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DoD Transcripts

TRANSCRIPT | April 3, 2019

General Joseph Votel House Armed Services Committee Hearing on U.S. Central Command


MARCH 7, 2019

     REP. ANDY KIM, D-N.J.






     SMITH:  Good morning. I'll call the meeting to order. Welcome.

     Before we get started, just one quick announcement. I made the announcement yesterday (inaudible). We -- we are going to, on the questioning, go in reverse order this morning; so least senior and on up.

     So, welcome to this hearing. We are having our posture hearing this morning focusing on CENTCOM and AFRICOM. And we are very honored this morning to have with us General Thomas Waldhauser, who's the commander of U.S. Africa Command; and General Joseph Votel, who's the commander of U.S. Central Command; as well as Ms. Kathryn Wheelbarger, who's the acting assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.

     I want to begin by thanking General Votel and General Waldhauser. I know you're very sad that this is your last opportunity to testify before Congress and have this hearing, but I want to make special note of it and thank you both for -- for years of outstanding service to our country. It's been a pleasure working with both of you.


     And this morning, we are going to hear specifically from you about what is going on in your areas of responsibility, and they are areas where there is a lot going on in terms of our national security concerns.

     Beginning in Africa, we have a presence throughout that continent, and there are number of issues we're concerned about. I think it begins with the threat from transnational terrorist groups, both in the Horn of Africa and in West Africa as well.

     We look forward to hearing an update on how our efforts are going there, both to keep those transnational terrorist threats at bay. Also, how are we working with our various partners both in the region and allies in NATO to help contain that threat. And then the overall issue in that region continues to be stability, particularly in Somalia and Libya and how are we doing on building sustainable governments in those places so that we can reduce the threat.

SMITH:  We are also curious, as we have made the -- the -- the transition from better than a decade of primarily focusing on the transnational terrorist threats, to a new era of great power conflict in Russia and China. And Russia and China I know are involved throughout Africa, also in various places within CENTCOM responsibility. So hearing about what they are up to as well will be of concern.

     In CENTCOM, we continue to have a specific focus on Iraq and Syria as the caliphate is just about wiped out. But ISIS is still a presence in that region, as are other transnational terrorist threats. And certainly the same is true in Afghanistan. So getting an update on that is our primary concern.

     As a general rule, we want to try to get to the point where we do not have to have a military presence in as many places in the world as we have. And that's my personal objective. I would like to rely on partners, reduce the necessity of us having troops abroad. But at the same time, we have to make sure that we are meeting our national security objectives and protecting ourselves from that.

     And the one comment I will make, and I know this is not either of your gentlemen's doing, but we need a consistent policy that our allies can rely on.

     I think it is problematic when we make dramatic, altering decisions in what seems like the blink of an eye, in a presidential tweet. It's not that I don't think we need to get to the point where we reduce our troop presence in Syria and Afghanistan, it's just not something we should do in that ad hoc a manner. It catches our allies off-guard and creates problems.

     I was reading (inaudible) has significantly damaged our relationship with President Macron in France. He was caught completely by surprise by our decision that we were going to pull out of Syria.

     Now, the truth is, we -- we're building towards a drawdown in Syria. The point was we wanted to build up to defeat ISIS, remove the caliphate and get to the point where we could pass responsibility off to partners in the region. And if we had discussions with our allies and announced those plans in a rational way, I think that would help maintain the strength of our alliances.

     So we -- we are concerned by the way the policy seems to bounce around from day to day.

     Same is true in Afghanistan, as the announcement was made a couple months back that we were going to -- I believe the tweet was completely pull out of Afghanistan. I know that hasn't happened and I know there's been updates since then, but a more consistent policy I think would help us maintain our allies and help build the confidence in the United States that is necessary to maintain those allies and maintain our interests.

     I look forward to testimony from both of you.

     And also, Ms. Wheelbarger, appreciate you being here as well. You're not retiring. I'm sorry. It's sort of like -- their day in that regard. But we appreciate your work as well. We thank you all for being here.

     And with that, I will turn it over to the ranking member, Mr. Thornberry.

     THORNBERRY:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

     I too want to welcome our witnesses and express my appreciation and respect for General Votel and General Waldhauser. My understanding is General Votel's change of command will be at the end of this month, General Waldhauser's sometime this summer.

     I think it's worth just stopping for a second and reflecting on the significant progress that has been made against certain terrorist networks in recent years. To me, 2014 doesn't seem that long ago, but ISIS controlled an area the size of Great Britain. And today we're talking about the last village in -- in -- and a tremendous change of affairs on the ground.

     Somalia has been a challenge for us when it comes to terrorism for a long time and my sense is that we have made tremendous progress there as well.

THORNBERRY:  Now, this progress is a result of a lot of folks, including some decisions by this administration to untie the hands of our military to be more effective. But the two gentlemen before us had been at the center of those efforts in various capacities, SOCOM, CENTCOM, AFRICOM, commands on the ground, and each of them has played a leading role in making this progress. And I think it's important to step back and reflect.

     Like you, Mr. Chairman, I -- I share the concerns about where we go going forward. We made a lot of progress on terrorists, but they're not gone. As a matter of fact, in some ways, they -- they've spread out and are more difficult to locate.

     And so we cannot -- we must maintain pressure on terrorist networks, and yet because of the rise in great power competition, our resources have to be spread in a variety of different ways.

     And while we maintain pressure on terrorist networks in CENTCOM and AFRICOM, there is great power competition going on in both of those regions as well, which we cannot lose sight of.

     Many of us have seen that first hand as we travel to Africa, as well as to the Middle East.

     So there's lots of talk about. I want to again just return to appreciation for the -- not only their service, but the successful results of their leadership in these challenges that we've faced. And I look forward to the conversations to come.

     SMITH:  Thank you.

     And we'll begin with Ms. Wheelbarger.

     WHEELBARGER:  Thank you.

     Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Thornberry, distinguished members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to testify on policy matters related to the United States Central Command...

     SMITH:  I apologize, but could you please pull the microphone a little bit closer to your face there?

     WHEELBARGER:  Sure, I'll try to speak up.

     SMITH:  Sorry, thank you.

     WHEELBARGER:  ... alongside commanders General Votel and General Waldhauser.

     I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the men and women of the Department of Defense, their families whose dedication -- and their families, their dedication, their talents and sacrifice enable us to execute our policies around the world every day.

     You said this may be General Votel's last hearing; this is my first. So I wanted to take this opportunity to thank the committee for your strong collaboration and bipartisan support that you provide the Department of Defense. That's a vital contribution this committee makes to our dialogue on defense issues nationwide.

     My time as a senior staff member with national security committees in both the House and then Senate instilled in me a great respect for the leadership that this committee provides and the invaluable contribution you provide -- connection you provide to the American people.

     Students of military history spend a great deal of attention on the relationship between military commanders and statesmen, or rather the proper level civilian oversight of the military -- of military activity and operations.

     An equally important component of military history is understanding national will, and that is the will to see threats clearly, approach them with sound policy, and remain committed to the country's defense even when the cost seems high.

     In the American system, the U.S. Congress is a focal point where thoughtful oversight and sustained national will can come together. It is a noble and sometimes difficult challenge, and we at the department appreciate your unique role in ensuring our military has the resources, authorities and the legitimacy necessary to deter and defeat any foe.

     It is a great privilege and honor for me to be here today with two very devoted commanders to explain our defense policy to these regions. Our policy approach is nested in the guidance from the 2017 National Security Strategy and the 2018 National Defense Strategy.

     In support of the NSS goals to protect the American people, defend the homeland and promote prosperity and peace from a position of strength, the NDS focuses on three aspects of U.S. power:  our lethality, our partners and allies, and our institutions. It sets long-term competition with other states as our top national security priority, even while we continue to address regional and terrorism threats.

     To compete in today's complex security environment, to defend future generations of Americans against near-peer competitors, and to manage ongoing threats from North Korea, Iran and terrorist groups, we must make certain adjustments to our posture.

     We must also avoid prioritizing urgent problems at the expense of building readiness and capacity for potential high-end conflict in the future. We must deter and confront adversaries while avoiding miscalculation or escalation that would distract and ultimately undermine our national security interests.

     In the Middle East and Africa, our policy objective is to increase regional stability and secure and advance U.S. interests working by, with and through a network of international partners. By enhancing the capabilities and capacity of our partners, we reduce the risk to our homeland while increasing the internal security and stability of vulnerable states, often playing a supporting role to other government agencies and partners in the region.

     Specifically with the Middle East, it remains a vital important -- vitally important to our national security interests for four fundamental reasons.

     First, we are involved in active operations at the request of and support to our partners in countering extremists that threaten the region and the homeland.

     Second, the Middle East is the crossroads of global competition with Russia and China.

     Third, we face an aggressive Iran whose actions destabilize the region.

     And finally, our national security and economy depend on open commerce through the Middle East maritime domain and the free flow of natural resources.

     We must remain postured and engaged throughout this region. To that end, DOD's policy objectives are to ensure continued success in our campaign against ISIS and Al Qaida and in support of our partners in the region, while also preparing to compete with China, Russia and Iran for regional and global influence.

     We also invest in sustainable partnerships to reduce vulnerabilities of weak states as part of a whole-of-government effort to address instability. With our partners, we have ongoing CT campaigns in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. We also are investing in defense partnerships that continue to allow us to gain far more than we invest. In Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq and throughout the Gulf, our partners are key to securing our interests in the region.

     We understand the importance and trust emplaced upon the Department of Defense for the security of every American, and our commitment to our national security and prosperity in the theater remains strong, even as we address a host of other current and future threats.

     In Africa -- vast, diverse and dynamic, Africa is a continent of opportunities as well as challenges, with the possibility of surging in either direction. The department must remain engaged in the region to foster positive trends and arrest the negative ones.

     As outlined in the 2018 DOD strategy for Africa, the department will continue to pursue African-led security solutions, while maintaining the ability to act unilaterally to protect U.S. citizens and interests.

     As such, DOD supports whole-of-government -- U.S. whole-of-government efforts to address African security challenges, leverages international partnerships to support U.S. security objectives, maintain strategic access and influence, and seeks low-cost, resource-sustainable and innovative security solutions.

     Employing our by, with and through approach, we use a variety of tools, including capacity-building programs, security systems, military equipment sales, education, training and exercises, to work closely with African and other international partners to achieve our policy goals.

     Those goals are to, first, seek to advance U.S. interests and influence in the region and maintain strategic access, which is especially important in an era of increasing near peer competition.

     Second, we seek to deny safe haven to terrorists and disrupt their ability to direct or support external operations against the U.S.

     Third, we seek to support our Department of State and other interagency colleagues by securing U.S. diplomatic posts.

     Fourth, we strive to grow current partners and develop new relationships.

     And finally, we seek to enhance African partner capability to achieve our shared objectives into the future.

     In conclusion, the department is well positioned to address the range of dynamic issues facing the United States in the Middle East and Africa. Our balanced approach helps ensure the department can meet a variety of present and future threats while enhancing the strength and agility of our forces.

     I thank you for the opportunity to share our views today.

SMITH:  Thank you very much.

     General Votel?

     VOTEL:  Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Thornberry, distinguished members of the committee, good morning and thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. I'm honored to testify alongside acting Assistant Secretary Katie Wheelbarger and my -- my friend and fellow Minnesotan General Tom Waldhauser.

     I come before you today on behalf of the men and women working tirelessly across the Central Command area of responsibility. They are the best, and I'm proud to stand among them as their commander.

     All of these great Americans have families and communities across our country that support their servicemembers from near and far, and we are equally proud and appreciative of their service and sacrifice as well.

     CENTCOM remains a dynamic, challenging, dangerous yet hopeful area of responsibility, an area of great contrast and contradiction, rich with history, culture, youth and resources, but riven with sectarianism, violence, disenfranchisement and economic disparity. It is an area where we retain vital national interests:  preventing attacks on our homeland, countering malign and destabilizing influence, preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and ensuring freedom of navigation and commerce through critical international waterways.

     I'd like to use my time this morning to give you a quick overview of our key ongoing operations and opportunities.

     In Afghanistan, the president's South Asia Strategy is working. The efforts of our special representative for Afghan reconciliation, Ambassador Zal Khalilzad, show there is a path of progress, but there is much left to do to achieve our end-state of reconciliation between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban.

     Toward this end, our military efforts are focused on supporting the Afghan Security Forces and providing Ambassador Khalilzad the maximum military pressure and leverage to support his diplomatic efforts to establish a framework that will lead to an Afghan dialogue, a reduction in violence and ultimately a negotiated settlement.

     Importantly, we cannot forget that Afghanistan was used as a platform to attack our citizens and homeland in 2001, and we have to ensure this never happens again.

     Safeguarding this national interest in preventing violent extremist organizations like Al Qaida and ISIS in the Khorasan from plotting attacks against our country is also a continuing effort for our forces, one that we will need to be prepared to address as long as violent extremists can operate from this region.

     In Iraq and Syria, the unrelenting efforts of the 79-member Defeat-ISIS Coalition, the determination and bravery of the Iraqi Security Forces and our Syrian Democratic Force partners has largely liberated the so-called physical caliphate of ISIS. And area of 34,000 square miles which they once controlled, now reduced to less than a single square mile.

     The reduction of the physical caliphate is a monumental military accomplishment. But the fight against ISIS and violent extremism is far from over. While ISIS has been battered by the Syrian Democratic Force and coalition forces, we should be clear that what we are seeing now is not the surrender of ISIS as an organization, but a calculated decision to preserve the safety of their families and preservation of their capabilities by taking their chances in camps for internally displaced persons and going aground in remote areas and waiting for the right time to resurge.

