Centcom Commander Briefs Senators on Regional Challenges

No other region in the world is as dynamic, hopeful, challenging and dangerous as the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, the Centcom commander told the Senate Armed Forces Committee today.

“It is an area of great contrast and contradiction,” Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel said of the Middle East, Central and South Asia, and the area known as the Levant.

“It is an area rich in history, culture and resources, but also an area pulsing with sectarianism, violence, poor governance, corruption, disenfranchisement, profound human suffering and economic disparity,” Votel said.

The general said Centcom’s AOR is an area where the United States retains vital interests as its forces work to prevent attacks on the U.S. homeland, to counter malign and destabilizing influence, to contain the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and to ensure freedom of navigation and commerce through critical international waterways.

Threats in Centcom

“[Four] of the five major competitors, or threats, identified in the National Defense Strategy — China, Russia, Iran and violent extremist organizations — reside or are contested in the Centcom area of responsibility every day,” Votel told the senators.

In the final two weeks of 2018, he added, Centcom supported the United Nations special envoy in the establishment of a nascent cease fire in Yemen, enabled the work of a U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, began planning for the orderly and professional withdrawal under pressure of U.S. forces in Syria, while maintaining coalition efforts to support the government of Iraq and the Iraqi security forces in addressing the remnants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in that country.

“We monitored and mitigated the unprofessional acts of Iranian naval forces in international waters and observed the professional mature actions of the U.S.-advised Lebanese armed forces as they maintained stability along the border with Israel,” the general told the committee.

“Those two weeks were not an aberration for the command; they were business as usual as they have been in Centcom nearly every day since its inception in the early 1980s,” he added.

South Asia Strategy

The general said the conditions-based South Asia strategy in Afghanistan is working.

“We continue to use military ways and means to advance our end state of reconciliation,” he said. “In Syria and Iraq, the unrelenting work of the 79-member Defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Coalition, the determination and bravery of the Iraqi security forces and Syrian Democratic Force partners and the support of multiple international government organizations has largely liberated the so-called physical caliphate of ISIS.

“The successful partnership with the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Iraqi security forces was instrumental in [territorial] gains against ISIS,” Votel continued, “but it is important to understand that even though this territory has been reclaimed, the fight against ISIS and violent extremists is not over and our mission has not changed.”

Keeping a Vigilant Offensive

The general said the coalition’s hard-won battlefield gains can be secured only by “maintaining a vigilant offensive against a now-largely disbursed and disaggregated ISIS that retains leaders, fighters, facilitators, resources and the profane ideology that fuels their efforts.”

As the defeat-ISIS campaign in Syria transitions from liberating territory to enabling local security and addressing the ISIS clandestine insurgency, “U.S. ground forces will depart Syria in a deliberate and coordinated manner while we concurrently consult with allies and partners to implement stabilization efforts,” Votel said.

These details are being developed now and will ensure campaign continuity and capitalize on the contributions of the international community to prevent a resurgence of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the general added.

“We also remain steadfast in reminding the Saudi-led coalition partners of their obligations under the law of armed conflict and ensuring that the fight in Yemen does not spread across the region sowing more instability and threatening critical infrastructure and U.S. lives and interests,” the Centcom commander said.

Unwavering Commitment

For more than 17 years of sustained conflict across the Centcom area of responsibility, “our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and civilians have answered the call with unwavering commitment and devotion matched only by the families who support them,” Votel told the committee.

“We could not have accomplished what we do without all of them and they deserve the very best capabilities and support we can provide from weapons and communication systems to health care and housing,” he added.

“I ask for continued strong support from Congress and from the American people to provide our servicemen and women everything they need to accomplish their vital missions and lead healthy fulfilling lives in continued service to our nation,” Votel said.