|Commander’s Posture Statement|
STATEMENT OF GENERAL LLOYD J. AUSTIN III COMMANDER U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND BEFORE THE HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE ON THE POSTURE OF U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND
5 MARCH 2014
Introduction: The Central Region, comprised of 20 countries in the Middle East and Central and South Asia, is geographically vast and holds as much as 60% of the world's proven oil reserves and plentiful natural gas reserves. Both of which will remain vital to the global energy market, to the economic health of our allies and partners, and to the United States. This strategically important region also claims major sea lines of communication for international commerce and trade, including the critical maritime chokepoints of the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal, and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. The region is rich in history and culture, and there are numerous ethnic groups, languages, and traditions represented. It is also home to three of the world's five major religions. All things considered, events that occur there have considerable and far-reaching impacts. The past has clearly shown that when the region experiences any degree of strife or instability, every country there and others around the globe—to include the U.S.—feel the effects. Specifically, what happens in the Central Region influences the global economy and affects, in ways big and small, our vital interests and those of our partner nations, namely, as President Obama affirmed before the United Nations in September 2013: the free flow of resources through key shipping lanes; the defense of our homeland against the pervasive and persistent threat of terrorism and extremism; and, the prevention of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Thus, it is critical that we do what is necessary to bolster security and stability in this most important part of the world. It is for this same reason that we continue to confront external aggression against our allies and partners.
In this context, in 2014, the U.S. finds itself at a strategic inflection point. Though problems abound in the Central Region, perspective is everything. In the decisive year ahead resides a real chance for the United States, together with our partners and allies, to achieve diplomatic and military successes and thereby generate much-needed positive momentum in the Middle East and Central and South Asia. To do so, we must widen our collective perspectives and look beyond the challenges that exist and seize the many opportunities that are present throughout the region. The USCENTCOM team is fully committed to doing so and to ensuring that our efforts contribute to an effective whole-of-government approach to advancing and safeguarding U.S. vital interests in the region and around the globe.
We, at USCENTCOM, remain always ready to seize available opportunities, while responding to contingencies and providing support to our partners and allies. We remain always vigilant to ensure that we avoid strategic surprise. At the same time we remain engaged and present, while doing all that we can to improve security and stability throughout the Central Region, in part by helping our partners to build military capability and capacity. This work is being done each day by the dedicated and hard-working men and women of this command, including more than 94,000 U.S. Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coastguardsmen and Civilians selflessly serving and sacrificing in difficult and dangerous places. They—and their families—are doing an extraordinary job. They are and will remain our foremost priority.
This past year has been an active one for U.S. Central Command. In Afghanistan, we expect to complete our transition from combat operations to our train, advise and assist (TAA) and counter-terrorism (CT) missions by the end of 2014. The Afghans have taken the lead on nearly all security operations and are showing considerable capability and fortitude. While our diplomats continue to pursue a bilateral security agreement (BSA) with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA), our retrograde and base closures remain on schedule.
Pending further policy decisions, while we are readying for the TAA and CT missions, we remain prepared to implement the full-range of options with respect to our post-2014 presence. Meanwhile, we continue to provide critical assistance to the Egyptian Armed Forces in the Sinai. We also have been doing what we can to manage the effects of the ongoing civil war in Syria. Of particular concern is the growing refugee crisis affecting millions of people in Syria and neighboring countries, namely Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq. We also developed strike options in response to Syrian President Bashar al Assad's use of chemical weapons. The credible threat of the use of military force ultimately contributed to the diplomatic option currently being implemented. We are hopeful that a positive outcome to the crisis in Syria will be reached. We continue to undertake contingency planning to address a variety of potential scenarios. This holds true of our efforts with regard to Iran, where we support the U.S. Government policy combining diplomacy, economic pressure, and the resolve to keep military options on the table. In the past several months, we supported embassy ordered departures from Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen, and South Sudan. We continue to do all that we can to counter the growing terrorist threat emanating from the region, and we are assisting our partners in their efforts to build greater capability and capacity to defend their sovereign spaces. Finally, we conducted and participated in 52 multilateral and bilateral training exercises held in the USCENTCOM area of responsibility (AOR), along with many of our allies and partners.
We also developed strike options for consideration in response to Syrian President Bashar al Assad's use of chemical weapons. Our readiness to use military force ultimately contributed to the diplomatic course currently being implemented. We are hopeful that a positive outcome to the crisis in Syria will be reached. We continue to undertake contingency planning to address a variety of potential scenarios .
As we look ahead, our goal is to build upon our past achievements. We recognize that we must do all that we can to address the challenges and also pursue the opportunities present in the Central Region. At USCENTCOM, we are appropriately postured, and have adopted a theater strategy and a deliberate approach that we are confident will enable us to accomplish our mission.
USCENTCOM's Mission. USCENTCOM's mission statement is: "With national and international partners, USCENTCOM promotes cooperation among nations, responds to crises, and deters or defeats state and non-state aggression, and supports development and, when necessary, reconstruction in order to establish the conditions for regional security, stability and prosperity."
Strategic Environment. Developing nations within the region are plagued by poverty and violence, mired in political discord, beset by ethnic and religious tensions, stressed by resource competition and economic stagnation, and strained by a 'youth bulge' that both impels and reinforces popular discontent, and drives demands for political and social reforms. All combine to imperil our vital national interests and those of our trusted partners and allies.