     Recent observations by our men and women on the ground highlight that the ISIS population being evacuated from the remaining vestiges of the caliphate largely remain unrepentant, unbroken and radicalized. We will need to maintain a vigilant offensive against this now widely dispersed and disaggregated organization that includes leaders, fighters, facilitators, resources and, of course, their toxic ideology.

     And the broader international community will need to determine how we deal with the thousands of fighters and family members now being held and safeguarded by the Syrian Democratic Forces. In my view, this is a serious generational problem and if not handled properly will sow the seeds of future violent extremism.

     As the defeat-ISIS campaign in Syria transitions from liberating terrain to enabling local security forces in addressing the ISIS clandestine insurgency, we will continue our deliberate withdrawal of forces and capabilities as directed by the president, but also retain a residual force on the ground to continue our mission and safeguard our interests. These details are being developed now and will emphasize campaign continuity and capitalize on the contributions of our coalition partners.

     In Yemen, the fragile cease-fire on the port of Hudaydah is a promising, albeit increasingly challenging to implement, step, demonstrating some willingness on both sides of the conflict to negotiate and end this humanitarian disaster. Towards this objective, CENTCOM supports the diplomatic efforts and work of the United Nations special envoy to facilitate the peace process by providing advice and assistance and serving as an interlocutor through our trusted relationships in the region.

     We also remain steadfast in reminding the Saudi-led coalition partners of their obligations under the law of armed conflict and ensuring that the fight in Yemen does not spread across the region, sowing more instability and threatening critical infrastructure and U.S. lives and interests.

     In Yemen, we also face a threat from violent extremist groups. To address this, we work closely with our indigenous partners to disrupt these organizations, to ensure they do not have the capability or opportunity to attack our country or citizens or those of our partners.

     I assess that our current efforts are keeping these organizations in a state that limits their ability to conduct external operations. We must continue to do this.

     Against the backdrop of these conflicts is the Iranian regime. Their efforts are not limited to the support they provide to the Houthis in Yemen. They strive to be a regional hegemon and use malign influence to (ph) qualitatively and quantitatively expand the capabilities and facilitation and support to multiple proxies to exert pressure, threaten other countries in the region, supplant U.S. and Western influence, and threaten access to critical waterways vital to global commerce.

     Our military efforts here are focused on supporting the broader U.S. government pressure campaign, through deterrence, assurance and competition. Our long-standing military relationships with partners across the region are critical to this effort. The Iranian regime remains a long-term destabilizing factor in this region.

     We do see reasons for optimism across the region. The capabilities and resilience of the Afghan special operations forces are notable and mark them as a reliable counterterrorism partner for the future. The emerging relations -- emerging relationships in the Central Asian states look to provide us opportunities in an area long dominated and influenced by Russia and China.

     And the Iraqi Security Force that has risen from the ashes of 2014 and now proudly and capably protects their country against ISIS resurgence can be a bulwark to future extremism.

     Egyptian armed forces have more effectively fought ISIS in the Sinai and are now taking active measures to address the underlying issues that give life to these violent extremist groups and are helping to contain the threat.

     Steadfast partners like Jordan are making the most of the support we provide to maintain their singularly unique role of moderation in the region.

     A highly innovative and increasingly professional Lebanese armed force is emerging as a legitimate protector of their nation and a good partner to us.

     And partners across the Gulf join us in countering terrorism, providing security in the maritime environment, and effectively defending against missile threat.

VOTEL:  And so it goes in the central region today and every day:  great promise and opportunity mixed with contradiction and conflict.

     Let me conclude my remarks where I started, with our people and their families. They are the best America has to offer and they continually demonstrate commitment and devotion to our nation, our mission, and to each other. They deserve the best equipment, the best pay, the best healthcare and the best housing.

     Their commitment is surpassed only by the families that support them and they deserve our best as well. As I conclude my tour in the next few weeks as the commander of U.S. Central Command, I want to thank all of you, members of this committee and your staff, and indeed, all of the members of Congress and the staff for your strong support to our men and women in uniform, our Department of Defense civilians and their families.

     I ask for your continued support to provide our service men and women everything they need to accomplish their missions and lead healthy, fulfilling lives and continuing service to our nation. Thank you again for allowing me to represent CENTCOM before you today. I look forward to your questions.

     SMITH:  Thank you. General Waldhauser?

     WALDHAUSER:  Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Thornberry, distinguished members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to update you on the efforts of United States Africa Command. I'm also honored this morning to be here with General Votel and Assistant Secretary Wheelbarger to discuss the challenges we face in our respective areas of responsibility. I would like to begin this morning by remembering the soldier we lost on the continent during operations in Somalia this past year.

     I offer my sincere condolences to the family of Staff Sergeant Alexander Conrad. We honor his commitment, service, and dedication to duty. We also honor the sacrifice of our African partners who paid the ultimate price advancing peace and development across the African continent. Additionally, we thank our families, our service members, our civilian workforce, especially those who serve on the continent, oftentimes in remote locations, for their professionalism and commitment to AFRICOM's mission.

     2019 marks the beginning of AFRICOM's second decade as a combatant command. As we enter this period, we've adopted our strategy for Africa based on updated national guidance which includes the president's 2017 National Security Strategy and the secretary of defense's 2018 National Defense Strategy. Specifically, the national defense strategy has shaped the focus of the armed services, outlining broad guidance to enhance readiness for high-end combat while instructing the combatant commands, among other things, to strengthen alliances and attract new partners.

     The recently released U.S. strategy toward Africa, the Department of Defense strategy for Africa, and the National strategy for counterterrorism, we focused our whole-of-government approach in the era of great power competition to advance U.S. influence and maintain strategic access across the globe. Taken comprehensively, the overall U.S. strategic interests in Africa are very clear. Support the U.S. whole-of-government efforts to address security challenges, leverage partnerships to prevent transnational threats from overwhelming African governments or endangering U.S. interests, maintain strategic access and advance American influence, including economic opportunities, counter violent extremist organizations, and protect U.S. citizens in the homeland.

     To underscore the strategy for disrupting extremists, we remain committed to synchronizing our kinetic authorities. Persistent pressure on Al-Shabaab, ISIS, and Al-Qaida-associated groups remains necessary to prevent the destabilization of African nations. U.S. strategic interests on the continent cannot be solely advanced through the use of military force alone. AFRICOM uses the military tool in concert with diplomacy and development in order to negate the drivers of conflict and create opportunity for the African citizens.

     In Somalia, we work closely with the ambassador, now permanently located in Mogadishu, and the USAID mission director to help the Somalis assume responsibility for their own security and prosperity. In Libya, our counterterrorism commitment supports the U.S. Charger (ph) who works closely with the international community to prevent civil conflict and facilitate the political reconciliation process.

     Additionally, our engagements, exercises, and activities throughout Africa, are designed to increase U.S. influence, strengthen local security forces, and ensure our status as the preferred security partner. For example, in East Africa, our programs continue to modernize partner security forces, as in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda, who export security and contribute forces to the African Union Mission in Somalia.

     In North Africa, we have seen significant return on investment with Tunisia and Morocco, demonstrating the capacity to absorb advanced U.S. programs and lead the security-related exercises and operations. AFRICOM provides training, advice, and assistance to the western African nations which make up the G5's health force (ph) as well as the multinational joint task force working to contain violent extremism and secure the borders within the Lake Chad Basin countries.

     Our partner networks and influence ensures access for U.S. forces in times of crisis to protect U.S. personnel and facilities such as in Djibouti, a location with strategic significance to multiple combatant commands. In conclusion, the most important use of the U.S. military tool on the African continent is when our engagements emphasize relationships, capacity building, and professionalism.

     Our activities go beyond military maneuvers and tactics. They focus on a range of professional values such as respect for the rule of law, human rights, and the integration of gender perspectives. I am proud to lead a team of professionals who have built strong and trusting relationships with African partners, the U.S. interagency, and the international community to foster security, stability, and prosperity in Africa.

     On behalf of the service members, civilian employees, and the families of United States Africa Command, thank you for your support and thank you for the opportunity to be with you here this morning.

     SMITH:  Thank you all very much. When we get into the questions, as this comes up (ph), we try to keep it to five minutes. So -- and I apologize to the witnesses. If we hit the five-minute marks, I'll try to cut you off. If there's a question you haven't answered sometimes, you can submit that for the record. But we try to keep it to five minutes both in terms of the answers and the questions. With that, we'll start with Ms. Luria.

     LURIA:  Thank you to the witnesses for being here today and thank you, Ms. Wheelbarger, for mentioning the Middle East maritime domain because that's what I would like to focus on today. Approximately five years ago, the Navy -- the Navy implemented the optimized fleet response plan, which resulted in more surge capability but less deployed on-station time for our carriers, basically switching from a 24-month cycle to a 36-month cycle.

     And General Votel, in F.Y. 2019, was your request for carrier strike group presence met?

     VOTEL:  Congresswoman, no, we did not have carriers all the time that we would -- we would like them and so we had to work additional -- we had to work solutions that included other platforms and other coalition partners to help -- to help meet those requirements.

     LURIA:  So, understanding that this is an unclassified hearing, could you quantify just maybe 1/2, 1/5, 1/3? Approximately the amount of carrier presence you received versus what you requested?

     VOTEL:  Congressman, I'll take that for the record so I can give you a precise answer.

     TRAHAN:  So you alluded to this a little bit in your previous comment, but was your allocation for carrier presence sufficient to meet your ongoing security needs that you have in the region?

     VOTEL:  It is -- the presence that we have had has been sufficient to support the ongoing operations that we have been supporting in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria in conjunction with our land based capabilities.

     TRAHAN:  And would you feel that they meet the requirements that you have for maintaining maritime presence in the AOR?

     VOTEL:  In some cases, we have been challenged in these areas of continuing to do that. So this again is something that we have to -- we have to work with our coalition partners on to help offset this in place -- in time -- at times when we will not have the presence that we -- that we would -- that we would like, and we look to use our coalition partners to help do that.

     And I think we've -- we've successfully done that.

     TRAHAN:  So pivoting back to the impacts on you as a combatant commander of the optimized fleet response plan, and the idea that it creates more surge capability versus more deployed capability, as a combatant commander, which of those is more important to you?

     VOTEL:  Well I think certainly in CENTCOM, a key part of our responsibilities is assurance, and we do that through our presence and engagements under (ph) the things we do and deterrence against, you know, the influences in the region that would pursue malign -- malign activity.

     So those -- those to me are -- are the most important -- important aspects that they provide for us, and then of course, you know, directly supporting the freedom of navigation and commerce through the critical chokepoints that exist in the CENTCOM area of responsibility.

     TRAHAN:  So, to leverage on your comments, the surge capability that's being created by the optimized fleet response plan where the carriers are, for the most part, remaining CONAS (ph) but available on demand, obviously adding a transit time to report to your theater is limiting some of the capability you might have to respond in a contingency.

     VOTEL:  Well I think we're early on in the concept right now, so, you know, I know the -- I know the department has successfully done this in other combatant commands. I've benefited from some of that capability residually being able to operate in my area and come down in my area.

     So we will look for opportunities, we are looking for opportunities where we can -- we can apply that concept as well. So I'm -- I think -- I think we have a ways to go yet to -- to -- before we declare that this is not a concept that works.

     No I think -- I think we've seen it work in other combatant commands and we look forward to trying it in CENTCOM as well.

     TRAHAN:  OK, so finally just to wrap up, do you feel confident in your ability to execute contingency plans potentially from our adversaries who might become a maritime threat within the region based off of the limited carrier presence that you've had over the last year?

     VOTEL:  Congresswoman, I do. I do.

     TRAHAN:  Thank you, I yield the balance of my time.

     SMITH:  Mr. Waltz.

     WALTZ:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Gentlemen, thank you. I especially want to thank your families, who truly bare the burden of your service. We -- you love what you do, I know, but they -- they truly have to bare the burden. It's a team effort.

     So I think broadly what the National Defense Strategy is trying to do and it's a tough one is how do we deal with metastasizing Islamic extremist threat, peer competitors, rogue states, Iran, North Korea, overlay with $22 trillion in debt.

     And what strikes me about your AOR is it really is the cross section, it's really the confluence of China's one belt, one road, Russia's Middle East -- push into the Middle East of Iran's hegemony and of course the heart of the extremist threat.

     What -- in reading your written testimony, what concerns me a bit and what I want to ask you about specifically as it comes a couple of the theaters is -- is just kind of language in there shifting to being a supporting command of doing more with less, doing with less resources, particularly in the -- in the AFRICOM AOR and -- and while of course we do and this committee needs to help you invest in those near peer or peer I'd say now adversaries, I'm very worried of the pendulum swinging too far and taking our eye off the ball in this extremist threat that is maybe on its back foot, but is absolutely not defeated.

     In looking at your testimony to the Senate, I think you agree that ISIS and Al-Qaeda, you know, ISIS in particular may be defeated as a caliphate but not as a movement. In fact I'd argue and I'd -- tell me if you disagree, that that movement is growing and metastasizing, particularly across North Africa and absolutely can return to threaten the United States again.

     So looking at Afghanistan in particular where half the world's terrorist organizations emanate, where the 9/11 attacks emanate and reading recent reporting of a withdrawal based on a five year timeline as part of General Miller and -- and Zalmay Khalilzad's negotiations, you know, I feel like I'm getting transported back to 2009 with President Obama announcing withdrawal timelines.

     Do you, General Votel, think timelines as part of our strategy is a good idea and have you been consulted on that timeline, is that your best military advice?

     VOTEL:  I think, Congressman, I think most of us would say that these decisions have to be based more on conditions that on specific times. But I am -- I am certainly aware of -- of the ongoing discussions here, and, you know, have provided my advice.

