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Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Rogers, distinguished members of the House Armed Services Committee, I appear before you proudly representing the 70,000 men and women of the United States Central Command.
It's a great pleasure to be with you here today. It's my duty to testify, of course, but I have to say it's also a privilege to address this body and all the greater honor to do so sitting beside the acting secretary of defense, Ms. Dory, and the commander of U.S. Africa Command, General Steve Townsend.
Since my last testimony, the region has continued to evolve, and it remains as dynamic as ever. With the president's announcement last week, we are focused on working closely with the Afghan government and our NATO allies to responsibly conclude Operation Resolute Support in Afghanistan.
This is my main effort at present, but it's not my only responsibility. My private sector addresses our other missions in detail. The United States and our NATO allies sent forces to Afghanistan nearly 20 years ago, and the president has judged that now is the appropriate time to redeploy and reposition these forces so that they're better arrayed to deter adversaries and respond to threats globally, including those in the Central Command region.
Our singular purpose in Afghanistan has been to ensure that Al Qaida and other violent extremist organizations could never again plot, prepare, and perpetrate attacks against the United States and our allies from the refuge of that country. The campaign has evolved considerably over the years, from active combat operations with U.S. and NATO forces in the lead to advisory efforts designed to enhance the Afghan national defense and security forces' ability to conduct their own campaigns against violent extremist organizations. That there has not been another 9/11 is not an accident. It is the cumulative product of these efforts.
We will now conclude our Afghanistan-based advise and support mission. We are further planning now for continued counterterrorism operations from within the region, ensuring that the violent extremist organizations fighting for their existence in the hinterlands of Afghanistan remain under persistent surveillance and pressure.
Ever since 12 September 2001, when our allies invoked Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, we have done everything in Afghanistan within a partnership framework, and that will not change in the months ahead. We are planning collaboratively with our interagency and international partners and we'll take all measures to ensure the safe and orderly withdrawal of all of our forces and those of our partners from Afghanistan.
This includes positioning significant combat power to guard against the possibility that the Taliban decision to interfere in any way with our orderly redeployment.
I'd now like to briefly summarize some other challenges in the region. While Iran has itself avoided state-on-state attacks on U.S. forces, since last January, strikes on the Al Asad and Erbil air bases, it continues to menace regional partners and the free flow of commerce through the use of proxies and the proliferation of armed unmanned aerial systems and other munitions. Its pursuit of regional hegemony remains the greatest source of instability across the Middle East.
In Iraq and Syria, the campaign to eliminate the threat posed by ISIS has entered a new phase. In Iraq, we are engaged in a strategic dialogue with the Iraqi government to determine the nature of our security relationship. ISIS's so-called physical caliphate is no more, but its toxic ideology lives on. The problem is especially acute in communities ravaged by conflict and at sprawling camps for displaced persons, where ISIS preys upon vulnerable populations.
What has accelerated in the last year is the influence of China and Russia, which each in their own way are attempting to subvert the rules-based international order and to gain strategic influence in the Middle East. China's activity in the region takes the form of economic investment, arm sales, and other overtures.
Russia has made an 18th century power play in Syria, propping up the murderous Assad regime. The Middle East remains key terrain, and I believe China and Russia will continue to expand their efforts to improve their position in the region and diminish U.S. standing wherever possible.
The CENTCOM area of responsibility is the most cyber-contested theater in the world. It is also the proving ground for the proliferation and employment of unmanned weaponized systems, many emanating from Iran. This difficult and complex operational environment provides units inside CENTCOM opportunities to operate and to conduct realistic training within an environment that exists nowhere else in the world. I can state as a matter of fact that the units and ships assigned to CENTCOM are as ready as any in the joint force.
The weeks and months ahead will see us execute a very complicated and demanding military operation to withdraw U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan. This is presently the main effort of my command, and we have tools necessary to accomplish the task.
With that, I look forward to answering your questions. Thank you, sir.