"Underlying Currents." To effectively address the challenges present in the Central Region, we must understand and take into account the full range of forces, or what I refer to as the "underlying currents," at play in this strategically important part of the world. Attitudes and behaviors in the Middle East are driven by these political, economic and socio-cultural currents. They are fueling many of the tensions and conflicts across the USCENTCOM AOR. Each of them, or some combination thereof, is directly contributing to the chaos, volatility, and violence that we are seeing in many regional countries. The principal underlying currents are:
Growing ethno-sectarian divideówe are seeing a significant increase in ethno-sectarian violence in the Middle East. More so than in the past, groups are coalescing around ethnic or sectarian issues, rather than national identity. This is causing a fracturing of institutions (e.g., governments, militaries) along sectarian lines and associated rifts among mixed populations (e.g., Sunni, Shia). If allowed to continue unabated, this type of regional sectarian behavior soon could lead to a decades-long sectarian conflict stretching from Beirut to Damascus to Baghdad to Sanaa.
At present, we are seeing this divide playing out between several ethno-sectarian groups. The one that is growing the widest and most dangerously is the Sunni-Shia divide. At the same time, there is the ongoing Arab-Kurd divide, which has worsened in Iraq. Lastly, there is the ongoing Arab-Israeli divide. These and other similar confrontations, such as those between Pashtun and other ethnicities in Afghanistan and Pakistan and between Muslims and Hindus, are emotionally charged and will prove difficult to resolve. There is deep-seated distrust among these groups and this continues to hinder any attempts at reconciliation. These relationships are also affected, in many cases, by territorial disputes, proxy activity, violence, and regional instability.
Struggle between Extremists and Moderatesóof significant concern is the growing struggle across the region between Extremists and Moderates. The growing activism of radical elements is of particular concern to the United States and our partner nations because the beliefs and practices espoused by many of these groups do not align with our values or the values of the majority of the populations in that part of the world. The dangers of Islamic extremism are on the rise throughout the Central Region. To effectively address this threat it is necessary to counter the ideas that often incite extremism. We also need to do all that we can to limit ungoverned spaces by ensuring that countries develop the capability and capacity to exercise greater control over their sovereign territories. Central to our strategy are our efforts to promote moderate elements and participatory governance and build security capacity to facilitate improved stability.
Rejection of corruption and oppressive governmentsóThe Arab Spring movement reflects a widespread desire for freedom and reform. People want change and they want to have a say in their fate. In many ways, the global expansion of technology triggered this upheaval because more people were able to see alternatives on the television and the Internet, and this made them increasingly intolerant of their own circumstances and oppressive governments. The conditions that caused this shift to come about still exist throughout the USCENTCOM AOR. In fact, it is likely that what we have seen to date is only the beginning of a long period of change. Citizens in many countries are rejecting autocratic rule and publicly expressing their opinions and frustrations with their governments and leaders. Social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, have provided people with a public voice, and they are expressing their discontent and the strong desire for political reform with increased frequency. The desire for change and for increased freedom and reforms is likely to become even more pronounced in the Central Region in coming months and years.
The "Youth Bulge"óStability in the region is further complicated by the growing population of young, educated, largely unemployed and, in many cases, disenchanted youth. This "youth bulge" in many respects breeds and reinforces discontent and drives demands for political and social reforms. This demographic is of particular concern given its size; over 40% of the people living in the region are between the ages of 15 and 29. These young, energetic, and dissatisfied individuals want change. They want greater autonomy, the right of self-determination, and increased opportunity. They are willing to voice their opinions publicly without fearing the consequences of their actions. Unfortunately, these disillusioned young people also represent ripe targets for recruitment by terrorist and extremist groups.
We must be able to recognize and understand these and possible other "underlying currents" at play in the Central Region if we hope to effectively manage the challenges that are present and also pursue opportunities by which to shape positive outcomes in that part of the world. It may not be possible to halt or reverse the trends. However, the effects may be mitigated if properly addressed.
Top 10 USCENTCOM Priorities. Looking ahead to the next year, USCENTCOM will remain ready, engaged and vigilantóeffectively integrated with other instruments of power; strengthening relationships with partners; and supporting bilateral and multilateral collective defense relationships to counter adversaries, improve security, support enduring stability, and secure our vital interests in the Central Region. In support of this vision, the command remains focused on a wide range of issues, activities, and operations relevant to the USCENTCOM AOR, including our Top 10 priority efforts:
USCENTCOM Challenges and Opportunities. There are significant opportunities present amidst the challenges that reside in the Central Region.
Challenge (Afghanistan): Operations in Afghanistan remain our top priority. Our goal is to conduct a successful transition in Afghanistan while also helping to achieve a capable and sustainable Afghan National Security Force (ANSF). Equally important are our continued efforts in support of ongoing CT missions. We must maintain pressure on terrorist networks to avoid resurgence in capability that could lead to an attack on our homeland or our interests around the globe. If the United States and Afghanistan are unable to achieve a BSA, we will move rapidly to consider alternatives for continuing a security cooperation relationship with Afghanistan. Unfortunately, in the wake of such a precipitous departure, GIRoA's long-term viability is likely to be at high risk and the odds of an upsurge in terrorists' capability increases without continued substantial international economic and security assistance.