     My advice is that any decision to reduce forces in Afghanistan should be done in full consultation with our coalition partners, and of course the government of Afghanistan, and should pivot off political progress and the reconciliation process (ph).

     WALTZ:  Do the conditions on the ground now merit a withdrawal? That's both a question for you and for you Ms. Wheelbarger.

     VOTEL:  Congressman, we've not been directed to withdraw and there are no orders to withdraw anything. I know (inaudible)...

     WALTZ:  But do -- in your advice, do the conditions merit a withdrawal, a reduction of forces, but whether it's the conditions of the Afghan army, which I would think we would agree is not ready to stand on its own, or the battlefield conditions from a C.T. perspective.

     VOTEL:  Well it certainly is a function of the conditions on the ground, but it is also a function of the conditions in the political process as well. And so as I -- as I indicated -- as I've talked about my best military advice is that we should -- we should make decisions based on the political process.

     WALTZ:  I'm sorry, General, just in the interest of time, do the conditions now merit a withdrawal in your advice? On -- you know, four years at CENTCOM and on your way out?

     VOTEL:  The political conditions, where we are in the -- in the reconciliation right now don't merit that.

     WALTZ:  OK. General Waldhauser, I only have a few minutes, if I could ask you for the record to submit where we are on American citizen Jeff Woodke, held hostage in Mali, what assets are being dedicated to find him. I think we owe the families that and all American citizens that, where we are, if you could submit that for the record it would be great.

     I understand with optimization, you're shifting to a 25 percent withdrawal in a theater that was already an economy of force, where again, the Chinese and Russians are increasingly involved and we have a growing extremist threat, what are you not able to do with that reduction? What risk are we taking?

     WALDHAUSER:  First of all, Congressman, on the Woodke issue, I will submit that and we can talk about it in a closed session.

     WALTZ:  Thank you.

     WALDHAUSER:  Secondly, with regards to optimization, I know we just have a few seconds left to go here, but I just want to emphasize the fact that optimization on the African continent has to do with counter terrorism strategy only. It's a very small niche.

     And what we've been directed to do and what we said we will do are two different things.

     Moreover, we've been directed to do a cut for the first optimization or adjustment or cut for the first 18 months which takes out the June of 2020, and I think the number the Pentagon has used was about 10 percent. So it's difficult to get in the numbers because they move around all the time, but if you say that there's 6,000 military people on the continent today, then that number is roughly close, within the next 18 months we'll optimize some conventional forces and some special operations forces; primarily in areas where their work is pretty much done...

     SMITH:  I'm sorry, the government's time has expired. (Inaudible) we'll move on to Mr. Golden.

     GOLDEN:  Thank you. And follow up a little bit on my colleague's questioning about Afghanistan General Votel, could -- could you tell us in -- in your opinion if there were a negotiated withdrawal of U.S. forces without a Taliban/Afghan peace deal that accompanied it, could the Afghan Security Forces at this time provide for their own security and maintain a stable government without U.S. forces on the ground or -- or air support on the battlefield?

     VOTEL:  My -- my assessment is Afghan forces are -- are dependent upon the coalition's support that we provide to them.

     GOLDEN:  Thank you. This question is for Assistant Secretary Wheelbarger. You know, it's been widely reported that -- that our government is engaged in -- in peace talks with the Taliban. In your opinion, have you seen any indication at all that the Taliban is willing to consider expanding talks to include the Afghan government at this time?

     WHEELBARGER:  I'll practice by saying that Assistant Secretary Shriver actually is responsible for Afghanistan/Pakistan. I do cover NATO, so it's very important for me to follow what -- we can stay in close alignment with our RSO (ph) colleagues. All indications I have is that every -- the negotiations are proceeding with -- in a positive direction. I think we all agree that its -- its important if we're going to reach the level of agreement where an insurgency is no longer concerned, it's going to have to involve an Afghan/Taliban reconciliation.

     GOLDEN:  So to summarize, given the current security situation on the ground without the same tri-party negotiations and settled peace deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban to include United States, we're -- we're not on -- on -- on, let's say, a roadway to -- to getting to withdrawal?

     WHEELBARGER:  I would have to -- again I would want to defer to my colleagues who cover the specifically. But I -- I do think that we are seeing that this is an opportunity that we have not necessarily seen before and that we will -- we will continue to -- the military is -- is -- is posed -- poised to continue supporting the efforts of the reconciliation talks.

     GOLDEN:  Thank you. Just shifting gears little bit, and General Waldhauser, Semper Fi, very good to see you, sir. Last year, you testified in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee that climate change was -- was causing some security challenges in Africa and Sahel. It's been about a year and -- and I saw some recent reporting with ICRC noting the temperatures are rising about 1.5 times faster than the global average, and I think in this region, we've got about 50 people who depend upon livestock and therefore need land.

     And I think your comment was that you are seeing grasslands receding on average about a mile per year, which is was pretty significant. I just wanted you the opportunity to hear about a year later to -- to follow up on the testimony and -- and tell us how you perceive the evolving situation in Sahel, what impact climate change is having on the security situation in the region in regards to competition over scarce resources, and how does this impact to the mission of AFRICOM, what kind of steps are you having to taken -- to take in order to ensure that we don't see conflict?

     WALDHAUSER:  The climate change situation continues. The -- the area between the -- in the Sahel between the desert to the north and the Savannah in the south, the grasslands, those continue to receive and this has caused problems between the farmers and herders. And oftentimes governments aren't able to establish control or laws or legislate that particular situation. So consequently, the -- this becomes an opportunity for armed engagement within the -- the various farmer herder populations.

     Secondly -- so that's on the security side if you will -- secondly on the humanitarian side, the issue of -- of food insecurity and -- the displaced personnel is a huge issue which continues. So this climate issue has some security aspects, both kinetically if you will, as well as humanitarian.

     GOLDEN:  Thank you. I yield back my time.

     SMITH:  Thank you. Mr. Bergman.

     BERGMAN:  Thank you, chairman. And General Waldhauser and General Votel, thank you for always during your -- your long and very successful careers, setting the highest standards and being an outstanding example of not only keeping those standards, but raising the bar. You -- as someone who served a few days and uniform myself, I am -- I'm proud as -- as I look at what kind of leadership the young soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen have today. So thank you for your long -- long service.

     A little over decade ago, having had the opportunity to sit in some interesting meetings in places like Fallujah or others, and -- and participating with various entities, tribes who wanted to come and talk to American military leadership, could you, if you will, describe -- I have memories in my mind with those meetings were like, could you describe what security cooperation and coalition building, give a couple examples in your arena some of the -- for some of our folks maybe haven't sent one of those meetings?

     WALDHAUSER:  Thank you, congressman, I'll take a shot at that first. You know, we are building an airstrip on a -- on a Nigerian compound in Agadez, in northern Nigeria -- Niger. And one of the first times I went up there, I met with the local population because they were very interested what was going on. And you have a very, very diverse group of individuals who have different and sometimes overreach in terms of expectations, about what we can do with them.

     And so not only to build the airfield, there we have a significant civil military engagement program so that we work with the schools there to provide desks, we work with the medical people there to provide extra care and we do things like find children who are lost in the middle the desert to help that population.

     So the bottom line is, you -- your actions speak louder than words and sometimes with diverse groups, small things go long way and it's important to understand the capabilities and limitations in their expectations, therefore can be met.

     VOTEL:  Congressman, I'd add that one of the most successful coalition efforts that we have been in CENTCOM is our -- is our coalition maritime force that operates in the waters of the Gulf and in some cases outside of the Gulf, and these involve nations in the region, in fact, some nations from outside of the region who contribute people and -- and ships to -- to the combined maritime forces and help us conduct operations that are focused on counter piracy, on combating terrorism and on providing security in these critical waterways.

     And in all of these cases, we have three subordinate combined maritime forces that operate under that under -- under our-- our naval commander in the region. These are all led by coalition partners and these are all deeply valued relationships and missions by our coalition partners and the authorities and the resources that are provided to us by Congress to maintain these things, I think, are -- are -- are being very well-used. And it is one of the ways we help -- we help make them more resilient and more capable of addressing their own security concerns. So, of many coalition efforts, this is one that stands out in my mind.

     BERGMAN:  Would -- would either of you -- just using Djibouti as an example in an unclassified way, explain why we're there in that particular place and also what other countries might be exerting a presence there now that maybe weren't there a while ago?

     WALDHAUSER:  The strategic geography of -- of Djibouti is significant to our national strategies. And although it's in the AFRICOM AOR, because -- as Djibouti is, various co-coms, to include CENTCOM, utilize that location; CENTCOM, SOCOM, EUCOM, TRANSCOM. So this is a very strategic location for us. And I would tell you this issue of either optimization or being able to share assets, CENTCOM and AFRICOM share assets.

     In this particular case, ISR assets, attack aircraft assets, and we use Djibouti as a hub that allows us to be more efficient in use of some of our material.

     VOTEL:  No, I would absolutely agree and I think it also makes better use of our resources. When we're able to shift resources back and forth across our combatant command boundaries, I think we're -- I think we're making better use of the resources the American people provide to us and I think we're actually being more effective in terms of it.

     So locations like Djibouti, I think, are incredibly important to what's going on. Of course, it sits astride the Bab-el-Mandeb, one of three critical chokepoints. We do see the presence of others in the area, certainly the Chinese have interest here and are steaming in, in the waters of the Central Command on a regular basis ...

     BERGMAN:  Thank you. I -- I hate to cut you off but I know the chairman is going to say my time is expired.


     Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

     SMITH:  Thank you, I appreciate you doing that ...

     BERGMAN:  Thank you.

     SMITH:  ... Doing that for me. Thank you. Ms. Haaland.

     HAALAND:  Thank you, Chairman, Ranking Member, and thank you all for being here this morning. Really appreciate it and thank you for your service to our country. I understand that the framework for the negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban would see Taliban vow to prevent the country from being used as a hub for terrorism in return for a U.S. military withdrawal. While Taliban leaders have recently expressed willingness to acknowledge some fundamental women's rights, I'm deeply concerned that respect for human rights be a corps part of the framework for peace.

     Any negotiated settlement must include respect for human rights and the rights of women in particular. Women's equality is enshrined in the Afghan constitution and the women of Afghanistan should have a seat at the negotiating table. General Votel, can you tell me how the framework addresses the rights of women in Afghanistan and how women are being included in the negotiation process, if you can?

     VOTEL:  Thank you -- thank you, Congresswoman. So, I think at this particular point, where we are in the ongoing talks is that Ambassador Khalilzad's efforts are really focused on -- on developing a framework that can lead to inter-Afghan discussions. And -- and this involves, I think, overcoming some obstacles that -- that right now are preventing the Taliban from talking to the government of Afghanistan. But again, Ambassador Khalilzad is working to those issues.

     And then once that -- once those inter-Afghan discussions are commenced, then I think we will have the opportunity to address the issues that -- that you are talking about directly. But I -- I am aware, while these are being led by our Department of State colleagues, and Ambassador Khalilzad in particular, I am aware that exactly as you state, remains key -- key points that we are interested in -- in ensuring are included in the overall discussions of framework.

     HAALAND:  Thank you so much for that. I'd like to turn now to the Afghan women serving in the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. And if you can answer this question, how many women are currently serving in the Afghan National Army? And how are the challenges in recruitment and retention being addressed? And is that recruitment sustainable?

     VOTEL:  Congresswoman, I'll take that question for the record so I can provide you a precise response.

     HAALAND:  Thank you so much. And this question will go to Assistant Secretary Wheelbarger. Thank you so much for being here. Can you tell me how your office is pursuing the implementation of the United States national action plan on women, peace, and security?

     WHEELBARGER:  I don't directly cover that issue so unfortunately I think I'm going to have to take that for the record and I'll converse with my colleagues who are responsible for it.

     HAALAND:  OK, thank you so much, I'd appreciate that. And I yield back my time, Chairman.

     SMITH:  Thank you. Mr. Mitchell.

     MITCHELL:  Thank you very much and thank you, both of you, for -- join my colleagues in congratulating you on your careers. I wish you well in your retirement. Your families deserve some of your time. I'd like to follow up on Mr. Waltz's questions about AFRICOM, if I could, given the discussions about reducing our footprint there. Could you define for me what impact it may have on our counterterrorism effort in Africa? And does that undermine or threaten some of those efforts?

     WALDHAUSER:  First of all, let me just say that, with regards to the terrorism effort, for sure. Somalia and Libya really have -- there's no impact there. There's no optimization, there's really no cutback. We'll maintain our capability and capacity there. And by the way, those are the two countries on the continent where we have authorities to conduct kinetic operations. In other areas of the continent where we were directed to take a look at this, we looked at the locations where we have been training with partner forces for some time. In some cases, five, six, seven years.

     And so, for the most part, those units are prepared and ready to execute on their own and they have been for quite some time. So that's where we made the cut in our first tranche, if you will. But moreover, we continue to provide intelligence, we'll continue to provide logistics support, and with partners like the French and Western Africa, we have got a great relationship with them and will maintain that partnership.

     So as I said, at the moment, we've been directed to conduct tranche one which takes us out to June of 2020. So that's roughly -- you know, roughly 300 or so people coming off the continent, half of whom are conventional forces. And so at the moment, we don't see a significant issue there. And whether we'll ever be directed to execute the second half is to be determined. And the final point I would make is, what we have told the secretary is that every one of these decisions will be made individually and if we feel that it's not in our best interest to do so, we will reclaim (ph) and push back on the plan that's in place at the moment.

     MITCHELL:  Let me ask you, it may not be appropriate here, but maybe -- maybe in closed session. To summarize, systemic changes have been made since the instance that happened in Niger where we had the four soldiers lose their life there. It may not be appropriate here but I think it's appropriate in terms of some forum to get some feedback on that. I'd like it because I'm concerned a reduced footprint puts more people at risk.

