan: a unique “combination of helicopter-provided mobility and light infantry strength.”26
Despite the obvious choice, top planners chose 10th Mountain, commanded by Maj. Gen. Franklin “Buster” Hagenbeck, largely because of concerns about a pending confrontation with Iraq. The 101st was considered the “force of choice” for a limited war in Iraq, and CENTCOM commanders anticipated using at least one brigade of the 101st to seize Iraqi oil fields.27 As Edwards observed, “there was clearly a thought process that was being worked out at the highest levels that said, ‘We may want to do something else, somewhere, and a piece of that will probably be the 101st.’”28 According to a senior special operations officer, CENTCOM was distracted by a looming invasion of Iraq. “That was the plan, that’s what everybody was working for… That’s what CENTCOM was focused on. They believed that it was done in Afghanistan and that the 10th came in to do this civil goodwill stuff and to rebuild things.”29