U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., commander of International Security Assistance Force welcomed Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, Commander of U.S. Central Command during a visit to ISAF Headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan July 26.(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class JoAnn Moravac)
WASHINGTON, Sept. 23, 2013 — Think of the U.S. Central Command, and many Americans’ thoughts go immediately to Afghanistan, unrest in Egypt and in recent weeks, the humanitarian tragedy in Syria.
But Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, who assumed command in March, said what happens in the 20-nation Centcom area of responsibility will remain at the forefront of U.S. national security interests long after the Afghanistan transition is completed and crises dominating today’s headlines are resolved.
“The Centcom area of responsibility is one of the most complex and volatile regions of the world,” the general told American Forces Press Service in an email interview.
“It’s also one of the most important,” he said, “because we have a number of vital interests there, to include the free flow of resources through key shipping lanes – most notably the Strait of Hormuz – defense of our homeland against the threat of terrorism and extremism, and the prevention of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”
Austin has spent much of his career dealing with these challenges, both in the theater and at the Centcom headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla.
In 2003, Austin helped to lead the invasion into Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as the assistant division commander for maneuver for the 3rd Infantry Division. Next, he commanded the 10th Mountain Division and Combined Joint Task Force 180 in Afghanistan. Then, from 2005 to 2006, he served as the chief of staff at Centcom headquarters, before returning to Iraq in 2008, where he served as the commander of Multinational Force Iraq.
During Austin’s third and final deployment to Iraq, beginning in 2010, he served as the commander of U.S. Forces Iraq, overseeing the drawdown and transition of forces and equipment and the eventual conclusion of the conflict in December of 2011.
If there’s a central lesson that’s been reinforced through these experiences, Austin said, it’s that what happens in the Centcom area of responsibility matters to the United States and its interests.
“That is why it’s so critical that we remain present and engaged, because we recognize that any kind of instability in that part of the world can have significant impacts on not only the region, but also our economy, the world’s economy and the safety and security of our people and interests,” Austin said.
This reality has shaped Austin’s priorities for the command, and efforts that he said are evenly focused on three principal objectives: “Engage, Prevent, Shape.”
That, he explained, means engaging regionally to deal with ongoing conflicts—in Afghanistan, Syria, Iran and, more broadly, the war on terror. It means preventing confrontations—between Sunnis and Shiias, Arabs and Israelis, Pakistan and India—from escalating into conflicts. And it requires dealing with potentially destabilizing situations, such as the Arab Awakening and the perception that the United States is withdrawing from the region.
By necessity, much of the attention is focused on the near-term crises in the Centcom area of responsibility, which include the conflict in Afghanistan, the civil war in Syria, heightened tensions with Iran and the global war on terrorism and extremism, he noted.
“Our goal is to address the near-term challenges and to return things to the way they were pre-crisis, and we also want to do what we can to prevent further conflict,” Austin said. “Meanwhile, we want to help shape outcomes for the future and move things toward greater security and stability in the region.
“This is accomplished in a number of ways,” he continued. “Certainly, among them are our continuing efforts to strengthen our regional partnerships and build partner capacity in that most important part of the world.”
Austin said he recognizes that the many significant challenges confronting Centcom require no less than a total team effort.
“Success will be measured in the accrual of contributions made by many individuals over time. And, in fact, we may not see the fruits of our labors for months or even years,” he said. “However, our goal is to set the right conditions to enable progress to be made and sustained in this most important and volatile part of the world.”
Biography: Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III