     I was in Landstuhl right before the holidays and spoke with an officer there that's working intelligence. We can't get into where but, frankly, support for him was a long way away. And I'm concerned, given the size of Africa, that we're not putting resources into that that we need to, to deal with that. I guess, let me pivot to the next question, maybe it's more -- for both of you and the secretary, given the increased engagement of China, in particular, in Africa, both in terms of their investment and, with that, almost -- instantaneously comes some military engagement; do we have enough resources there, both military as well as diplomatic and development resources to address those concerns? Because I know we deal with counterterrorism, but we have -- you pure concern is I think we're overlooking

     WHEELBARGER:  Well, I'll start by saying that we definitely see that China's influence in Africa is a key priority for us and our efforts are multilateral in the sense of, we look at all of our activities on the DOD side, whether it be exercises, training missions, military ...

     MITCHELL:  Let me interrupt. I apologize, but as -- he'll be a tough guy on time. The question I have for both of you is, are -- do we have enough resources, both in terms of military, development and diplomacy to address the threats we have in Africa? From -- not just terrorism, but from our near peer (ph) adversaries? That's what I'd like to address. Do we have them? What do we do to get them?

     WHEELBARGER:  I think particularly on the development and the commercial side, where China has a much more focus capability to bring resources to there, we are challenged to keep up. And we could, particularly on the non-military side of our government efforts, we could be seeking ways we should be seeking and I know there is -- the inner agency is very focused on finding ways to compete on -- in the private commercial sphere in particular.

     MITCHELL:  What do you think General?

     WALDHAUSER:  Very quickly, on the Niger thing, we can talk in close session, but the bottom line is, we've instituted -- we've instituted practices and procedures that negate some of the issues that have taken place there in the past as you refer to. With regards to the Chinese and what's important for Africom, in the Defense Department strategy on China, it specifically states in there that we can expect to get no more resources and maybe less. So, that's fine. That's the umbrella, that's the intent. So, my point would be is that we need to -- we have 6,000 or so conventional (ph) forces, plus Special Operation Forces on the continent today, we need to maintain that threshold force in order to accomplish what you just described.

     MITCHELL:  To be that sufficient?

     WALDHAUSER:  It's adequate.

     MITCHELL:  Thank you very much. I appreciate it. I yield back my time.

     SMITH:  They would have to have a dictionary definition between, what's the difference between sufficient and adequate. I'll let you guys discuss that later. Ms. Escobar.

     ESCOBAR:  Good morning. Thank you Mr. Chair and thanks to our panel, thanks especially General Votel and General Waldhauser for your service. Please thank the men and women who serve with your for their service as well, on our behalf.

     I am especially concerned about something that the Chairman mentioned in his opening statements about how our posture meets the threats, and obviously all of here are interested and concerned about that, and what risks exactly, as he said, we are willing to accept and to the question that just came before me and to the definition of adequate, I'd like to expand a little bit on that, what is -- at what point does it become inadequate and what the risks that we will have to accept if we don't move out of the adequate phase?

     WALDHAUSER:  Congresswoman, one of the challenges that we have on the African continent is trying to accurately characterize the threat that we're up against.

     So for example, in optimization -- one of the reasons why the Department gave us the optimization task is because the threats that we are working against aren't necessarily a threat to the homeland and may not be a threat to the region overall.

     Because many of these groups, you have the inner section of Jihadist philosophy with crime, historical influence, criminal activity, shipping of weapons, drugs, people, cattle and so forth.

     So there -- because these groups may hang out a shingle and say we're with ISIS today, they may or may not have the intent or capability to attack outside their particular part of the country. So, that's one of the challenges that we have.

     And so, when it, again, to give -- to come more in compliance with the National Offense Strategy, to get more inline for depth (ph) to dwell time, if you look at some of the threats on the African continent, sometimes it's -- even though they may call themselves Al-Qaeda or ISIS, sometimes it's difficult to say they are a threat to the homeland.

     ESCOBAR:  Well, and last year the Pentagon announced a reduction in forces to the Africom region by 10 percent, obviously over time, but what will that reduction mean?

     WALDHAUSER:  So again, I want to emphasis that 10 percent reduction is in the counterterrorism forces only. And so the conventional forces that are on the continent everyday, right now, conducting -- for example, we have a ship in Port Nigeria today, we have numerous small engagements across the continent. We have exercises that are ongoing that are conducted by our Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corp components, we need to make sure those things maintain. We need to make sure we have threshold force for that.

     And then as we continue to observe and watch the threat from these counterterrorism groups, if we believe they're that at a point where they've grown and their intent is perhaps more along threats to the United States, then we have to go back and ask for that.

     So, in some, I want to make sure that when the line that we're walking away from the continent or we're leaving the continent, you have to remember that the task we were given counterterrorism forces only, we've tried to take forces that have been involved in working with units that have been trained for quite some time and that they're threat to the homeland is questionable at best.

     ESCOBAR:  Thank you. Now despite opening up a military base in Djibouti, some analysts say that China does not intend to grow it's military presence in Africa, but rather use telecommunications, infrastructure projects and trade as their primary tools of influence on the continent. How will these avenues of influence change our ability to work with African partners?

     WALDHAUSER:  Well, there's no doubt about the fact that in Africom we were the only place really on the planet where China has an overseas base, in Djibouti, as we've discussed and we've talked about why that location is important for us and the challenges that it brings to Africom and well as the other combatant commanders.

     One of our key tasks is to maintain influence and gain influence, vis-a-vis the Chinese. And so we want make sure we're the partner of choice and we'll do that militarily through our training, through our equipment sales, because of the quality and so forth, but I think one of the things that needs to be done for the whole of government approach was what the Chinese do very well, is they work at the relationship. The number of high level officials who come to visit, just to say hello and just to work at the relationship is very high and that's very meaningful to the Africans.

     The Africans don't want to be in the middle of a great power competition between the U.S. and China. They want to be our partner of choice, but we have to -- but they'll make decisions in their own best interests at times, but I think one of the, again, one of the things that we have do form a whole of government approach, is if we want to be the partner of choice, we've got work at the relationship with high level visits and engagements.

     ESCOBAR:  Thank you so much General for your testimony today and I'm so glad that I had the opportunity to meet you. I know this is your final hearing, and so I'm -- I feel very fortunate. Thank you for your service.

     SMITH:  Thank you. Mrs. Cheney.

     CHENEY:  Thank you Mr. Chairman. Thank you all very much for being here today. Mr. Chairman, I'd like to enter, for the record, a piece by Tom Joscely and Bill Roggio, "The Cost to Withdraw from Afghanistan."

     SMITH:  Without objection. So ordered.

     CHENEY:  And also, "Al-Qaeda continues to view Afghanistan as a save haven." By the same authors (inaudible) journal. And a third piece by Ambassador Ryan Crocker. I was Ambassador to Afghanistan and this deal is a surrender.

     SMITH:  Without objection. So ordered.

     CHENEY:  Thank you very much. General Votel, I appreciate your determination and your commitment in your testimony and today to talking about how important is that we be guided by conditions on the ground. But I have to say, when I look at the situation in Afghanistan and the policy that I'm afraid we're pursuing now here, it looks like we're aggressively setting those conditions aside, aggressively ignoring the conditions on the ground. In particular, the discussions that are underway that -- that both you and Assistant Secretary Wheelbarger have referenced, that Ambassador Khalilzad is leading, I think you mentioned them as a path to progress, and then Assistant Secretary Wheelbarger said that they were going in a positive direction.

     We seem to be pursuing the same fantasy that we did in the Obama administration ,which is that Al Qaeda is somehow distinct from the Taliban. When I look at what's happened, when I look at the fact that Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of Al Qaeda, has sworn an oath of allegiance to the Taliban. More recently, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the same leader of Al Qaeda claimed that the Taliban's resurrected Islamic emirate of Afghanistan double be, quote, "the nucleus of a new caliphate."

     So when I look at the situation there and I look at the extent to which we are dealing with the very entity that attacked us on 9/11, none of us want what the president has called "endless wars," however it would be far worse if we handed a victory to our jihadist enemies. And it would be God forbid, far worse if we had another mass casualty attack in the United States.

     So I wonder General Votel, if you could point me to anything that the Taliban has said or done to either renounce violence, to abandon their alliance with Al Qaeda, or to say that they'll abide by the Constitution of Afghanistan, that should give us any hope that these talks are anything but a fantasy?

     VOTEL:  Well, they -- they haven't made any of those statements, congresswoman, as you know, but -- but again as -- as I tried to cover in my -- in my opening statement here, this is -- we are very early in the process of this, there have been no agreements from either side. We have not given anything up and they have not given anything up.

     CHENEY:  So general, do you -- is there anything you see that gives you confidence that it would be your best military advice that we could in fact negotiate any kind of agreement that you could count on the Taliban to uphold?

     VOTEL:  I think the fact that we are actually having discussions is a -- is a -- is a point that we have not reached in the 18 years we've been involved in this...

     CHENEY:  No -- general, I'm sorry to interrupt you, but we actually did have discussions that -- during the Obama administration, Secretary Clinton initially set these conditions and then completely abandoned them, and I don't have to tell you h history, when we released prisoners from Guantanamo in exchange for Bergdahl. So we've gone down this path before. But -- but my concern is, even if, lets say for the sake of argument, that you believe that those negotiations could lead someplace, that we could in fact be doing the best we could for our national security by talking to the town band who are inextricably linked with Al Qaeda, the organization that affect us -- that attacked us on 9/11. Would it be your best military advice that withdrawing forces in the middle of that would in fact help to increase our credibility?

     VOTEL:  Congresswoman, we have -- we -- we remain very focused on the -- on the terrorism and counterterrorism mission...

     CHENEY:  But specifically, the withdrawal...

     VOTEL:  We could -- we could withdraw forces and not have an impact on our counterterrorism mission.

     CHENEY:  That's right, but general...

     VOTEL:  ...Al Qaeda of any other groups.

     CHENEY:  Thank you, general, but you mentioned making sure that we had the maximum military pressure on the Taliban and on Al Qaeda. And I fail to understand how it could be the situation that announcing withdrawal of forces is maintaining the maximum military pressure. An additional question would be, how is it conceivably possible that a negotiation that actively leaves out the very government that we say we're trying to help to encourage and sustain, would lead us in the right direction?

     VOTEL:  It is not leaving out the government. Ambassador Khalilzad is well engaged with the government...

     CHENEY:  But the government -- but the Taliban continues to refuse to talk to the government...

     VOTEL:  And this is the purpose of the -- of the framework discussions that are underway right now, I'm going to (ph) get to that point.

     CHENEY:  Thank you general. I remain -- I remain very concerned that we are headed down an extremely dangerous path. We'll continue this in a classified setting, but this would be, were we to leave a jihadist victory for the very forces that attacked us on 9/11, and while we've got to ensure that we're engaged in countering great power conflict and the threats we face, we cannot go down the path of ignoring the fact that these were the folks and provided safe haven to Al Qaeda for the attacks on 9/11. Thank you.

     SMITH:  Thank you. Ms. Hill.

     HILL:  Thank you, generals and Ms. Wheelbarger for being here. I also want to give a shout out to the fellow centenarian (ph) in the room. I think we're the only two Katies from Saugus (ph) who are in Washington D.C. right now, so. We -- I wanted to get a little bit more on the focus on the great power competition. You all have mentioned the increased engagement in Africa and the Middle East by our near peer adversaries, including referencing the regions of the crossroads of global competition with Russia and China.

     So, General Waldhauser, you mentioned in your report that Russia is actively involved in Libya and is invoking Gaddafi area (ph) relationships. Reporting also indicates that Russia is supporting the Libyan National Army. How is this challenging our efforts to help the current Libyan government and our counterterrorism efforts in the country and what are Russia's gains in Libya overall?

     WALDHAUSER:  We have three missions and in Libya, one of them is the counterterrorism piece which we have been in for quite some time. We've had, after the liberation of Sirte, if you will, where we had over almost 500 strikes, we've had 13 strikes the last two years of CT effort (ph), but we maintain it, that's the first thing.

     The second thing we do, we're trying to -- one of our missions is to prevent civil war. We do that by not going one side or the other. And the third is support the political process. And so what the Russians have done is overtly they've supported the UN GNA (ph) President Saroj (ph) framework, but behind the scenes there's no doubt about the fact they've supported the LNA (ph) with all kinds of equipment, people, training and the like. And they've -- and they've supported Haftar, who has moved now from the east to the west and essentially has taking a lot of real estate to get into a good position for leverage for diplomatic talks.

     HILL:  And why would they want to do that?

     WALDHAUSER:  Well, I think when the music stops, they want to be on the winning side, and -- and right now, you know, Saroj (ph) has been the president for over two years, he's been a good partner for us. Special Representative Salame (ph) is trying to get to elections by the end of the year and it's unclear whether Haftar would run for election, but he's going to be involved in some way, shape or form, so when the music stops, the Russians want to be on the side if he gets in.

     HILL:  But what strategic advantage would that give them?

     WALDHAUSER:  It gives them influence and it gives him influence in a key location in the southern mid (ph) on the southern part of the NATO, if you will, and it allows them then to reinvigorate some old Gaddafi-era contracts in the oilfield weapon sales and the like. So there's a strategic interest for them to be behind both sides, but primarily really a Haftar.

     HILL:  So it's about resources and access to being closer to the southern -- the southern border.

     WALDHAUSER:  Right, and influence as well.

     HILL:  OK, great -- not great, but thank you. You also discussed the Russian efforts in Central African Republic which leads me to ask, what are the Russian objectives on the continent more broadly? Why there? What are other areas were (ph) there?