We are currently focused on four principal efforts: 1) Completing the transition and retrograde of U.S. personnel and equipment out of Afghanistan; 2) Maintaining the safety and security of U.S./Coalition troops and personnel; 3) Supporting continuing CT efforts that are contributing to the defeat of Al Qaeda (AQ) and other violent extremist groups, including the Haqqani Network; and, 4) Advising, training and assisting the ANSF, while also helping them to prepare to provide security in support of the April 2014 scheduled national elections.
Our retrograde operations remain on-track, with the vast majority of movement conducted via ground through Pakistan. We have several means for conducting retrograde available to us, including multiple ground routes through Pakistan and the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) in Central Asia, Russia and the Caucasus. We use multiple modes of transport to maximize our efficiency and, in some cases, retrograde solely via air routes. However, movement in this region is quite difficult, principally due to terrain and conditions on the ground. While base closures and materiel reduction are proceeding as planned, our services' equipment reset will likely continue into 2015.
The surest way to achieve long-term stability and security in this region is a self-sustaining security force. Our continued presence—if a BSA is concluded—complemented by NATO's presence, will enable us to assist our Afghan partners through a critical period of transition. It would also serve to further reassure allies and partners of U.S. and Western military staying power.
It truly is remarkable all that U.S., Afghan and Coalition forces have accomplished in Afghanistan over the past 12+ years. The ANSF has dramatically improved its capability and capacity. Today, their forces are comprised of nearly 344K Afghans [352K authorized], representing every ethnicity. They are leading nearly all security operations throughout the country and actively taking the fight to the Taliban. The campaign also has had a positive impact on education, literacy levels, and women's rights throughout much of the country. Some of these effects, particularly the increase in literacy levels, are irreversible.
There is still much work to be done by the government and people of Afghanistan. Enduring success will require the Afghan government to continue to enhance its capabilities in the wake of a successful transfer of power following the scheduled national elections to be held in April 2014. This represents the critical first step in the country's political transition. They will also have to make a more concerted effort to counter corruption. If the Afghan leadership does not make the right decisions going forward, the opportunities that they have been afforded could easily be squandered. Furthermore, the return of instability and diminished security and even tyranny will affect Afghanistan, as well as the surrounding Central Asian states and the region as a whole. We have been in Afghanistan for nearly 13 years, representing the longest period of continuous conflict fought by our Nation's all-volunteer force. Together with our Afghan and Coalition partners, we have invested lives and other precious resources to improve security and stability in that country. Going forward, we want to do all that we can to preserve those hard- earned gains.
Opportunity (Afghanistan): Our intent is to maintain an enduring relationship with the Afghan military as we work together to preserve improved security and stability in the region. Our continued presence—if a BSA is concluded—will enable us to train and advise Afghan security forces and further improve their capability and confidence during a critical period of transition. Our presence would also allow us to maintain much-needed pressure on Al Qaeda.
There also exists an opportunity to normalize our relationships with Afghanistan and Pakistan, while also improving relations between these two countries in a way that will enhance regional security. We should encourage them to find common ground in their efforts to counter the increasingly complex nexus of violent extremist organizations operating in their border regions.
The past 12+ years in Afghanistan have witnessed incredible growth and maturation in USCENTCOM's collaborative partnerships with USEUCOM and NATO. Now, as operations wind down in that country, we should look to identify areas of common interest that would benefit from our continued collaboration. Certainly the convergence of our shared interests with those of Central and South Asia (CASA) states, specifically in the areas of CT, counter- proliferation (CP), and counter-narcotics (CN), provides a place from which to effectively engage and shape regional stability, especially in the context of a reduced U.S.-international presence in Afghanistan post-2014.
Challenge (Syria): We are also focused on the conflict in Syria. It represents the most difficult challenge that I have witnessed in my 38-year military career. What started as a backlash against corruption and oppressive authoritarian rule has now expanded into a civil war. Nearing its third full year, the conflict appears to have reached, what I would characterize as a "dynamic stalemate" with neither side able to achieve its operational objectives.
The conflict is further complicated by the presence of chemical weapons (CW), the tremendous influx of foreign fighters and a humanitarian crisis that affects millions of people in Syria and in neighboring countries; and is exacerbated by the Assad regime's deliberate targeting of civilians and denial of humanitarian access. We are collaborating with our interagency partners in developing solutions to the pressing humanitarian crisis that threatens the stability of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. Meanwhile, the credible threat of the use of military force, initiated by the United States in response to the regime's use of CW, prompted President Assad to agree to destroy all such weapons in Syria under the direct supervision of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Thus far, the Assad regime has missed milestones set by the international community to transport priority chemicals to the Syrian coast for removal and destruction. The regime must follow through on its obligation to eliminate its chemical weapons program. Meanwhile, we remain committed to facilitating a negotiated political solution, which remains the only way to sustainably resolve the conflict.
