United States Central Command (USCENTCOM) was established Jan. 1, 1983. As its name implies, USCENTCOM covers the "central" area of the globe located between the European, Africa and Indo-Pacific Commands.
Origins and Establishment
When the hostage crisis in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan underlined the need to strengthen U.S. interests in the region, President Jimmy Carter established the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF) in March 1980.
To provide a stronger, more lasting solution in the region, President Ronald Reagan took steps to transform the RDJTF into a permanent unified command over a two-year period. The first step was to make the RDJTF independent of U.S. Readiness Command, followed by the activation of USCENTCOM in January 1983. Overcoming skeptical perceptions that the command was still an RDJTF in all but name, designed to support a Cold War strategy, took time. The Iran-Iraq war clearly underlined the growing tensions in the region, and developments such as Iranian mining operations in the Persian Gulf led to USCENTCOM's first combat operations.
Operation Desert Storm
By late 1988, the regional strategy still largely focused on the potential threat of a massive Soviet invasion of Iran. The new USCENTCOM Commander-in-Chief, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, was convinced that the changing international climate made this scenario far less likely. He began to focus his attention on the possible emergence of a new regional threat - Iraq's Saddam Hussein - and translated these concerns into the summer 1990 command post exercise Internal Look. There was an eerie similarity between the exercise scripts and the real-world movement of Iraqi forces which culminated in Iraq's invasion of Kuwait during the final days of the exercise. U.S. President George H. W. Bush responded quickly. A timely deployment of forces and the formation of a coalition deterred Iraq from invading Saudi Arabia, and the command began to focus on the liberation of Kuwait. The buildup of forces continued, reinforced by U.N. Security Council Resolution 678, which called for Iraqi forces to leave Kuwait. On Jan. 17, 1991, U.S. and coalition forces launched Operation Desert Storm with a massive air interdiction campaign which prepared the theater for a coalition ground assault. The primary coalition objective, the liberation of Kuwait, was achieved on Feb. 27, and the next morning a cease-fire was declared, just 100 hours after the commencement of the ground campaign.
USCENTCOM Operations in Iraq throughout the 90s
The end of formal hostilities did not bring the end of difficulties with Iraq. Operation Provide Comfort, implemented to provide humanitarian assistance to the Kurds and enforce a "no-fly" zone in Iraq north of the 36th parallel, began in April 1991. In August 1992, Operation Southern Watch began in response to Hussein's noncompliance with UNSCR 688, condemning his brutal repression of Iraqi civilians in southeastern Iraq. Under the command and control of Joint Task Force Southwest Asia, coalition forces in this operation enforced a no-fly zone south of the 32nd parallel. In January 1997, Operation Northern Watch replaced Provide Comfort, with a focus on enforcing the northern no-fly zone. Throughout the decade, USCENTCOM operations such as Vigilant Warrior, Vigilant Sentinel, Desert Strike, Desert Thunder (I and II), and Desert Fox responded to threats posed by Iraq to its neighbors or sought to enforce UNSC resolutions in the face of Hussein's continued intransigence.
Increasing threats of regional terrorism
The 1990s also brought significant challenges in the east African nation of Somalia and from the growing threat of regional terrorism. To prevent widespread starvation in the face of clan warfare, the command responded in 1992 with Operation Provide Relief to supply humanitarian assistance to Somalia and northeastern Kenya. USCENTCOM's Operation Restore Hope supported UNSCR 794 and a multinational Unified Task Force, which provided security until the U.N. created United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM) II in May 1993. In spite of some UNOSOM II success in the countryside, the situation in Mogadishu worsened, and a series of violent outbreaks ultimately led President Bill Clinton to order the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Somalia.