     WALDHAUSER:  What the Russians are doing in the Central African Republic is very concerning because they have the paramilitary group, the Wagner Group, who's heavily involved there, not only in training but also influence at the highest levels of the government to include the president. And meanwhile they've been able to work the situation so they can have mineral extraction and so forth, gold et cetera, to generate revenue as well. So this model is very concerning in that, if you bring in a paramilitary group, they influence the government, they repay -- they extract resources. This is very concerning if that model would be applied in another country.

     HILL:  Thank you. General Votel, in your assessment, how did the Russians react to that president's December announcement to withdraw from Syria?

     VOTEL:  I think they viewed it positively.

     HILL:  The Russians viewed that decision positively?

     VOTEL:  They did, congresswoman.

     HILL:  Can you describe what advantage Russia gains with our withdrawal from Syria and -- proposed withdraw from Syria and Afghanistan?

     VOTEL:  Well I think -- I think what they looked at that -- they looked at this as an opportunity to fill the void that -- that we had provided in the support of the partners that -- that we work with on the ground there. . So they look to gain and perpetuate what the Assad regime was doing.

     HILL:  And again, why? What does this do for us -- what harm does this potentially cause us and our allies? What does -- how does this help Russia as a whole as it's trying to regain its power?

     VOTEL:  Well, it makes Russia a bigger player in this area. And as we move, albeit slowly, toward some kind of end state in Syria, it puts -- it puts Russia more in the driver's seat in terms of what that solution might be. And of course, it solidifies their presence in the Middle East in this critical part of the Levant right here. So that -- I think that is an important objective of theirs.

     HILL:  So to put it very bluntly, the president's proposals directly allow Russia to gain more influence in the Middle East, potentially endangering us and our allies?

     VOTEL:  No, I don't think that's what I said. I said what -- our withdrawal from there gave them the opportunity to fill the void. Obviously things would come after that -- would -- would increase their influence in -- in pursuing, you know, some kind of political settlement. But it would certainly give them the ability to be in a better position.

     HILL:  So, again, the proposal to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan provides an opportunity for Russia to gain additional power and to potentially ...

     SMITH:  I'm -- I'm sorry.

     HILL:  ... Grows as a global threat?

     SMITH:  Gentlelady's time has expired ...

     VOTEL:  (Inaudible)

     HILL:  Thank you.

     SMITH:  Going back (ph), I do want to ask one quick follow-up on that. As of right now, is there any specific plan on the withdrawal, and you can tell me what's classified and what's not, a timeline? I know the president announced it in a tweet. As I said in my opening remarks, I don't think that's a particularly wise way to set a policy, and then we sort of set the policy after he tweeted. But what is the timeline, if there is one, on withdrawal from Syria? And what do the numbers look like?

     VOTEL:  Well, I -- I look forward to talking about this in a classified session but what I would say is that what is -- what is driving -- what is driving withdrawal, of course, is our mission, which is defeat of ISIS. And so that is our principle focus and that is making sure that we protect our forces. If we don't withdraw in a manner that increases the risk to our forces going through this.

     SMITH:  I ...

     VOTEL:  So there is not pressure on me to meet a specific date at this particular time.

     SMITH:  Right.

     VOTEL:  And I look forward to talking in more -- more detail in the closed session.

     SMITH:  And I'm sorry, we can do it in closed session, I just want to make one final, you know, policy political point. What it would seem to be driving the withdrawal is the president's split-second decision to send out a tweet saying we're going to get out of Syria. OK? Now, I hear what you're saying in terms of what you're working on. But in terms of the public perception, the international perception, is that prior to that tweet, it wasn't planned. He sent it out, not we're responding.

     So I take your point and that's obviously the argument we want to make is that what's driving our military decisions is military necessity, it does not appear that way in this case, given the way the president has communicated. Mr. Banks?

     BANKS:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman. General Votel, you've already heard a great deal of skepticism expressed about Special Envoy Khalilzad's negotiations with the Taliban for reconciliation. Why -- why shouldn't we be skeptical?

     VOTEL:  Congressman, in my view, we have come further in the last six months than -- than we have at any time in the last 18 -- 18 years. Since the announcement of the South Asia strategy by our president, the -- the government of Afghanistan, the president of Afghanistan, has announced that he's willing to meet. We've had a ceasefire, the first time we've done that. Both sides did that. It was short but it gave a glimpse of what could be.

     And the meetings and the sessions that have taken place over the last five or six months, I think have moved this further along than it has -- it is a difficult problem. We are still at the front end of this. I acknowledge that. And we have a ways to go. But the Taliban has come to the table. We've seen Pakistan play a more helpful role in helping that occur. So to me, these are things that we have not seen in the past that we are now seeing.

     BANKS:  I appreciate that but, with all due respect, the vagueness of what we hear about timelines and conditions, it paints a skeptical picture for me and so many others in wondering if we're -- if we're -- if this path will lead anywhere. But yet, in a rose-colored world, if these negotiations were successful, if there was an agreement that was signed between us and the Taliban, what would happen at that point in that rose-colored world?

     VOTEL:  I think there's -- if you look at what I think winning in Afghanistan means, it means two things, Congressman. It means a negotiated settlement between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban and it also means safeguarding U.S. national interests; particularly, ensuring that this country, this region, can't be used to attack our homeland. So that would have to be satisfied as part of any overall agreement here in terms of that.

     And I -- and I think that is a lot of the nuance of the ongoing discussions that are taking -- that are taking place right now.

     BANKS:  Is ISISK potentially a threat to the homeland?

     VOTEL:  I -- I think ISIS Khorasan does have ideations focused on external operations towards out homeland, yes.

     BANKS:  General, some of your predecessors have testified before this committee before and articulated a sustained presence strategy in Afghanistan. Would you agree with that approach, maybe articulate what that means?

     VOTEL:  I think as long as there is a terrorist threat, whether it comes from Al-Qaida or ISIS or any other group that perpetrates threats against our country, I think we have to ensure that there, either through our own presence or through whatever other arrangements we can make, that we can address that particular threat.

     BANKS:  So therefore a sustained presence in Afghanistan in some shape or fashion would allow us to combat that ongoing presence of ISISK or other threats that might be posed from Afghanistan ...

     VOTEL:  That would certainly be one way of doing it, Congressman.

     BANKS:  What would -- what would a sustained presence look like?

     VOTEL:  Well, I -- again, I think this might be a better discussion for the closed session here to give you a little bit more detail. But I think it looks a lot like it looks right now. It looks like -- it looks like making sure we've got partners on the ground that we can operate with and it looks like we have the right collection assets in so we can keep an eye on this. And it means we have the right unique capabilities from a U.S. standpoint to address this particular and keep the pressure on this network like we have been.

     BANKS:  When -- General, when should the American people and members of this committee expect a better-defined idea of the timeline of these negotiations between Special Envoy Khalilzad and the Taliban?

     VOTEL:  I think I would have to refer you to the Department of State on that since that's who Ambassador Khalilzad works for and -- and they would probably be better to provide some type of timeline if there is one.

     BANKS:  So no reasonable expectation of when those -- when that timeline would be?

     VOTEL:  Congressman, it's underway right now. I mean, it -- it is -- it is proceeding and it is a complex environment. And in my estimation, I think Ambassador Khalilzad is doing the very best that he can to move this forward. And our job, my job, as a CENTCOM commander is to make sure he has the military support to move forward on that objective. Our end state here is reconciliation. That is the end state of the president's South Asia strategy and that's what we're focused on.

     So the whole of our efforts is supporting Ambassador Khalilzad.

     BANKS:  I -- I -- I appreciate that. I had hoped today that I could eliminate some of my skepticism but the -- the vagueness of the nature of these negotiations, what I've heard today, leave me even more skeptical than before. I'm not sure that Special Envoy Khalilzad's best that he can do is good enough. With that, I'll yield back.


     SLOTKIN:  Thank you. Thanks to our witnesses, I certainly know, Ms. Wheelbarger, exactly how it feels to be exactly in your shoes and to both generals, really enjoyed my time working with you.

     And General Votel, since you so sure (ph), I just -- I think it's worth noting you are one of the most creative, out of the box thinkers we have in our senior leadership. Your career defines what it means to fight in the post 9/11 world and I think the American public will probably never know what you did to help us protect ourselves from terrorist threats.

     So I thank you for everything you've done. And I'd be remiss if I didn't take advantage of this opportunity with you -- with more three -- just three weeks left to ask you kind of some bigger picture questions on how U.S. -- the U.S. fights in the post 9/11 era.

     The theory of the case for me is that we cannot fight global threats without a global coalition, that without partners and allies, our ability to protect ourselves is at least diminished, at best diminished and at worst leaves us less safe.

     So can you just walk me through what you believe happens if allies and partners are not providing support to us in these global fights in your region.

     VOTEL:  Well thank you, Congresswoman. So I -- very clearly we -- we are very dependent upon our coalition partners, not just for basing an access in the region, but certainly for the additional capabilities that they take.

     We bring a lot, the United States brings a lot to these -- to these operations, but we don't bring everything. And so many of the -- many of the -- of the unique capabilities that we rely on in these coalitions do from our coalition partners, whether it's medical, whether it's sustainment, whether it's training, whether it is advising.

     They -- they -- they augment, they supplement, they compliment the things that we are doing. And so that's an important aspect. But the other thing is it brings with -- the coalition aspect brings with it the will of the world, if you will. The will of the coalition.

     So it is more than just one nation who is -- who is standing up for something, in this -- in the case of Iraq and Syria, it is 79 -- 79 nations and international organizations that are saying we are focused on this particular mission right here.

     So to me, that is one of the most important aspects of the coalition approach.

     SLOTKIN:  So many of the members of this committee went on a bipartisan congressional delegation to the Munich Security Conference. We heard in real time from our allies their deep, deep concern with the way that -- that the U.S. and the administration was handling informing them about our plans in the world, particularly as was referenced the tweet to get out of Syria when many of them are fighting with us in Syria.

     In your experience, if we alienate our allies and make it politically difficult for them to join with us in these operations, what happens to the quality of our -- of our operations? Do they go up or do they go down?

     And kind of -- I know General Mattis has been -- was really clear about this in his final letter, but if you could just talk to us about, you know, the quality of our operations if these partners and allies just say no to joining with us?

     VOTEL:  Well, Congresswoman, I think it certainly makes it more difficult to pursue some of these missions without -- without the partnerships that we -- that we depend on out here.

     And as I've already mentioned we lose capabilities, we lose some of the sustainment that comes along with our operations there. So I think it makes it much more difficult without doing these things without partners.

     SLOTKIN:  And, you know, we were -- a number of us wrote a letter, a bipartisan letter to the president, asking that he reconsider his decision to fully pull out of Syria. A number of us are very happy to see that a small force is going to be remaining there.

     I -- we all take note when you say that ISIS, while the caliphate has certainly been depleted, that ISIS has largely gone to ground, that they have not sort of had a change of heart in how they feel.

     Tell me, if you could in an unclassified setting, what you believe the likelihood is that we will, with the small force that we have staying behind, ability to keep them suppressed, at least from returning at least a piece of that caliphate.

     VOTEL:  I am confident in this, and I think we have to look at the force not just as U.S. forces that retain (ph) on the ground, but other coalition forces. We need to look at our Syrian Democratic force partners that number 60,000 and then we need to look at our -- over the horizon capabilities that we can bring to bare.

     And as we go through the planning of this, we are looking at all of those capabilities. And so as I mentioned, this is -- this is ongoing right now, but I think by looking at all those different pools of forces and capabilities that we have, we will have -- we will have the capabilities we need to do -- to do the mission we've been asked to do.

     SLOTKIN:  Thank you, and to both generals, congratulations on your retirement, well earned and thank you for your service.

     SMITH:  Thank you. Mr. Gaetz.

     GAETZ:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman. General Waldhauser, I have a number of constituents who contribute to the train and equip mission in Africa, can you share with us the circumstances where we've been most successful at moving the needle of our -- of the capabilities of our partner nations, and where are there places where we haven't made as many strides (ph) as we would have hopes.

     WALDHAUSER:  Well I think one example that I always use is Tunisia, where the whole revolution began and so forth. And over the past few years, they have done a tremendous job to essentially restructure their entire military towards a threat that's relevant to them.

     And they've been a willing partner, they've been able to absorb a lot of institutional level guidance and training, so they've been a success story as well. And I think in other places and even like Cameroon for example with the challenges there with the Anglophone region and like, the beer (ph) force has been a good counter terrorism partner.

     And they have progressed to the point where they are operating on their own and so forth, and I will just mention that as part of that, the whole law of war, the whole battlefield ethics piece, that's always a part of the training and equipping that we do.

     And so we have programs across the continent, these 333 programs where we'll put equipment in various countries, you know, whether it's Djibouti or Somalia or Burkina Faso, these are very, very important to us.

     So those are a couple of examples where we've had success.

     GAETZ:  And where have we not met our expectations regarding capabilities of partner nations?

     WALDHAUSER:  Well without singling out specific nations, I think the point is that when we embark on these -- on these engagements, we have to make sure we understand what the country can absorb, and we can't do things or expect things if they don't have the institutional capacity to deal with a logistical train, to deal with sourcing and so forth.

     GAETZ:  So I make much of the fact that you didn't identify many Central African nations among the successes?

     WALDHAUSER:  Well the Central African nations that we work with to a large degree are train, advise, assist and equip piece is probably not as robust in other places. I mean we -- the countries that we deal with to a large degree have the terrorism threat, because one of the key things is to fight that threat over there and keep it over there, and our engagements with other countries -- we take our cues from State Department too.

     If there's issues in terms of law of war violations or governmental problems, we sometimes take our cues from State Department with regards to how much we engage.

     GAETZ:  Very illuminating. General Votel, is Yemen a failed state?

