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Iran is ‘No. 1 destabilizing’ threat in Middle East, CENTCOM nominee says

Lt. Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla at the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) change of command, March 5, 2021, Fort Campbell, Ky. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Andrea Notter)
February 09, 2022

The officer nominated to lead U.S. Central Command wants to use artificial intelligence to counter Iran, which he called the “No. 1 destabilizing factor” in the region.

America must step up its capabilities and maintain strong relationships, said Lt. Gen. Michael Kurilla, the commanding general of the XVIII Airborne Corps and the nominee to lead America’s military missions in the Middle East.

“Iran is the No. 1 destabilizing factor in the Middle East right now with their malign behavior,” Kurilla said at a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing. “Going through our partners and allies and strengthening those with a united front from all the partners and allies is the best way to confront them.”

He said the military must make better use of artificial intelligence, especially to counter Iran. He said the XVIII Airborne Corps does quarterly exercises to learn to use AI to detect targets for strikes, something he would bring to U.S. Central Command if he is confirmed.

“We must continue investing in technology, to include Artificial Intelligence and machine learning platforms and programs, to increase our ability to detect, defend, and respond to conventional Iranian military capabilities,” Kurilla wrote in written responses to questions from senators.

At the hearing, the Army general said it’s critical to help partners in the region to improve cyber defenses that can protect them from Iran’s “very capable offensive cyber capability.”

Kurilla also addressed the ballistic missiles that the Iranian-backed Houthis have recently fired into Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. In addition to working to integrate regional allies’ air defense systems to defend against such attacks, he also said it’s critical to publicly call out when Iran is behind strikes like those because it can prompt Tehran to pause its violence.

“We have to make sure we expose the Iranian malign behavior,” he said. “I have found that any time Iran’s hand behind this is exposed, it is helpful.”

Officials from the United States as well as from Iran, China, Russia, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom will meet Tuesday in Vienna for the latest round of talks to try to revive the Iran nuclear deal, from which President Donald Trump withdrew. Kurilla said that any “enforceable agreement” that comes out of the talks must ensure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon.

He also acknowledged, however, that any sanctions relief offered to Iran in exchange for ending its pursuit of a nuclear weapon could end up hurting America on the battlefield.

“There is a risk with sanctions relief that Iran would use some of that money to support its proxies and terrorism in the region and if they did it could increase risk to our forces in the region,” he said.

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