The commander of U.S. Central Command looked beyond the current conflicts in the greater Middle East today and told the House Armed Services Committee that Iran is the greatest danger to peace in the region.
Army Gen. Joseph E. Votel discussed the current campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Afghanistan and other trouble spots in the region during his testimony this morning.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Egypt and the Sinai and Pakistan are just some of the hot points in the command’s area of responsibility, Votel said.
“We are making progress in many areas, but much, much work remains,” he told legislators.
The malign influences of Iran and its proxies are at the heart of many of these problems in the region, Votel said.
“It is my view that Iran poses the greatest long-term threat to stability in this part of the world,” he said.
Iran wants to be “the hegemon” in the region and is actively pursuing that goal, the general added.
While some threats in some areas of the region are unique, there are also commonalities, Votel said. “The fragile security environments which reflect a variety of contributing factors including heightened ethno-sectarian tensions, economic uncertainty, weak or corrupt governance, civil wars, and humanitarian crisis are exploited by violent extremist organizations and terrorist groups such as al-Qaida and ISIS,” he said. “These groups have clearly indicated their desire and intent to attack the U.S. homeland, our interests abroad and the interests of our partners and allies.”
External influences affect the area as well, he said, noting Russia and China specifically as attempting to shift alliances in the region. “The point that I would emphasize to you is that while there may be other more strategic or consequential threats or regions in our world, today, the central region has come to represent the nexus for many of the security challenges our nation faces,” Votel said.
Given the threats, the general requested that the committee continue to resource the command appropriately.
Votel discussed Centcom’s motto: Prepare, pursue and prevail.
The command prepares the environment to ensure an effective security posture and strong relationships across the region, he said. “We actively pursue opportunities to strengthen relationships and support our interests. And, when we do put our forces into action, we prevail in our assigned missions,” the general said.
He pointed out that the command is conducting these missions with far fewer troops than in the past. The strategy, he said, is to work with indigenous forces in the region. This is working in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, Votel said.
“While this approach … does present some challenges and can be more time-consuming, it is proving effective and is likely to pay significant dividends moving forward,” Votel said.
All of this is based on trust, and the command must work to build and maintain trust in the region, he said. “The fact is we cannot surge trust in times of crisis, and we must do what is necessary now to assure our partners of our commitment and our staying power,” he said.
Votel emphasized the need for a whole-of-government approach, noting the command must link military objectives and campaigns closely with the other instruments of national power.
“Finally, we must make sure that we are postured for purpose in this region,” he said, adding that means maintaining a trained and ready force and effective programs that build and shape partner forces in the region.
By Jim Garamone