     VOTEL:  Yes, I do consider Yemen a failed state.

     GAETZ:  Thanks. I'll yield the remaining time to General Bacon.

     BACON:  I appreciate the leadership in your careers, congratulations on your retirement and thanks to all three of you being here today. I just want to add my skepticism as well on our negotiations with the Taliban.

     They continue to be closely aligned with ISIS, Al-Qaida, they've murdered thousands -- continue to murder thousands of people in Afghanistan. And I think it looks terrible when we're negotiating with them without the governor (ph) of Afghanistan. So I just wanted to publicly state that. In Syria, what are we going to do with the 800 or so detainees I've been hearing about that are from ISIS? General Votel?

     VOTEL:  Well, this is a -- this is a matter for our Department of State, Department of Justice, to work with international partners. As the president has said, they need to go back to their nations where they can be properly prosecuted right here. The Syrian Democratic Forces are performing a service for the world by holding these -- these foreign terrorist fighters right now. And they need to go home where they can -- where they can be dealt with properly.

     So that is the principal mechanism that we are pursuing right now.

     BACON:  It would just be -- it would be a terrible development if they get released in some -- one way or the other way. Obviously that'd be a threat to us and Europe and beyond. In Yemen, are we still seeing evidence of Iran arming the Houthi rebels?

     VOTEL:  Absolutely, Congressman.

     BACON:  And when was the last time we saw SCUD missile launches or any other kind of ballistic missile launch into Saudi Arabia? Because I think that's not being widely reported that that was going on and that's been part of the reason the Saudis are taking actions the way they have.

     VOTEL:  We've seen -- we've seen a decrease in ballistic missile launches and there's some reasons for that that we can talk about in the -- in the closed session. But we have -- had seen an increase in unmanned aerial systems. And again, this at the hand of Iran providing these advanced capabilities to the Houthi rebels.

     BACON:  In our political debate on how to support Saudi Arabia, whether to or whether not, that is just a forgotten part of what is going on with Iran helping the rebels and how they're also attacking the Saudis.

     One last question to General Votel. Are we having any success or progress with Pakistan, with safe havens they're providing the Taliban?

     VOTEL:  We have had -- we have -- as I mentioned a little bit earlier, we have had success with Pakistan. They have been more helpful in terms of bringing the Taliban to the table as we have requested them. We have seen instances where they have taken action against -- against the safe haven areas. Clearly there is more they can do and we have encouraged them to continue to do that.

     But we had seen some positive indications.

     BACON:  Thank you and I thank my friend for yielding and I yield back.

     SMITH:  Thank you. Ms. Torres Small.

     TORRES SMALL:  Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, General Votel and General Waldhauser so much for your service. Thank you as well, Assistant Secretary Wheelbarger.

     I specifically appreciate your discussion about coalition-building. And Congresswoman Slotkin as well as Congressman Bergman both recognized that need as well. And we also had some discussion about China and their impact on Africa and how that affects potential coalition-building. So we've seen China open up the military base in Djibouti but it appears, and some analysts think that they're increasing their focus more so on the telecommunications, the infrastructure, and the trade.

     Do you see those avenues as more of a threat for our engagement with African partners than if China had opened up more military bases, for example, or conducted training or conventional military operations?

     WALDHAUSER:  That's a very interesting question and -- and complex in several different ways. Obviously Djibouti is the first overseas Chinese base. I have said before, I don't believe it'll be the last. They're looking for other areas and so forth, especially ports. Because what they want to do, to a large degree, the infrastructure they build, ports, roads, bridges and whatnot, is tied to the extraction -- mineral extraction they're conducting in those countries.

     So consequently, there's a tie there. Now, moreover, their military growth for the future, although unclear, they certainly want to protect those investments. They want to protect their -- the populations and the workers that they have there. So some would say that this was just a first step and they're getting many lessons learned. Because it's a challenge to have a base in Djibouti from China. And there's a lot of growing pains with that.

     But they're learning from that and some would say that -- and we have some reports that I could probably go into in the closed session that they may look to increase their contributions to some of these groups that are in the counterterrorism effort. So I think that in the future it's very likely that they could increase their military presence.

     But real quickly on the trade business, you know, when Secretary Tillerson visited there a while back as the previous secretary of state, he talked about how the Chinese should be very careful -- or the Africans should be very careful about some of the deals they make with the Chinese. Because it's no secret about the debt issue in the Djibouti that the Chinese own. There's other countries where some of the projects that the countries are walking away from because either too expensive or they've figured out the deal is really not good for them.

     And so there are some challenges but again, those countries need to make those decisions for themselves and that was one of the issues that the senior -- Paul Kagame who, at the time, was the AU Chairperson, made that point that these governments can make those decision for themselves. And our point is, when you make those decisions, just go into them clear-eyed and understand what you're signing on the dotted line when you sign with the Chinese.

     TORRES SMALL:  Speaking to that clear-eyed aspect, has Chinese -- has China operated this way with other regions? And if so, are there additional phases of involvement that we might anticipate?

     WALDHAUSER:  Well, I think that China -- I'll just speak to the African continent. I mean, the Chinese have been there for quite some time. Their investments in infrastructure, they do a great job. They'll build soccer stadiums, they'll -- you know, they'll do things for the population that gains and maintains influence. Meanwhile, we do things like Millennium Challenge Corporation powered programs in Senegal or even in Niger, these huge programs over a five-year period, $437 million in Niger for example.

     This is a whole-of-government approach too. And we need to do a better job of publicizing those things that we're doing on the soft side of power that will help our influence, vis-a-vis China.

     TORRES SMALL:  In my short amount left, I want to switch very quickly to Yemen and touch base about the end of the in-flight refueling Saudi Coalition. When did CENTCOM make the decision to end that mission?

     VOTEL:  We -- we ended that in November of 2018, Congresswoman.

     TORRES SMALL:  And who made that decision to end it?

     VOTEL:  That was -- that was a request at -- by the Saudis but it was directed to me by the secretary of defense at the time.

     TORRES SMALL:  Under what authority was CENTCOM operating when the decision was made not to charge over $300 million in U.S. fuel and in-flight refueling services?

     VOTEL:  Yeah, thank you for asking. And chairman, I would just ask for a little allowance here so I can address this in a little bit of detail. First off, there have -- it is -- as the CENTCOM commander, it was my responsibility. I'm responsible for anything that happens within CENTCOM and doesn't happen within CENTCOM. And so when we failed to charge properly on this thing, that -- I accept the responsibility for that on behalf of our command.

     There were a variety of things that went wrong. Mostly we ignored our own well-developed protocols and procedures in this case. We identified those problems that -- we began identifying that last fall and put together a team -- a cross-agency team to make sure that we understood what was happening and that we could -- we worked through the issue, identified what the costs were, and then delivered those to the appropriate countries. And we will receive full and proper reimbursement for that.

     TORRES SMALL:  It's a mark of a great leader to take responsibility. I deeply appreciate that.

     SMITH:  Thank you. Mr. Gallagher.

     GALLAGHER:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'd like to pull the string on a previous line of questioning. I think it's important because when we talk about NDS implementation, it's easy to focus myopically on INDOPACOM and EUCOM and I'm glad that we've had a variety of questions about Chinese influence and access in the CENTCOM and AFRICOM AORs.

     And I just would ask General Votel, to what extend does the Shanghai International Port Group's agreement regarding the Haifa Port in Israel represent a problem for the U.S. military over the long term?

     I heard some reporting that the U.S. Navy was considering reducing some commitment to Israel, I know that sort of spans a lot of different COCOM authorities there. But just to what extent do you view that as a problem and what do you think we should do about it?

     VOTEL:  Congressman, again, I would remind you that the Haifi Port is in Israel and is outside of my area of responsibility. But I do recognize that that does have influences on our area.

     So we are concerned about that, the fact that there is the great power competitors have access into those ports along the Mediterranean that are -- that are -- that have very direct access into the region.

     I think this is a reason for -- for concern.

     GALLAGHER:  And can I -- can you -- both of you, I just -- what parts, as you look at the Belt and Road Initiative, in your respective AORs, where would it present a difficulty for us in terms of operational access, either in terms of our ability to operate with key partners, or new potential access by Chinese forces.

     Just help flesh that out for us a bit.

     VOTEL:  In the -- Congressman, in the CENTCOM area of responsibility, the principle place we're seeing this is in Pakistan with the China Pakistan economic border, which is an artery of the -- of the One Belt One Road aspect.

     And so that is -- that is in progress right now, and it is -- and there is definite Chinese influence in that particular area. And so they can -- as they develop that land route, what they are attempting to do then, we expect is they will then be looking for ports that they can connect that to, ports in Southern Pakistan leading the ports in AFRICOM.

     And then for us, it's going to lead to a permanent presence of Chinese maritime -- military maritime activity in the region that we will need to -- need to be concerned with.

     WALDHAUSER:  So with regards to AFRICOM on the ports, let me just first say that overall, and I'm not an expert in port operations, but the Chinese have equities in ports around the globe.

     So it's no unique for example that they have equities in Israel, it's not unique that they have equities in Djibouti and other places. That's the first point. The second point is with regards to the Djiboutian port, you know, this is the maritime piece of the -- of the -- of the One Belt One Road initiative.

     If you come into Djibouti, in that part of the country, that part of the continent, up into Africa. So that's a big part of their strategy and they're trying to tie it together. Inside Djibouti, you know, we -- there's -- the port facility there has about five or six separate ports.

     The one we're concerned about is the Doraleh container port. Last year at this time when I testified, the Djiboutians just took it back over from the Emirates. The fear is that if the debt issue with Djibouti is not taken care of, that perhaps the Chinese could take that port over.

     But I can tell you that in conversations that I've had with President Guelleh and other leaders have had with President Guelleh, they have assured us that that is not going to be the case, that they will make sure that we have access to that particular port because 98 percent of what -- of logistics effort that we need on the eastern part of Africa, in Somalia, in Djibouti, comes through that port there.

     GALLAGHER:  And I take your point about (inaudible) understand it that the Chinese obviously have legitimate economic interest in a variety of ports around the world. But the whole reason we did a comprehensive review of our CFIUS process last year was because the line between legitimate economic interests and CCP directed espionage and PLA military activity is often very opaque, right.

     I wonder do you have conversations with you partners sort of in the way we have conversations amongst ourselves about CFIUS and foreign investment, about the structures they have in place to analyze Chinese investment and really determine what is legitimate and what isn't, in either order.

     VOTEL:  Well I can say -- and perhaps that's Kitty, you might (ph) should take that. Our -- I know our country teams and ambassadors do that from the military perspective, we try to make sure that we make the case that we're the best partners and try to give that to covered.

     WHEELBARGER:  I will most definitely say that is a key point with all of our engagements in our -- with our -- with the international community, not just in these AORs but in Europe as well.

     And I know the previous congresswoman touched on telecommunications infrastructure, that is a priority of our department right now to highlight the real challenge that we will face both militarily as well if the Chinese build out these 5G networks all over the world.

     The telecommunications security is sort of a backbone security requirement for all of us. So we are -- it is -- it is very much a top line in all of our engagements.

     GALLAGHER:  I yield my two seconds left.

     SMITH:  Thank you. Appreciate the benefit. And I was going to say we have a hard stop at noon, we'll get to ask many people as we can. Mr. Crow.

     CROW:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to all three of you for your insightful, candid testimony. General Votel, always good to see a fellow ranger, rangers lead the way. Thank you for your continued service.

     In my time in Iraq and Afghanistan, I learned the value of our partners and our alliances, and I've been very troubled by some of the comments of this administration with regard to those partnerships and those alliances.

     And I know, General Votel, you weren't consulted in the Syria decision. Have the three of you had to spend time in the last two years talking with our partners and our allies, NATO and others, to reassure them that we remain committed, and have you received questions and concerns from those allies?

     VOTEL:  I'll start, Congressman. Certainly we have, I think this is a -- this is a very standard thing that we talk with all of our partners about routinely here about -- about our strategies and where we're going with this and reassurance on our commitment to the collective security of the region here.

     So it's certainly something we talk with our partners about all the time, have for the entire time I've been in this -- in this position.

     CROW:  But within the past -- let's say within the past year, especially with respect to comments on unilateral withdrawal from Afghanistan and Syria, have that -- has that created especially acute concerns?

     VOTEL:  Well it certainly has, I mean some of -- some of the rather sharp announcements here are things that have caught their attention and we've had to talk about that. But again, this is -- this is something that we have routinely thought about.

     As I came into this position in 2016, a big topic was JCPOA and our decision to enter into that. And so that was a big -- big discussion with all of the -- all of the partners in the arrangement, many who did not agree with that decision.

     And so we had almost the opposite situation in that particular case. So I think this is something we always have to talk to our partners about.

     WALDHAUSER:  Very briefly, I would just say that this is a conversation we always have and we will always continue to have, because the bottom line is it's important to have a good working relationship, mill to mill relationship, because if for whatever reason the political relationship goes off track or hits a bump in the road, if you have a strong mill to mill relationship, if you have a good partnership, that will carry the day.

     And that's where we try to come at with -- for the military side.

     WHEELBARGER:  In particular with respect to -- on the political side or the policy making side, the coalition, particularly the 79 strong de-ISIS coalition is a huge value, as the general said, to sort of the moral authority of the global campaign or the global effort to address a global threat.

     I think in the days and weeks after certain decisions, yes, we obviously keep up the level of transparency as much as possible. I mean, everybody knows that the -- the Syria tweet was somewhat of a surprise, and so, you know, I did call all of the core group of the coalition the day after to make sure that they understood both what it was but also what it wasn't.

     And so that -- and it wasn't sort of they're all leaving tomorrow. Of course as decisions evolve and we're living in a dynamic world, we're living in a dynamic policy making world as well, we continue to keep them as informed transparently and in connection as possible.