Throughout the decade following the Gulf War, terrorist attacks had a major impact on CENTCOM forces in the region. Faced with attacks such as the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 American airmen, the command launched Operation Desert Focus, designed to relocate U.S. installations to more defensible locations (such as Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia), reduce the U.S. forward "footprint" by eliminating nonessential billets, and return dependents to the United States. In 1998, terrorists attacked the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 250 people, including 12 Americans. The October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, resulting in the deaths of 17 U.S. sailors, was linked to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaida organization.
911 - War Against Terrorism
The terrorist attacks on American soil on Sept. 11, 2001, led President George W. Bush to declare a war against international terrorism. USCENTCOM soon launched Operation Enduring Freedom to expel the Taliban government in Afghanistan, which was harboring Al Qaida terrorists, hosting terrorist training camps, and repressing the Afghan population.
Beginning in October 2002, USCENTCOM conducted operations in the Horn of Africa to assist host nations there to combat terrorism, establish a secure environment, and foster regional stability. These operations primarily took the form of humanitarian assistance, consequence management, and a variety of civic action programs.
Operation Iraqi Freedom
In the wake of 9-11, the international community found Saddam Hussein's continued lack of cooperation with 19 UNSCRs regarding weapons of mass destruction unacceptable. Hussein's continued recalcitrance led the UNSC to authorize the use of force by a U.S.-led coalition. Operation Iraqi Freedom began March 2003.
Following the defeat of both the Taliban regime in Afghanistan (Nov. 9, 2001) and Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq (April 8, 2003), USCENTCOM has continued to provide security to the new freely-elected governments in those countries, conducting counterinsurgency operations and assisting host-nation security forces to provide for their own defense.
The command has also remained poised to support disaster relief efforts throughout the region, with its most recent significant relief operations in response to the October 2005 earthquake in Pakistan and the large-scale evacuation of American citizens from Lebanon in 2006.
On Oct. 1, 2008, the DoD transferred responsibility for Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, and Somalia to the newly established Africa Command. Egypt, home to Exercise Bright Star, the DoD's largest reoccurring military exercise, remained in the USCENTCOM Area of Responsibility.
Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve
On Oct. 17, 2014, the Department of Defense formally established Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) in order to formalize ongoing military actions against the rising threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq & Syria (ISIS). Fueled by sectarian conflicts and division, ISIS ascended from relative obscurity in 2013 to propagate an extremist socio-political ideology, and claimed to have created an Islamic caliphate. Its successful acquisition of conventional weapons, establishment of armed formations, rapid territorial growth and unconscionable atrocities shocked the world and destabilized the region. By June 2014, the security situation in Iraq had deteriorated with the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tikrit falling in rapid succession to ISIS aggressors.
From Oct. 2014 to July 2017, CJTF-OIR, Coalition, Syrian and Iraqi partnered forces working together have made enormous progress denying ISIS aspirations. Coalition forces have defeated insurgent counterattacks, reclaimed thousands of square kilometers of land and significantly weakened the ISIS terror infrastructure in Iraq and Syria.
International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan
ISAF was created in accordance with the Bonn Conference in December 2001. Afghan opposition leaders attending the conference began the process of reconstructing their country by setting up a new government structure, namely the Afghan Transitional Authority. The concept of a U.N.-mandated international force to assist the newly established Afghan Transitional Authority was also launched at this occasion to create a secure environment in and around Kabul and support the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
These agreements paved the way for the creation of a three-way partnership between the Afghan Transitional Authority, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and ISAF.
On Aug. 11, 2003, NATO assumed leadership of the ISAF operation, ending the six-month national rotations. The alliance became responsible for the command, coordination and planning of the force, including the provision of a force commander and headquarters on the ground in Afghanistan.
ISAF transitions to NATO's Resolute Support mission
Jan. 1, 2015, the ISAF era came to an end when the command transitioned to NATO's Resolute Support mission. The new mission focuses on training, advising and assisting the Afghan government and security forces in pursuit of a strong, stable Afghanistan.
Current USCENTCOM commander Gen. Joseph L. Votel assumed command on March 30, 2016.