Support and engagement by the United States and others is needed to bolster the broader regional effort in response to the conflict in Syria. This sentiment was consistently echoed by regional leaders during my recent engagements. Nearly all partners, both in and out of the region, have expressed growing anxiety with respect to the violent extremists operating from ungoverned space within Syria. The flow of foreign fighters and funding going into Syria is a significant concern. When I took command of USCENTCOM in March of 2013, the intelligence community estimated there were ~800-1,000 jihadists in Syria. Today, that number is upwards of 7,000. This is alarming, particularly when you consider that many of these fighters will eventually return home, and some may head to Europe or even the United States better trained and equipped and even more radicalized. At the same time, extremists are exploiting the sectarian fault line running from Beirut to Damascus to Baghdad to Sanaa. Left unchecked, the resulting instability could embroil the greater region into conflict. Several nations are pursuing independent actions to address this threat. We will continue to support our partners in order to protect our vital interests and theirs as well.
Opportunity (Syria): Much effort is being put forth by U.S. Government elements and others to achieve the desired diplomatic or political solution to the crisis in Syria. This work must continue in earnest. The widespread violence and tremendous human suffering that is occurring in Syria and in neighboring countries will likely have far-reaching and lasting consequences for the region. In the near-term, work to remove or destroy declared CW materials from Syria is underway. Successfully removing these weapons would create additional decision space that could enable us to do more to address other difficult challenges present inside that country. If the flow of foreign fighters could be curbed significantly, and the support provided to the regime by Lebanese Hezbollah (LH), Iranian Qods Forces and others was stopped or greatly reduced, it could lead to a break in the stalemate and an eventual resolution to the conflict.
Challenge (Iran): We continue to pay close attention to Iran's actions. As a result of the understandings reached with the P5+1, Iran has taken specific and verifiable actions for the first time in nearly a decade that halted progress on its nuclear program and rolled it back in key respects, stopping the advance of the program and introducing increased transparency into Iran's nuclear activities. Despite this progress, significant concerns do remain. In addition to the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program, there is growing anxiety in the region and beyond concerning the malign activity being perpetrated by the Iranian Threat Network (ITN), which consists of Qods Force, Ministry of Intelligence and Security, regional surrogates, and proxies. We are seeing a significant increase in Iranian proxy activity in Syria, principally through Iran's support of LH and the regime. This is contributing to the humanitarian crisis and significantly altered political-societal demographic balances within and between the neighboring countries of Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq. There is also widespread unease with respect to the counter- maritime, theater ballistic missile and cyber capabilities possessed by Iran. Each of these represents a very real and significant threat to U.S. and our partners' interests. Going forward, we should look to employ nuanced approaches in dealing with these distinct challenges, while providing the means necessary to enable our partners to do their part to address them, both militarily and diplomatically.
Opportunity (Iran): Progress towards a comprehensive solution that would severely restrict Iran's nuclear weapons 'breakout' capacity has the potential to moderate certain objectionable Iranian activities in non-nuclear areas (e.g., ITN, theater ballistic missile, cyber). If the P5+1 are able to achieve a long-term resolution with respect to Iran's nuclear program, that would represent a step in the right direction, and present an unprecedented opportunity for positive change.
Challenge (Counter-terrorism): While we have made progress in counter-terrorism (CT), violent extremist ideology endures and continues to imperil U.S. and partner interests. Al Qaeda and its Affiliates and Adherents (AQAA) and other violent extremist organizations (VEOs) operating out of ungoverned spaces are exploiting regional turmoil to expand their activities. Among the VEOs present in the region, AQAA pose the most significant threat. In recent years, AQ has become more diffused, entrenched, and interconnected. While AQ core is less capable today, the jihadist movement is in more locations, both in the Central Region and globally. This expanding threat is increasingly difficult to combat and track, leaving the U.S. homeland and our partners and allies more vulnerable to strategic surprise. At the same time, we are increasingly concerned about the expanding activity of extremist elements operating in sovereign spaces, to include Iraq, Egypt and Syria. These elements threaten U.S. interests because they foment regional instability and create platforms from which to plot actions targeting our homeland.
Many of these extremist elements are highly capable and clearly maintain the intent to conduct future attacks on the U.S. homeland and our interests around the globe. In particular, we must keep pressure on AQ elements operating in Eastern Afghanistan, in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Yemen, and elsewhere. USCENTCOM will continue to support our partners' CT efforts. Our collaboration, particularly through joint combined exercises and training events, helps to build our partners' capability and confidence, and thereby contributes to increasing governance over ungoverned spaces. This, in turn, helps to deny terrorists and extremists freedom of movement.
Opportunity (Counter-terrorism): The main strength of most VEOs is their extremist ideology, which shows no signs of abating. Ideology transcends personalities and persists even after key leaders are killed. This threat cannot be eliminated simply by targeting individuals. To defeat AQ and other VEOs, we must defeat the ideas that often incite extremism, while also guarding against ungoverned spaces and conditions that allow those ideas to flourish. Our continued presence and active engagement is the most effective way that we can help our partners build greater capability and capacity to meet these threats. We must also look at realigning our critical resources, recognizing that by developing a structure that provides for greater agility and speed of action we will go a long way towards improving our posture and security in the face of this growing threat.
U.S. Engagement in the Central Region. There is a widely-held misperception that the United States is disengaging from the Middle East in order to focus our efforts and attention elsewhere around the globe. To the contrary, the United States fully intends to maintain a strong and enduring military posture in the Central Region, one that can respond swiftly to crisis, deter aggression and assure our allies. However, the differing perception held by some must not be overlooked. If not effectively countered, the perceived lack of U.S. commitment could affect our partners' willingness to stand with us and thereby create space for other actors to challenge U.S. regional security interests. We must assure our regional partners of our continued, strong commitment and demonstrate our support through our actions and active presence.