     CROW:  Thank you. One last question. Do you all believe that you have sufficient data and information regarding the emergent threats posed by climate change, namely disease outbreaks, pandemics, displacement of populations and drought to take into account as you develop your op plans with your respective commands?

     VOTEL:  Congressman, I do. That is provided to us through the Department of Defense and from my staff standpoint, I believe we do.

     WALDHAUSER:  I believe we do as well, and I would just echo the fact in the Africom AOR, this is a big part of whatever we do. A crisis response not only is kinetic, but tied to the Ebola outbreaks, the disease outbreaks and it's a big part of our strategy with regards to containing that type of threat on the continent.

     CROW:  Thank you. I yield back.

     KELLY:  Thank you Mr. Chairman. First of all, I just don't think I can go and let people say things without responding. First of all, our failure to respond in Syria in 2013 left a void which the Russians quickly filled where they had not been before, but because we had no action what so ever, for a long period of time, even a delayed reaction after they gassed there, the government gassed their own people. That is part of the reason that we have Russian influence in Syria now, not just the tweets of recent days.

     A second, I had a much different experience in the Munich Security Conference with Senator Inhofe with our allies and our people there, than obviously other people and my colleagues did, because what our found in our European allies and allies across the nation when we met with Germany, we met with Afghan president, we met with Poland, is there is a much greater participation in meeting their two percent GDP requirements as to their militaries across Europe, which means we have partners who are actually contributing rather than talking. And so, I think that's very important to point out.

     We also went to Africa and met with President Kagame, with Prime Minister Dr. Idi and Ethiopia. I think those relationships with Senator Inhofe and us, as members of Congress, can be sustained long-term. He's been doing for over 25 years, but I think many times they're much more valuable, even in those with state sometime, as well as the mill to mill relationships.

     All that being said, I guess now I'm going to try to get to a question. First of all, General Votel, thank for your leadership of my 155th BCT, my old Brigade and Operations Spartan (ph) Shield and my 184th ESC, which are currently deployed and doing logistics missions over there.

     General Votel and General Waldhauser, after I answer this question I want you to respond what we can do better with the state partnership program in Africa. But, Mississippi has a state partnership with Uzbekistan.

     We have made great, great strides there, as a matter of fact, almost every time I go I meet with the President of Uzbekistan and all their cabinet. General Votel, how valuable are those in the negotiations when we're talking about negotiating with the Taliban or logistics contract, how valuable is that state partnership program?

     VOTEL:  Across the region, Congressman. The state partnership program is a diamond for us frankly and it is highly sought after by partners across the regions. And be it augments, it not only augments the things that we with the active forces and the other rotational focuses, as you highlighted, that come into the region, but more importantly it provides a long-term sustained relationship with these countries as you've experience in Uzbekistan. I know we recently had the Minister of Defense visit your state for an exercise here, thank you for hosting him. These -- we cannot replace these types of relationships. This is absolutely vital to the things we're doing.

     KELLY:  And General Waldhauser, I think there's some opportunities in Africa to sustain long-term relationships and do we have good partnership programs or is there opportunity there?

     WALDHAUSER:  Congressman, I could take the rest of the time and really the rest of day up until noon and beyond to talk about the value of these programs. Let me just give you one quick example. We have 13 state partnership programs on the continent and we appreciate the funding that comes from the and we would certainly would ask for more there.

     Recently we had an exercise in Burkina Faso, there has been some issues there as to the uptick in attacks and what not, and just recently here in January, the District of Columbia, D.C., just signed a state partnership program with Burkina Faso.

     So, on hand you could say that are we doing enough there, but this is another tool in the toolkit for long-term continuity, with relationship building and so forth that in an area where there's a counterterrorism issue, this is a big plus for us. I can't say enough about the state partnership program in Africa.

     KELLY:  And finally, I guess this is just a comment. Ms. Wheelbarger, you can comment if there's time left, but I don't have a problem with negotiating with the Taliban on any other. You know, was just saw our president do in North Korea, it's OK to have a meeting and to walk away with that meeting if your objectives are not achieved.

     It's not OK not to ever have a meeting, because I can tell you, you can never reach consensus if you're not talking. And so, I think we have a lot of opportunity. I'm skeptical, just like everyone else, General Votel, but I know we also have Uzbekistan involved in that, I know Pakistan is involved in that.

     I know there are a lot of people involved in the peace process there and I'm quite confident that our president and our military and our State Department will walk away if we don't get the conditions met that we need to for peace, but we have to talk to get the peace. And, if you could, comment very briefly Ms. Wheelbarger.

     WHEELBARGER:  Sure, I'll just briefly say, long-term insurgencies mostly need to end by reconciliation, that's sort of the history of these kind of conflicts and I also agree that the military is, both U.S. military, but in conjunction with our partners on the ground will continue the military pressure during these talks.

     SMITH:  I completely agree with Mr. Kelly's assessment that we do need to talk. So, I'm going to get there. Ms. Houlahan.

     HOULAHAN:  Thank you to the Chairman and thank to the panel for coming. In addition to sitting on this -- on the Armed Services, I also sit in Foreign Affairs in Africa and the Asia Subcommittees and in the Africa Subcommittee human rights is a center area of that and it's been lovely to also hear about China in this conversation too.

     And so my question is for General Waldhauser. I was wondering if we could talk a little bit about the importance of supporting woman, and particularly the impact that they have on bolstering economies, which is one of the best ways that we have to combat the E.O.s

     And as we continue to provide support to our African partners to combat the E.O.s, are there members of our currently military national joint task force that have not perhaps passed the Leahy vetting or have raised human rights concerns, especially as they relate to women and girls.

     WALDHAUSER:  So, thank you for the question. Let me just talk real quick about the Women Peace Security Initiative that we have at Africom and one of the things that I think we do very well and I'll just you several examples.

     So, over the past couple of years we've introduced women from the military in the communications field across the continent through various exercises and engagements and since we've emphasized that we've noticed the numbers of women who participate in that particular event has grown. We also do an intelligence assessment and training for the women of intelligence branches around the continent, that number has grown.

     We have a leadership that we run out of Africom every year, it's a small group, around 50 or 60, but we take them around the country to various bases, they talk with various leaders and we promote leadership through women in a -- for women in a small way, but we think a highly effective way.

     And here recently we've had the operation, I mentioned in Burkina Faso, it's a special operations -- operation where we've brought women together to have conference, discuss their way ahead and try to get them and highlight their visibility for the military. So we -- we take that seriously and I'm very proud of our Women of Peace program. With regards to the Leahy vetting, look, one of the things that we do with all of -- with all of our training on the African continent, this whole issue of battlefield ethics, law, work compliance and the like. And even though there is -- you know, we run into issues every once in a while, we maintain that, and this is a big part of how we train.

     And -- and we make it very clear to these governments that if there's violations or allegations of violations, that they have to look at them for investigation to be transparent with -- with what they do. So on one hand, the question of the Leahy vetting, yes sometimes we -- you know there are some issues we have to work around because of whole units for one individual, but -- but -- but in the main (ph) on the African continent, we need to maintain that because the human rights pieces a big part of how we train, and -- and -- and we just have to try to perhaps streamline some of the Leahy issues, but we can't walk away from this.

     HOULAHAN:  Sir, are there curing processes or curing timelines if you do see some sort of violation that -- I understand that you can't help if you're not there, is there any sort of process that is codified that helps us with that?

     WALDHAUSER:  I'd have to take that for the record, ma'am.

     HOULAHAN:  Thank you. my next question is also for you, and I -- I read in your written station statement that Niger remains very unstable and that you are worried about that because of the youth -- the age of the large part of the -- of the -- of the country. And my question is, you also seem to indicate that the people who you are withdrawing in the 10 percent reduction were counterterrorism related. Is that true? Doesn't that provide some sort of angst on your part that you've got this sort of unstable, very young nationstate and we're withdrawing the -- the very people who may be helpful if there is some sort of VEO (ph) activity there.

     WALDHAUSER:  So, I don't want to get into specific countries and specific numbers, but the short answer your question is yes. We have to take a look at where we have optimized. As I tried to indicate previously, for the first tranche, we've taken individuals from locations where they've been training for quite some time and those units are on their own.

     And so yes, you know it every -- every country especially in Western Africa where we have bilateral agreements and where we train with them, we -- we are concerned. but we understand the intent and so far there's been minimal impact and we continue to work with our partners, primarily in the French in the West, and we watch what the -- what the -- if the groups grow, we may have to revisit some of these decisions.

     HOULAHAN:  Thank you, and with my last 50 seconds, my last question is also for you, which has to do with Congo and the most recent Ebola outbreak. We've had about 550, 560 debts so far and 800 people who have fallen I'll again. And I just wanted to ask you sort of to assess the biosecurity threats in the area and whether or not you feel as though we are doing enough for the right things to build partnerships across the African partners that we have, and whether or not you think you're appropriately staffed in that particular area and how you're working with USAID and the State Department to make sure we don't get befell by a pandemic.

     WALDHAUSER:  So I'm looking at the time countdown and I'm counting the questions and trying to see -- the Democratic Republic of Congo is in a very, very complex place right now. They just had the elections, Joseph Kabila finally after long time, is gone. The issue on the Ebola crisis in the East is one most remote part -- parts of the African continent. There are numerous violent extremist organizations, groups there. That's one of the problems, one of the threats, and we have been asked to look at what it would take security wise by the State Department if we upped our footprint and we've done that.

     I would just finally say this for perspective, when the big Ebola outbreak took place several years ago, 28,000-plus cases, 11,000-plus died. So as you said. About 900 cases thus far, 600, 550 or so died. A key has been vaccinations, over 70,000 to 80,000 have been vaccinated, but the security environment there is very difficult and that's what makes this one a particular challenge and a concern.

     SMITH:  Thank you. We -- we're going to stretch a little and try to get the last few people in here, so we might not -- probably won't start the classified until 12:15, but the last -- last few people can help out all the time there, it would be appreciated. Ms. Stefanik.

     STEFANIK:  Thank you Mr. Chairman. I would like to follow-up on the previous lines of questions regarding the future of Afghanistan. Like many of my colleagues, I am deeply concerned about the ongoing talks with the Taliban. And last month, I also attended the Munich security conference with some of the members here and we had the opportunity to meet with President Ghani who made it very clear that he does not respect the validity of these talks, considering the fact that the democratically elected government is completely excluded from these talks.

     So my question for General Votel is, I share that concern that the democratically elected government is not a part of these negotiations. And at the same time, we are heading towards presidential elections in Afghanistan. So to the ongoing talks impact the overall legitimacy of the upcoming elections and the overall stability as we head into the upcoming elections?

     VOTEL:  Well I think certainly the fact that there is an upcoming election is a -- is a -- is a factor in -- in the overall situation, right, at this particular -- at this particular point. So you know, I -- I can't dispute the fact that -- that that's an aspect of this. But -- but congresswoman, I -- I -- I am not orchestrating the talks that Ambassador Khalilzad is doing. We speak with him, obviously very regular, we support him as closely as we can.

     It is my -- it is my observation from my close discussions with him, that he is in fact consulting with President Ghani on a regular basis, keeping him well-informed, and that the actual initiation of these discussions was done with President Ghani's knowledge and support. So we are you -- he is continuing to do that and he continues to do that, throughout this -- this process. We recognize that -- that the -- the discussions and negotiations ultimately have to be Afghan to Afghan discussions, and that is what -- that is what Ambassador Khalilzad is focused on at this particular -- at this particular point.

     STEFANIK:  OK. I just -- I appreciate that General Votel, but President Ghani's message to us was crystal clear that not having a democratically elected government have a seat at the table during the negotiations, it nullifies how they could come to a positive outcome. So I just wanted to share my concern, particularly as it relates to the legitimacy of the upcoming elections and how we are potentially undermining that by engaging in these talks with the Taliban.

     My next question is also the General Votel. You've talked about shrinking the physical caliphate to less than one square mile, which is an enormous achievement. Can you talk about this next phase, that as ISIS fighters go underground, you said quote, "they are unrepentant, unbroken and they are still deeply radicalized." What does that next phase look like from your perspective?

     VOTEL:  This will look -- this will look very much like an insurgency, meaning that what we will see is, we will see low level attacks, we'll see assassinations, we'll see IED attacks, we'll see ambush-type things as they begin to emerge from this. So therefore, what our -- what our focus has to be is working with our partners on the ground as we're doing, and fairly effectively in Iraq right now, is working with our partners on the ground.

     We are going to have to keep pressure on this. Our intelligence capabilities will continue to be very, very important in feeding their operations, our train, advice, assist, our -- our enabling capabilities we have on the ground (ph) will be very, very important. So it what we are attempting to do is prevent those things from -- from -- from disrupting the other stability operations that are trying -- that we are trying to conduct, there's a (ph) local governance, local security forces.

     STEFANIK:  Thank you, and General Waldhauser, I wanted to follow up on your opening statement. What I noticed was absent is lessons learned regarding the fatal attack in Niger that took place in October, 20 17th. how has U.S. AFRICOM, along with interagency and by, with and through partnerships, what have we learned, how have we updated our intel collection, how are you making sure that our operators have access to the most up-to-date, accurate, exquisite intel possible? And I also wanted to ask when can we expect to see the report in Section 1276 of the F.Y. -- F.Y. '19 NDAA?

     WALDHAUSER:  So, first of all, Congresswoman, there's been many lessons learned and changes to procedures since the Niger incident a while back. And at the tactical level, which I won't go into -- into great detail, I can assure you that minimum force, reaction times for medevac, standard procedures for orders are issued and who approves those orders, those have all been really dealt with and taken care of at the component level and those are all in place.

