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Petraeus appears before Armed Services Committee

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US Central Command Confirmation Hearing: Opening Statement

General David H. Petraeus

Commander, Multi-National Force–Iraq

22 May 2008

Video image of Gen. David Petraeus as he answers senators' questions Thursday. Petraeus has been nominated to command United States Central Command. (Pentagon Channel)
Video image of Gen. David Petraeus as he answers senators’ questions Thursday. Petraeus has been nominated to command United States Central Command. (Pentagon Channel)

Mr. Chairman, Senator McCain, Members of the Committee, thank you for your swift scheduling of this hearing. I’m honored to have been nominated to command the US Central Command and to have an opportunity, if confirmed, to continue to serve our nation in a critical region. Beyond that, I’m delighted that LTG Ray Odierno has been nominated to command the Multi-National Force-Iraq, and I’m grateful to him for his willingness to take on this position and to his family for their sacrifice as well.

As has been noted already this morning, one of this Committee’s senior members has just had a big rock added to his rucksack, and I want to take this opportunity to applaud Senator Kennedy’s inspirational spirit as he embarks on a course of treatment that we all hope will lead to a quick return to full duty.

As the members of this Committee know, the US Central Command is in its seventh consecutive year of combat operations and the CENTCOM Area of Responsibility contains numerous serious challenges. The AOR includes 27 states and some 650 millionpeople from at least 18 major ethnic groups. Stability in the region is threatened by a variety of religious, ethnic, and tribal tensions, not to mention transnational terrorist organizations, insurgent elements, piracy, and inadequate economic development. The region is rich in oil reserves, but poor in fresh water. Economic conditions vary enormously, with annual percapita incomes ranging from a low of $200 to a high of over $70,000. In 22 of the 27 states in the AOR, young people aged 15-29 constitute over 40% of the population, and economic opportunities are often insufficient to meet their expectations.

Although the region is diverse, several transnational concerns affect many of its states. I’d like to quickly review these concerns and then discuss specific challenges and opportunities within its sub-regions. I will conclude by outlining concepts I will use, if confirmed, to guide the refinement of CENTCOM’s regional security strategy.

TRANSNATIONAL CONCERNS

A survey of the CENTCOM AOR reveals four primary transnational concerns. The first is violent extremism. Al Qaeda is, of course, the highest priority terrorist threat to many states in the region as well as to the United States and many of our allies around the world; however, other extremist groups also threaten security in the CENTCOM region. In addition, Tehran and Damascus support militant groups and proxies that challenge the stability and sovereignty of several states in the AOR.

The second transnational concern is the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and of WMD-related components and technical expertise. The lack of transparency in efforts by countries such as Iran and Syria to develop their nuclear programs is a major concern to states in the region and could spark a destabilizing regional arms race. Nuclear proliferation also, of course, creates fears about the acquisition of nuclear devices by transnational terrorist groups.

A third concern is the lack of sustainable economic development in a number of the region’s countries. This is not just a domestic social or humanitarian issue; it is a serious security concern as well, for without economic opportunity, poor and disenfranchised communities can serve as hotbeds for the spread of violent extremism. Indeed, we have seen this in a number of areas in the region in recent years.

A fourth transnational concern encompasses narcotics and arms trafficking, piracy, and smuggling. These damage societies, threaten legitimate commerce and the flow of strategic resources, and often benefit terrorist networks. These activities must be addressed if international efforts to combat terrorist financing are to succeed.

These transnational concerns are interrelated and have different manifestations across the sub-regions of the CENTCOM AOR. While they constitute far from an exhaustive list of challenges in the AOR, they do provide perspective as we turn to the sub-regions and theirchallenges.

“REGION OF REGIONS:” CHALLENGES & OPPORTUNITIES

The CENTCOM AOR can, in fact, be described as a “region of regions,” consisting of the Arabian Peninsula and Gulf States; Central and South Asia; the Levant; and the Horn of Africa.

The Arabian Peninsula and Gulf States

The Arabian Peninsula and Gulf States comprise a region of vast complexity and strategic importance.