A Regional Perspective. Today, the Central Region is experiencing a deep shift, the total effects of which will likely not be known for years to come. In some parts of the Levant, into Iraq, and even as far as Bahrain, we see a more obvious and accelerating Sunni-Shia sectarian contest. The increasing violence, unresolved political issues, and lack of inclusive governance have weakened Egyptian and Iraqi internal stability, as well as each country's regional leadership potential. The outcomes of the situations in Egypt, Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria will largely determine the future regional security environment. Poor outcomes will create additional seams and ungoverned spaces that will be exploited by malign actors, including Al Qaeda.
Around the Region: 20 countries, 20 stories. If we want to achieve lasting effects in the Central Region we must view the challenges present in the 20 countries that make up the USCENTCOM AOR in the context of the "underlying currents" at play and in view of the interconnectedness of behaviors and outcomes. Equally important, we must take care not to simply respond to or manage the challenges that exist. We must also pursue the many opportunities present in the region, understanding that it is principally through these opportunities that we will achieve diplomatic and military successes in specific areas. These successes will, in turn, serve as "force multipliers." The compounding progress and momentum achieved will enable us to increase stability in the region and enhance security on behalf of the United States and our partners around the globe.
Below are synopses of the current state of affairs in each of the 20 countries in the USCENTCOM AOR minus Afghanistan, Syria and Iran which were addressed in the previous section, "USCENTCOM Challenges and Opportunities" (see pages 9-15):
The Gulf StatesóWe enjoy strong relationships with our partners in the Gulf States and will continue to engage with them, both bilaterally and as a collective body through the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). This collaboration enhances U.S. security, as our capabilities are made more robust through enhanced partner capacity and, ultimately, working "by, with and through" the GCC. This is currently on display and paying dividends at the Combined Air Operations Center in Qatar and the Combined Maritime Operations Center in Bahrain. It is important that we continue to support Gulf States' efforts as they work to address crises emanating from Syria, Yemen, Iraq and elsewhere; internal political challenges; growing ethno- sectarian and extremist violence; demographic shifts; and, Iranian hegemonic ambitions. We remain focused on improving their capabilities specific to ballistic missile defense, maritime security, critical infrastructure protection and counter-terrorism. We have also strongly advocated increased ballistic missile defense cooperation among the GCC states and are beginning to see increased interest and progress.
In December, at the Manama Dialogue held in Bahrain, Secretary of Defense Hagel announced several new initiatives designed to further strengthen cooperation between the United States and our GCC partners. First, DoD will work with the GCC on better integration of its members' missile defense capabilities, acknowledging that a multilateral framework is the best way to develop interoperable and integrated regional missile defense. Second, the Defense Department intends to expand its security cooperation with partners in the region by working in a coordinated way with the GCC, including the sales of U.S. defense articles to the GCC as an organization. Third, building upon the U.S.-GCC Strategic Cooperation Forum and similar events, Secretary Hagel invited our GCC partners to participate in an annual U.S.-GCC Defense Ministerial, which will allow the United States and GCC member nations to take the next step in coordinating defense policies and enhancing our military cooperation. All of these initiatives are intended to help strengthen the GCC and regional security, and USCENTCOM intends to fully support them. Through our continued presence in the region, training and equipping programs, and further expansion of multilateral exercises and activities, we are setting conditions for increased burden- sharing. Ultimately this will enable us to remain better postured to respond to crises or contingency operations, while also providing a counterbalance to the potential threat posed by Iran.
For decades, security cooperation has served as the cornerstone of the United States' relationship with Saudi Arabia. Now, as we face compounding security challenges in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is taking a more independent and outspoken role in safeguarding its interests in the region. Still, despite recent policy disagreements pertaining to Syria, Egypt and Iran, the United States and Saudi Arabia continue to work closely together to contend with violent extremist groups operating in ungoverned spaces, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the humanitarian crisis emanating from Syria and other challenges threatening regional security and stability. Our support of Saudi Arabia in enhancing its defense capabilities will serve to further deter hostile actors, increase U.S.-Saudi military interoperability and, in so doing, positively impact security and stability in the region, as well as the global economy.
A long-time partner and strong ally in the region, Kuwait provides critical support for U.S. troops and equipment, and it is playing a significant role in the retrograde of equipment from Afghanistan. For the first time, Kuwait committed to hosting the U.S. multilateral exercise, Eagle Resolve 2015, which will further bolster regional cooperative defense efforts. Kuwait continues to struggle with significant political challenges that threaten internal stability. Meanwhile, they have made progress in reconciling long-standing issues with neighboring Iraq, thereby contributing to improved stability in the region. Looking ahead, we can expect to enjoy strong relations with the Kuwaiti military, built upon many years of trust shared since the liberation of Kuwait in 1991.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a valued, contributing partner with whom we share a historically strong military-to-military relationship. The UAE remains solidly committed to a collective defense of the region and has taken the lead in providing air and missile defense capabilities for the Gulf. The Emiratis recent combined U.S. Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) live-fire exercise demonstrated yet another important capability added to its formation. Given their potential to enhance the AOR's stability by providing leadership and military capability, they most certainly merit our continued close engagement and tangible foreign military sales (FMS) support.
