After ISIS, What Next for US Central Command?
CENTCOM Reviewing Regional Strategy
Based on military progress in the campaign to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, U.S. Central Command is undertaking an operational alignment and rebalancing effort to achieve three specific goals, CENTCOM commander Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel told the House Armed Services Committee yesterday.
However, the commander said, “We remain very clear-eyed regarding both the permanence of that progress and the challenges that we face in the future.”
Combat Operations in Iraq and Syria
The first goal, he outlined, is to complete major combat operations in Iraq and Syria and bring the campaign to defeat ISIS to a responsible close. Military success in the campaign up to this point presents CENTCOM with an opportunity to re-position some of its resources from Iraq and Syria to Afghanistan, he said, “in a manner that keeps the pressure on ISIS but also sets us up to break the stalemate in Afghanistan.”
“We retain sufficient capability to continue our efforts against ISIS,” he emphasized, “despite the increasingly complex situation across Syria and especially in the northwest province of Afrin.”
The second goal is to prioritize the implementation of the South Asia strategy in Afghanistan, Votel said. This strategy reaffirms the U.S. government’s enduring commitment to Afghanistan by reinforcing the two complementary military missions: the NATO-led train, advise and assist mission, and the U.S. counterterrorism mission.
“We are making sure that with our support, the Afghan national defense and security forces are well-postured to begin operations to seize the initiative, expand population control and secure credible elections,” the CENTCOM commander said. “Part and parcel of this effort is our regionalized approach to engage all countries with a stake in Afghanistan’s stability, especially Pakistan.”
The third goal is to ensure that CENTCOM has aligned its military efforts with its broader interagency and international efforts to neutralize, counterbalance and shape the destabilizing impact that Iran has across the region, Votel said.
“Make no mistake: While we continue to confront the scourge of terrorism, Iran’s malign activities across the region pose the long-term threat to stability in this part of the world,” he said. “We view ourselves — the military — as supporting the many other and more effective resources and capabilities of the U.S. government and its partners in this endeavor.”
Russia and China
Votel emphasized that the recently published National Defense Strategy “rightly identifies” the resurgence of great power competition as the United States’ principal national security challenge.
“And we at CENTCOM see the effects of that competition throughout the region,” he added. “Russia’s support of the [Syrian President Bashar Assad] regime has not only propped them up, but it’s also added complexity to the defeat-ISIS campaign.”
As for big-power competitions, China is pursuing a long-term, steady economic growth in the region through its “one-belt, one-road policy,” Votel said, adding, “but it is also improving its military posture by connecting ports such as Gwadar in Pakistan with its first overseas military base in Djibouti, adjacent to the critical Bab el-Mandeb.”
And while Beijing claims both locations support peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, the new military base and port bolsters China’s force projection into the region, the general testified.
Further, “both Russia and China are cultivating multidimensional ties to Iran,” Votel pointed out. “The lifting of U.N. sanctions under the joint comprehensive plan of action open the path for Iran to resume membership application to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.”
“Our strategic approach of preparing the environment, pursuing opportunities and working to prevail wherever we can is working. We are postured for purpose, proactive in pursuing opportunities and resolve to win,” he said.
The general told HASC members there are three dynamics that Centcom assesses as central to prevailing in its region.
First, in the conduct of CENTCOM campaigns in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan and its operations in places such as Yemen, Lebanon and Egypt, the combatant command has adopted a “by, with and through” approach that places a heavy reliance on indigenous partner nation forces, he said.
“This approach is not [without] risk, as we are seeing unfold in Syria today, but in general, it is proving very effective and will likely pay significant dividends going forward,” Votel noted.
‘Defense is a Team Sport’
Second, successful pursuit of U.S. objectives in the CENTCOM region only comes from an integrated approach aligned with interorganizational partners, he said.
“Defense of the nation is a team sport,” Votel said. “This applies not just within the command, but with our fellow combatant commands, our component commands, our established combined and joint task forces, the central regions, 18 country teams and other departments, agencies and organizations of the U.S. government [that] have provided unwavering support over almost two decades of a persistent conflict.”
CENTCOM’s allies in the region and the wider international community are equally critical to supporting the command’s mission, he added.
Support of the American People
Third, the support of Congress and the American people are vital to CENTCOM’s mission, the commander said.
“Your support will remain important as we contend with what potentially are generational struggles to defend our homeland from the threats outlined in our national defense strategy,” Votel said. “U.S. government commitment to the CENTCOM area of responsibility is more important now than ever.”
Source: US Department of Defense.
Image: UH-60 Blackhawk Helicopters.