In Iraq, Iraqi and Coalition forces continue to build on the security gains of the past 15 months as we also continue to reduce US forces and transition responsibility to Iraqi Security Forces, strive to maintain the conditions necessary for political progress, help build governmental capacity, and seek to foster economic development. I should note here that the number of security incidents in Iraq last week was the lowest in over four years and it appears that the week that ends tomorrow will see an even lower number of incidents. This has been achieved despite having now withdrawn 3 of the 5 Brigade Combat Teams that will have redeployed without replacement by the end of July. Recent operations in Basrah, Mosul, and now Sadr City have contributed significantly to the reduction in violence, and Prime Minister Maliki, his government, the Iraqi Security Forces, and the Iraqi people deserve considerable credit for the positive developments since Ambassador Crocker and I testified a month-and-a-half ago. In the months ahead, Coalition Forces will continue to work closely with the Iraqi Security Forces in pursuing Al Qaeda–Iraq, their extremist partners, and militia elements that threaten security in Iraq. And though, as always, tough fights and hard work lie ahead, I believe that the path that we are on will best help achieve the objective of an Iraq that is at peace with itself and its neighbors, that is an ally in the war on terror, that has a government that serves all Iraqis, and that is an increasingly prosperous and important member of the global economy and community of nations.

Iran continues to be a destabilizing influence in the region. It persists in its non-transparent pursuit of nuclear technology and continues to fund, train, and arm dangerous militia organizations. Iran’s activities have been particularly harmful in Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, and Afghanistan. In each location, Tehran has, to varying degrees, fueled proxy wars in an effort to increase its influence and pursue its regional ambitions.

Even as we work with leaders in the region to help protect our partners from Iranian intimidation or coercion, however, we must also explore policies that over the long term offer the possibility of more constructive relations, if that is possible. Together with regional and global partners, we need to seek ways to encourage Iran to respect the integrity of other states, to embrace nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, and to contribute to regional stability rather than regional instability.

Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates are important partners in efforts to promote regional stability and improve regional economic and military cooperation. Our relationships with these states present many opportunities for advancing common economic and security interests, such as engagement via the Gulf Security Dialogue. We need to continue our strong, productive relationships with each of them as we strive to deal with the challenges that confront them and the Gulf Region.

Central and South Asia

The countries of Central and South Asia region face a variety of economic and security challenges, but they, too, offer abundant engagement, and partnership opportunities.

In Afghanistan, our focus is on helping the elected government expand governance, security, and economic opportunity while defeating insurgent and terrorist threats. In assessing the situation in Afghanistan, it is important to recognize that we and our Coalition partners are helping that country build, not merely re-build, for even before its thirty years of war, Afghanistan was one of the poorest countries in the world. Exploiting the security provided by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, many Coalition countries are striving to help Afghanistan achieve sustainable economic development and assisting with the provision of basic services, the development of infrastructure, and the creation of legitimate alternatives to poppy farming. Due to the scale of the challenges involved and the difficulties in the security arena, in particular, we should expect Afghanistan to require substantial international commitment and support for many years to come.

Afghanistan’s neighbor, Pakistan, has been an important partner in efforts to combat terrorism; however, the newly elected government faces serious economic difficulties and energy shortages, and it is still solidifying its coalition and coming to grips with how to respond to internal threats that have global implications. We have seen, for example, growth in Taliban and Al Qaeda capability and control in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Northwest Frontier Province. Foreign fighters continue to flow from Pakistan into Afghanistan, where they are a violent and destabilizing influence. One of our challenges will be to help increase the capability of Pakistani security forces, which are not adequately trained or equipped to secure their border or to deal with the growth of terrorist elements and the insurgency in the FATA. It is clear that we and other countries supporting Pakistan should support Islamabad as Pakistani leaders develop a comprehensive approach tocountering extremist and insurgent activity.

In Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, abundant opportunities exist for building security, political, and economic partnerships and for pursuing common interests. To varying degrees, we have, in fact, partnered in security efforts and in countering terrorism with these countries in the past and we will have similar opportunities in the future. U.S. partnerships can also help these countries’ efforts to build governmental capacity and continue economic growth, while also reducing the prospects that extremism will gain influence and be exported.

The Levant and Egypt

In the Levant, we see continuing challenges of instability and terrorist activity and facilitationin Lebanon and Syria, even as we enjoy robust security partnerships with Jordan and Egypt.

In Lebanon, the government is grappling with the political and militia activities of Lebanese Hezbollah. Recently, Hezbollah attempted to break the political deadlock through violent action, forcing Sunni Arabs from some neighborhoods in Beirut and intimidating the government and Lebanese Armed Forces. Yesterday’s agreement between the Lebanese government and the Hezbollah-led opposition needs to be seen in that context, as it highlights the need to support regional efforts to help Lebanon as it seeks to deal with destabilizing Syrian and Iranian influences.

Syria presents another set of challenges. Of particular concern to Iraq, the Syrian government has taken inadequate measures to stem the flow of foreign fighters through Syria to join Al Qaeda elements in northern Iraq. Damascus also continues to undermine stability in Lebanon by encouraging and enabling violent opposition to the elected government. Finally, Syria’s apparent effort to develop secret nuclear facilities is also very troubling. The region obviously would be more secure were Syria to realize that neither harboring terrorist facilitators nor sparking a regional arms race is in Syria’s best interests.