We share a close and robust partnership with Qatar. They host and provide critical support to two of our forward headquarters and facilities. Over the past several months, Qatar has experienced some friction with GCC partners, namely Saudi Arabia and UAE, principally due to Qatar's perceived support of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and radical jihadist groups operating in Syria. Despite this, Qatar represents a voice able and willing to take a lead in the GCC's ongoing pursuit of improved regional stability and security. Qatar's multiple FMS requests and renewed Defense Cooperation Agreement provide tangible examples to this end. They warrant our continued close engagement and support.
Bahrain remains an important partner and one of the greatest bulwarks against Iranian malign influence in the region. We have a long-standing close military-to-military relationship with Bahrain, one of four partners with whom we share a bilateral defense agreement, in addition to UAE, Kuwait and Jordan. Bahrain provides key support for U.S. interests by hosting the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet and U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, and by providing facilities and infrastructure for U.S. forces engaged in regional security operations. Despite their efforts in The National Dialogue, Bahrain's Sunni-dominated government and Shia opposition have failed to achieve a political compromise. This effort has been complicated by radical elements supported by Iran. Frequent public protests have created further opportunities for external actors to enflame tensions. This has led to miscalculation, non-proportional responses to perceived threats, and a hardening of both government and opposition positions. We must maintain a pragmatic policy that supports Bahrain while encouraging adherence to human rights. We are starting to see a logical hedging by Bahrain as it seeks assistance from others, specifically China. The current FMS holds may be perpetuating this behavior. In the wake of the successful Manama Dialogue, held in December 2013, we have an opportunity to work with the Bahrainis to address these and other challenges and, in so doing, further improve internal and regional security and stability.
Oman continues to play a steadying role and provides a voice of moderation in the region. The country also provides the United States and our allies and partners with critical regional access. We value our shared appreciation of the situation in the Gulf. At the same time, we recognize that Oman seeks to maintain a constructive relationship with its close neighbor, Iran. Recent terror threats from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have stimulated closer cooperation between Oman and the United States specific to counter-terrorism. We will continue to support and, where possible, expand upon these collaborative efforts.
Iraq, positioned between Iran and Saudi Arabia, remains at the geo-strategic center of the Middle East and the historically preeminent Shia-Sunni fault-line. Over the past year, the country's security situation has deteriorated significantly with violence reaching levels last seen at the height of the sectarian conflict (2006-2008). The principal cause of the growing instability has been the Shia-led government's lack of meaningful reform and inclusiveness of minority Sunnis and Kurds. The situation is further exacerbated by the active presence of Al Qaeda (through the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and the steady influx of jihadists coming into Iraq from Syria. This has come to a head most recently in key areas of Anbar Province. In response to this immediate threat, USCENTCOM, with Congressional support, was able to meet urgent materiel requirements through the FMS process (e.g., small arms, rockets, Hellfire missiles). Leveraging this opportunity, we continue to expand security cooperation activities aimed at strengthening our military-to-military ties. Examples include inviting the Iraqis to participate in regional exercises, such as Eager Lion, and facilitating support for Iraq from nations other than Iran, such as Turkey and Jordan. Now one of the world's largest producers of oil, Iraq has the potential to become a prosperous country and a leader and proactive enabler of regional stability. However, it will be unable to achieve its potential without first achieving a sustainable level of stability and security. This will require major internal political reform, and the sincere inclusion of the Sunnis and Kurds into the political process that will significantly curb violence across the country.
In Yemen, President Hadi worked faithfully through the political transition plan mandated by the 2011 GCC-brokered agreement. The successful conclusion of the National Dialogue was a major achievement. However, it represents one of many steps required to establish a more representative government. While Hadi continues to exhibit sound leadership and a strong commitment to reform, he is facing an increasingly fragile security situation impacted by secessionists in the south, a growing AQAP threat and escalating violence between proxy-funded Houthis and Salafists. We are working closely with the Yemeni Ministry of Defense to restructure the military and security apparatus to effectively deal with these national security threats. We will persist in our efforts to strengthen our relationship in the face of the very serious threat posed by terrorists groups operating out of ungoverned spaces. We also will continue to provide support to the national unity government and to the Yemeni Special Forces focused on reducing those opportunities that enable violent extremists groups to hold terrain, challenge the elected government and prepare to conduct operations elsewhere in the region and against the U.S. homeland.
The LevantóOver the past three years, countries bordering Syria have absorbed more than 2 million refugees. This is causing considerable internal domestic problems. However, these partner nations continue to show tremendous compassion and resiliency in response to this devastating humanitarian crisis. We will keep doing all that we can to support them. Meanwhile, the expanding brutality, as illustrated by the Assad Regime's 21 August 2013 chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus, has drawn the focus and ire of the international community. Fracture of opposition forces and the increasing prominence of radical Islamist elements on the battlefield further adds to the tremendous complexity of the problem set in Syria. The direct involvement of Iran and LH fighters also is complicating and enflaming this expanding conflict. This growing crisis must be addressed and will require the efforts of regional partners and the international community, recognizing that, allowed to continue unabated, it will likely result in a region-wide conflict lasting a decade or more.