As with Iran, the challenge with Syria will be to find approaches that can convince Syrian leaders that they should be part of the solution in the region rather than a continuing part of the problem. Hopefully, yesterday’s announcement of renewed peace talks between Syria and Israel marks a first step toward that end.

Jordan and Egypt are important partners in U.S. counter-terrorism efforts, and they help to promote regional stability by encouraging neighboring states to participate constructively in the Middle East Peace Process. In addition, Jordan plays an influential role in helping inform attitudes in the Arab world on the situation in Iraq. Maintaining our robust partnerships with these countries can enable us to sustain mutually beneficial security and economic ties.

Horn of Africa

As it currently stands, the Horn of Africa is another sub-region in the CENTCOM AOR. With responsibility for this area — which includes Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Seychelles — scheduled for transfer to AFRICOM, CENTCOM’s challenge will be to provide a seamless transition of responsibilities and to establish effective coordination and liaison with AFRICOM to ensure unity of effort in the conduct of various counter-terrorist and counter-piracy missions.

GUIDING PRINCIPLES

Having quickly addressed transnational challenges and the challenges in the regions of the CENTCOM AOR, I’d like to briefly discuss some broad principles that will guide our efforts if I am confirmed. These approaches are consistent with those pursued by CENTCOM under the leadership of Admiral Fallon and, now, General Dempsey.

First, we will seek to strengthen international partnerships. We will continue to pursue strong bilateral and multilateral partnerships and to identify, further develop, and pursue mutual interests. Regional partnerships and consensus can create leverage and deter destabilizing actors. Of course, the pursuit of common interests requires robust, two-way engagement—understanding and accommodating the concerns of others even as we understandably seek to pursue our own. Engagement will be a central aspect of my responsibilities as the CENTCOM commander, if confirmed.

Second, in most if not all of our activities, we will partner with other departments and agencies within the U.S. government, taking a “whole of government” approach to the challenges and opportunities of the CENTCOM AOR. In most of the issues we will address, a purely military approach is unlikely to succeed, and our strategy must recognize that. Indeed, many of you will recall that the campaign plan in Iraq is a joint US Embassy-Iraq and MNF-I product, not merely a military one; a combined approach should also be a central feature of our efforts in the CENTCOM AOR.

Third, and related, if I am confirmed, we will pursue comprehensive efforts and solutions in the region, attempting to address with our partners not just the symptoms of current conflicts but also their underlying causes. Last month in my testimony, I explained the strategy we have adopted in pursuing Al Qaeda-Iraq, acting along multiple lines of operation and employing a variety of kinetic and non-kinetic approaches. We will seek to apply a similar strategy writ large in the CENTCOM AOR, recognizing that enduring security and stability require comprehensive economic, political, social, and diplomatic efforts, as well as military means.

Finally, we should both support the ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and ensure readiness for possible contingency operations in order to be prepared to assist in the event of natural disasters, to ensure sufficient deterrence of actions that might threaten regional partners, and, if necessary, to be ready to defeat aggressors that threaten our vital interests in the region.

If I am confirmed, these concepts will guide our approach at CENTCOM and inform the refinement of the strategy employed to address the challenges and opportunities in the CENTCOM AOR.

CLOSING

In closing, I want to thank each of you once again for the tremendous support you continue to provide to our men and women in uniform and to their families. Nothing means more to the wonderful Americans serving in harm’s way or waiting for a loved one at home than knowing that their service and sacrifice are appreciated by their fellow citizens I also want to assure you that, if confirmed, I will work tirelessly to meet my responsibilities as a combatant commander to partner with you, the Service Chiefs, the Chairman, and the Secretary to help ensure that those serving our Nation in uniform have the best equipment available, the best care possible for those wounded or injured, and the best preparation for the challenging tasks we ask our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen to perform in combat. This is a sacred obligation that I take very seriously.

This Committee knows well the extraordinary performance of our troopers downrange. Their selfless commitment to duty has, in fact, been foremost in my mind as I have considered the responsibilities of the CENTCOM Commander. Command of CENTCOM would likely mean carrying the heaviest rucksack I have ever shouldered. But given our service members’ repeated willingness to shoulder their own heavy rucksacks in the toughest, most complex situations imaginable, there can be no alternative but to soldier on with them — drawing strength from them, striving to give energy to them, and pressing on together with them toaccomplish our assigned missions. If confirmed, it will be an honor to do that with them.

Thank you very much.