The Government of Lebanon's recent formation of a cabinet ended a 10-month political stalemate. While this positive development could lead to a better functioning government, violence is unlikely to subside until the Syria conflict is resolved. Currently, Lebanon is threatened by growing instability inside the country, as evidenced by increasing incidents of sectarian violence, including car bombs. This is due to a variety of contributing factors, including poor governance, Lebanese Hezbollah's involvement in the Syria conflict, which has resulted in a cycle of retaliatory violence, and the significant influx of Sunni refugees from Syria. This is negatively impacting the delicate sectarian balance in the country. The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), a multi-confessional and national security force, is striving to contain the spread of violence. However, its ability to do so is increasingly strained. We continue to work closely with our military counterparts in addressing their growing security demands. Our expanded support of the LAF, specifically through foreign military financing (FMF), the Global Security Contingency Fund and other train and equip funds, represents our best method for enhancing their capability and capacity to meet current and future security challenges.
Jordan remains one of our most reliable regional partners, as demonstrated by our formal defense agreement, their direct support to Afghanistan, participation in multilateral exercises and support for the Middle East Peace process. Jordan continues to struggle with growing instability, primarily stemming from the crisis in Syria. The influx of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees has placed a heavy burden on Jordan's government and economy. There is also increasing concern regarding the growing threat to the region posed by violent extremists. As a consistent moderate voice, Jordan is an exemplar in the region. We will continue to work closely with Jordan to address our shared challenges. I have dedicated a forward presence, USCENTCOM Forward-Jordan, to assist the Jordanian Armed Forces in their efforts. The U.S. goals are to help ease the burden on the nation's economy and enhance its overall stability and security situation.
While Egypt is an anchor state in the Central Region, it has experienced a considerable amount of internal turmoil in recent months. The change in government in July 2013, was prompted by growing popular unrest with the Morsi government because it proved unwilling or unable to govern in a way that was fully inclusive. The interim government has made some strides towards a more democratic and inclusive government, primarily through the lifting of the state of emergency (14 November 2013) and the successful conduct of a public referendum on the constitution (14-15 January 2014). However, despite the progress made on the political roadmap, the interim Egyptian government has made decisions inconsistent with inclusive democracyóthrough restrictions on the press, demonstrations, civil society, and opposition parties. The interim government has yet to tackle the dire and pressing economic problems that are greatly affecting the country and its people. Absent significant economic reforms or sustained levels of external financial support from the Gulf, Egypt's economy will continue to falter. As the political transition continues, Egypt is also facing heightened extremist attacks in the Sinai and the Nile Valley. The military and security services have heightened counterterrorism operations in the Sinai, but continue to struggle to contain this threat.
We maintain a historically strong military-to-military relationship with the Egyptian Armed Forces and will continue to work with them to advance our mutual security interests. Given the importance of Egypt's stability to overall security and stability in the region, we should continue to support the political transition and encourage pursuit of necessary economic reforms. USCENTCOM will continue to work closely with the Egyptian military to improve its ability to secure Egypt's borders and to help it to counter the threat posed by extremists in the Sinai and the Nile Valley.
Central and South Asia (CASA)óThe CASA states are in the midst of a crucial period as ISAF reduces its presence in Afghanistan and completes the shift from combat operations to the current train, advise and assist mission in support of Afghan security forces. There is growing uncertainty regarding long-term U.S. and NATO commitment to Afghanistan and the region post-2014. There is also concern with respect to Afghanistan's ability to preserve the gains achieved and to maintain long-lasting security and stability in the absence of U.S. and Coalition forces. As a result, we are seeing a number of complex hedging activities by Afghanistan and neighboring states looking to protect their individual interests. This behavior highlights the importance of adjusting our strategy in the CASA region as we look to support our partners and also confront the significant threats of narcotics trafficking, proliferation of WMD and terrorism. We continue to look for opportunities to mature military-to-military relationships among the Central Asian states, ideally helping them to move beyond rivalries and towards finding common ground for increased bilateral and multilateral cooperation.
Al Qaeda continues to operate in Pakistan's FATA and, to a lesser extent, areas of eastern Afghanistan. Continued pressure on Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan also increases the chances that AQ will be displaced to less restrictive areas in the CASA region that would provide AQ and other violent extremists with safe havens from which to facilitate terror networks, plan attacks, pursue WMD, etc. Meanwhile, other regional actors, to include Russia, China and Iran, are attempting to expand their spheres of influence in the CASA region for security and economic purposes. Long-standing tensions between Pakistan and India also threaten regional stability as both states have substantial military forces arrayed along their borders and the disputed Kashmir Line of Control.
In Pakistan, we face a confluence of persistent challenges that have long hindered the efforts of the Pakistan government to fight terrorism and our ability to provide needed assistance. Central to Pakistan's struggles is its poor economy and burgeoning "youth bulge." Given these conditions, radicalism is on the rise in settled areas and threatens increased militant activity and insurgency in parts of Pakistan where the sway of the state traditionally has been the strongest. At the same time, terrorist attacks and ethno-sectarian violence threaten the government's tenuous control over some areas. Further compounding these internal challenges is Pakistan's strained relationships with its neighbors.
The U.S.-Pakistan military-to-military relationship has improved over the past two years, reflecting increased cooperation in areas of mutual interest including the defeat of AQ, reconciliation in Afghanistan and support for Pakistan's fight against militant and terrorist groups. Greater security assistance, training, support and operational reimbursement through the Coalition Support Fund have enhanced Pakistan's ability to conduct counter-insurgency (COIN)/CT operations. In November 2013, we held the second strategic-level Defense Consultative Group meeting, focused primarily on implementing a framework for promoting peace and stability based on common COIN and CT interests. The Out-Year Security Assistance Roadmap will focus on enhancing Pakistan's precision strike, air mobility, survivability/counter- improvised explosive device (IED) capability, battlefield communications, night vision, border security and maritime security/counter-narcotics capabilities. Additionally, we are nesting these initiatives within our Military Consultative Committee, which finalizes our annual engagement plan and the USCENTCOM exercise program. The end result will be a synchronization of activities aimed at helping Pakistan build capabilities in support of our common objectives across all security cooperation lines of effort. While we continue to strengthen our cooperation in areas of mutual interest, we are engaging with Pakistan where our interests diverge, most notably with respect to the Haqqani Network which enjoys safe haven on Pakistan soil.
Our relationship with Uzbekistan is advancing in a deliberate, balanced way driven by shared regional security concerns. We have resumed Special Forces training and initiated a non-binding five-year framework plan. Our bilateral training conducted in June 2013 focused on CT and CN and renewed collaboration in support of shared interests. The Uzbeks also continue to provide support for operations in Afghanistan, principally by allowing access to NDN routes. While the Uzbeks prefer to work bilaterally, we see significant potential in their expressed desire to contribute positively to regional stability. Our security cooperation programs are carefully managed so as not to upset the regional military balance.
Our relationship with Tajikistan continues to improve against the backdrop of significant security challenges. They are supporting operations in Afghanistan by allowing transit along the Kyrgyz Republic, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan route of the NDN. Additionally, they have shown their support for broader security initiatives, including CT, CN and border security. Tajikistan's lengthy border with Afghanistan and the associated access to ungoverned spaces presents difficulties for the country's security forces. Enhancing Tajikistan's ability to secure this border against narco-traffickers and VEOs is vital to ensuring internal and regional stability. Our modest investment of resources in support of their force modernization efforts is primarily focused on enhancing the country's capability to address security challenges while encouraging the continued professional development of its defense. This will contribute to the protection of our shared interests from the threat of VEOs.
We are redefining our relationship with the Kyrgyz Republic as we ascertain the full impact of the planned July 2014 closure of the Manas Transit Center and termination of our Framework Defense Cooperation Agreement. A new Framework Agreement will be necessary to maximize U.S.-Kyrgyz Republic security cooperation. Until such an agreement is reached, our security cooperation activities will likely decrease. While these challenges have limited our ability to further develop our military-to-military relationship, we continue to pursue all opportunities where our interests align, particularly in the areas of CT and border security.
Our relationship with Kazakhstan continues to mature and has great potential for expansion. In 2012, we signed a Five-Year Military Cooperation Plan (2013-2017) and a Three-Year Plan of Cooperation in support of Kazakhstan's Partnership for Peace Training Center. Kazakhstan's Ministry of Defense is transforming its forces from a traditional Soviet-style territorial defense role into a western-modeled expeditionary, professional and technologically advanced force capable of meeting threats in the post-2014 security environment. Kazakhstan is the most significant regional contributor to stability and security in Afghanistan. They have pledged grants to the ANSF fund after 2014, while also offering technical service support for ANSF equipment and providing educational opportunities in Kazakhstan for young Afghans. In August 2013, we conducted Steppe Eagle, an annual multinational peacekeeping exercise co-sponsored by the United States and Kazakhstan. This exercise facilitated the continued development of the Kazakhstan Peacekeeping Brigade. Once the brigade is operational, Kazakhstan intends to deploy subordinate units in support of U.N. peacekeeping operations as early as this year. Kazakhstan remains an enduring and reliable partner, well positioned to serve as bulwark for increased stability within the region.
Turkmenistan is a valued partner and enabler for regional stability. Of note is their support of Afghanistan where they are contributing through a series of bilateral development projects. They also permit DoD humanitarian assistance overflights. While the United States and Turkmenistan share numerous regional interests, their policy of positive neutrality governs the shape and pace of our security assistance relationship. Turkmenistan remains committed to self-imposed restrictions on military exchanges and cooperation with the United States and other nations in order to maintain its neutrality. Our security assistance relationship has seen modest growth as we help Turkmenistan to further develop its border security forces and the capabilities of the Turkmen Caspian Sea Fleet. However, we do not foresee any changes to their policy, so it is likely our interactions, though productive, will remain limited.
Central Asia's position, bordering Russia, China, Iran and Afghanistan, assures its long-term importance to the United States. By improving upon our military-to-military relationships we will be better able to maintain access and influence, counter malign activity, protect lines of communication and deny VEOs access to ungoverned spaces and restrict their freedom of movement. Going forward, initiatives will be tailored to transform our current limited transactional-based relationships into more constructive cooperative exchanges based on common interests and focused on training and equipping them to conduct more effective CT, CP and CN operations.