     The investigation itself had 23 findings, 19 of which required action. Seven of those were for AFRICOM, the others were for the Army and for U.S. SOCOM. The items that AFRICOM had had to do -- as an example, would be formalizing memorandums in agreement with the French for medevac, which we've done; updating the number of Blue Force trackers, for example, that troops have on the ground and those type of things.

     So from the AFRICOM perspective, all the -- the tactical items which weren't part of the investigation but needed to be fixed, those have been taken care of. We can talk in closed session if you want more detail. As far as the investigation goes ...

     SMITH:  Thank you.

     WALDHAUSER:  ... We're good.

     STEFANIK:  Thank you.

     SMITH:  We can talk more -- a lot of this is better in closed session anyway ...

     STEFANIK:  Thank you.

     SMITH:  So we'll talk more when we get upstairs. Mr. Cisneros.

     CISNEROS:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you all for being here today and thank you for your service to our country. I'll keep this brief but, you know, since the '70s, spending for military and civilian tools of national security have ebbed and flows. During the '80s, they both went up. During the '90s, they both went down. Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis said, if you don't fund the State Department fully then I have to buy more ammunition ultimately.

     You both have been on the record as saying how important diplomatic relations are and humanitarian aid are to national security. With the budget coming out and we -- kind of expecting maybe another cut both in the State Department, USAID, overseas contingency operations, I mean, would you both agree -- or all of you agree that reduced resources for the State Department and USAID will have an impact on national security in your regions?

     VOTEL:  Yes, I would absolutely agree, Congressman.

     CISNEROS:  So by failing to address like famine, disease, humanitarian catastrophes, education, whether it be Syria or Niger, Yemen, anywhere in your regions; as these resources are cut, what kind of impact is that going to have on national security in your regions?

     WALDHAUSER:  Well, Congressman, I think, first of all, we have to understand the global effort in some of these areas. The global NGO net -- non-governmental organization effort, that really have done a good job. So in places like Somalia, for example, where this year food insecurity is somewhere around 4.2 million people, we have offered assistance to the NGOs. For example, logistical and even intelligence. But for the most part, they've learned a lot of lessons, staged a lot of -- a lot of logistical support and they are dealing with that situation.

     Now, with regard to the U.S. specifically, though, I mean, our engagement and our involvement needs to be maintained because there's like 12 1/2 million displaced persons on the African continent which causes security issues and challenges for the governments to have to deal with them from a fiscal perspective.

     VOTEL:  Congressman, I would agree with General Waldhauser on this. I think our involvement in this continues to be extraordinarily important. As we look and clear through areas, as we conduct our counterterrorism operations such as we're doing against ISIS right now, the resources that come along with some of the stability aspects that must always follow these combat operations we're doing are absolutely essential to bring people back into their communities, to start standing up the essential services and to give -- give the local governance, local security, an opportunity to begin to reestablish life in these areas.

     So I -- I would agree, this is absolutely essential and we have to -- we have to stay engaged in this.

     CISNEROS:  So, just to follow up on that, as -- you've kind of talked about how the Chinese and the Russians are kind of filling the void diplomatically in some of these regions. Are they filling the void humanitarian as we cut humanitarian aid? Are they kind of picking up their humanitarian efforts in order to build better relationships with these foreign governments?

     WALDHAUSER:  To a certain degree, yes. I mean, they've got about 2,000 UN peacekeepers. They've tried to insert themselves, I don't say that in a negative way, but they've tried to contribute to the Ebola crisis we talked about in the DRC. They want to become a leader in that particular medical technology. They have made strides in that area and, you know, at the end of the day, that's not bad. I mean, there are places, certainly on the African continent, where we have to cooperate with the Chinese but there are times we have to confront and also compete with them.

     But when they build infrastructure, if they contribute to vaccinations and the Ebola -- in the Ebola crisis and so forth, that's not necessarily bad. It's actually helpful.

     CISNEROS:  I yield back my time.

     SMITH:  Thank you. Mr. Kim.

     KIM:  Thank you so much for coming out here and answering our questions. I wanted to address General Votel. First of all, I just want to echo the comments of a lot of my colleagues in just thanking you for your service as someone who's been working this space before. I just -- we -- I know we are indebted as a nation for what you have done and the great work that you have done over the years.

     I wanted to follow up on something you said earlier. You were talking about how a lot of the efforts that we're engaging in now in Syria and in Raqqah (ph) in particular, which is what I'm focused on with this question line, is about now shifting towards dealing with an insurgency, that a lot of the territorial land held by ISIS has been taken back. We are in some ways changing the mission in terms of what we're trying to be doing now. And my question to you is just trying to get your assessments, your honest assessments of where the Iraqi Security Forces are in terms of that.

     We've been working so much with this "by, with, and through." And I'm just trying to get a sense of, what is different now in 2019 compared to 2013? Specifically, in terms of how they're ready to handle this newer mission of reverting back to dealing with an insurgency.

     VOTEL:  Thank you -- thank you, Congressman. From -- from our perspective, we don't look at this as a change in mission. Our mission still is at the invitation of the government of -- of Iraq to assist them in defeating ISIS. So from our perspective, we look at it very much the same. My assessment of the Iraqi Security Forces right now is that they are doing a -- a pretty good job of keeping pressure on the remnants of ISIS that exist in Iraq.

     In some cases, they are doing this unilaterally and in other cases they are doing this with our -- with our assistance. Each -- their units across the country have different levels of readiness and different levels of capability and we're continuing to work to raise those to a higher standard so they can be -- they can be self-sustaining. But they are -- they are continuing to do that. What is different, I think, is that -- is that they have been -- from 2013, 2014, whatnot, they have been well-supported by their civilian government.

     The current Iraqi leadership is -- are very, very strong supporters of -- of their military. The former prime minister, Prime Minister Abadi was an extraordinary wartime leader, in my opinion. And he provided exceptional support to them. I think the military leaders saw this, they saw the necessity of the situation and they rallied behind the coalition support that we provided to them and rose to the occasion. Good leaders emerged on the Iraqi side that helped them -- helped them orchestrate this campaign and we are continuing to see that today.

     They certainly have more that needs to be done. It needs to be a more inclusive force.

     It needs to include more Sunnis; it needs to include Kurds in it. And more -- we are working towards that. We're going to have to address popular mobilization forces. These -- these elements that are part of the security forces as well.

     But I am -- I am very confident in the current military leadership that we see in Iraq. And this again, moving in the right direction.

     KIM:  That's right. I share a lot of those concerns going forward about how we can do this and make sure that the skills that we've been building up aren't going to atrophy as we start to move on. And as we've seen before, we've certainly seen a lot of success with the counter terrorism service and others in terms of going in and being able to penetrate ISIS defenses.

     But we've also seen the difficulties of what happened in 2013 and 2014 when the Iraqi security forces were asked to hold on to territory and what is their ability to hold and that's where I'm just trying to -- to delve off of.

     Just one last question here. I know that, you know, in your past work you've done a lot with the counter terrorism service in -- in Iraq and I know that they were such a critical force there that had gone through a lot over the last couple years in terms of what was asked of them in terms of going through some very difficult circumstances.

     Specifically with that organization, CTS, what is their current capacity and how crucial are they in this now mission -- again, I agree with you, it's not a changing mission but certainly a focus more hold rather than the other components. How crucial is a CTS in maintaining that?

     VOTEL:  CTS remains extraordinarily critical in terms of -- and -- and it is their -- their desire and our -- our support to that desire to return the CTS to their more traditional missions of counter terrorism operations. And that is what we are working on.

     So we stayed with the CTS when we left in -- in 2011. That was important and that was a reliable force and they carried the heavy load over the -- over the -- over the campaign. And as we -- as we move in the future, we have to sustain that but we also have to stay with the Iraqi security forces as well.

     The Iraqi army is -- can be the bull work against -- against extremism in this country and we need to support them.

     KIM:  Well, I certainly hope so and I will do everything I can from this angle to be able to support those missions. Thank you.

     SMITH:  Thank you very much. Ranking Member.

     THORNBERRY:  A major focus for both parties and the administration the last two years has been to repair the readiness of our forces. I had one of your fellow combatant commanders tell me recently that he can already tell a difference in the forces that are being rotated through his command.

     I don't if it applies so much to San Kong (ph) because you all have been the priority theater for 17 years. But my question to each of you is can you at this point tell the difference yet in the readiness of the forces that are rotate through your commands?

     VOTEL:  Yes. Congressman, yes. From -- from our perspective I think we -- we certainly can. We -- we have -- as you know we've been dependent upon the services to provide us well trained forces and -- and we have -- we have been lucky recipients of that for a long period of time.

     So I remain very, very, very, very grateful for that. I would highlight one thing. The armies investment in -- in security forces assistance brigades I think is a good example of how -- how our services are really supporting us in the way that we need.

     This is -- this is an organization that is specifically designed to help with the by width (ph) and through approach that we are applying so effectively on the ground in a number of areas and so to me I think the -- the services, my service in particular in this, I think is a doing an excellent job of providing us the capabilities that we need to pursue these missions.

     THORNBERRY:  And -- and just to emphasize it, you can tell the readiness level is improving already?

     VOTEL:  It's -- it's -- it's always been uniformly high in -- in CENTCOM, and -- and so it is -- it is certainly sustained, and I have no concerns about any of the forces that are coming into the CENTCOM area of responsibility.

     THORNBERRY:  General Waldhauser, is it getting better yet?

     WALDHAUSER:  Congressman, a little bit more nuanced, I think for AFRICOM, and that is I would say that the special operations forces that we have that are engaged in kinetic activities are as good as they ever have been. Their readiness has been always good and continues to be so. I would just a quick point on the -- on the SFAB that General Votel mentioned. We have -- we would have a lot of work for them if we had one assigned to AFRICOM. There is plenty of -- plenty of things they could do to contribute. And finally I would just say that also at AFRICOM, we have locations with ranges and so forth that will allow readiness to be maintained and even improved. We would like to sell that to the services too, sometimes they think that perhaps on the African continent they will lose readiness, but we always like to say that they can gain and -- even make -- maintaining gain readiness at some of the places where they could train.

     THORNBERRY:  Thank you.

     SMITH:  We are overtime, but Mr. Gallego, I will yield to you. You will have to do it quickly, we've got to get up stairs for the classified session (inaudible). Mr. Gallego.

     GALLEGO:  Thank you, Mr. Chair. General Waldhauser, last week, the New York Times published an account of an operation Sudan 2013 that suffered from problems eerily similar to what we saw in the Niger ambush of 2017. I personally as a Marine know what it's like to have bad leadership and bad equipment but still be required to go into combat several times. I can tell you, general, it is an awful feeling. so please tell me, general, what has AFRICOM or DOD done to change the way they do business so that we don't see more Niger ambush situations or Sudan, or any number of unreported incidents in your command over the (inaudible) because they're no longer, quote, unquote, "situation normal."

     WALDHAUSER:  So congressman, as indicated earlier, some of the things that we've done since the Niger incident have to do with the tactical actions and procedures on the ground. and with minimal force requirements, timelines for MEDEVAC and CASEVAC, of coordination efforts, weather (ph) and so forth, or had armed (ph) ISR words applicable, ISR together with that, and then when you tie in with what we've been doing recently after a lot of -- long time of working with these units we are now advising them at a higher level where we do mostly at the battalion level and to a large degree remotely, we have the ability to do the same thing. And so those are some of the things we've changed...

     GALLEGO:  Thank you, general. I'm aware of some of that, and yet one of the things that I'm not aware of is who has been held responsible for this epic failure that costs and some me their lives. So far what I've read is that the Army brass is basically trying to blame junior officers, both before and after the Niger ambush. So who is being held responsible? You are the AFRICOM commander, who is responsible for these failures? It's not junior officers.

     WALDHAUSER:  So congressman, the -- the -- the issue of the investigation right now lies with the secretary of Defense. The issue of accountability in awards and so forth come from SOCOM. I know though -- I'm not privy those discussions, but I know that been ongoing. But perhaps Katie, I don't know from the OSD perspective, the status, but I would -- I would just say again, this -- the investigation completed and then the action...

     GALLEGO:  How much longer is the investigation going to take place, this is almost two years now.

     WHEELBARGER:  I would just add that the report and that very question on the responsibilities in the award is with secretary of Defense. He takes this very seriously. Obviously we've had a transition of -- of authority within that having the secretary. He's reviewing this carefully and we're -- we are expecting you to get that final report here shortly, which will -- will answer that question.

     GALLEGO:  And once the report comes out, you're going to actually go hold the DOD personnel, whether they be generals or below, responsible for this disaster, correct?

     WHEELBARGER:  That's a decision with the secretary at this moment and he will be able to provide you that information as soon as he finalizes his decision.

     GALLEGO:  OK. Ms. Wheelbarger, section 1212 of last year's NDA required a review of advice assist (ph) in the company missions from the undersecretary of defense for policy. There were clearly issues about these missions as laid bare (ph) by the ambush. So why haven't your provided this report to us?

     WHEELBARGER:  I believe this is a very -- this report is tied up and finally having the secretary's complete decisions on all -- all the recommendations going forward and as soon as he does, we will provide a report.

     GALLEGO:  OK. I'd also like to know what is the -- and it can be to either General Wheelbarger (ph) -- or Ms. Wheelbarger -- I apologize. What is the status of the (ph) providing (ph) redacted reports of Niger investigation to the families of deceased U.S. soldiers?

     WHEELBARGER:  My understanding is all of that reporting requirements are -- are -- will be released as soon as -- including the -- the redacted reports to the families as soon as the final decisions that are outstanding are made by the secretary.

     GALLEGO:  So that's including the autopsy reports?

     WHEELBARGER:  I would have to take that back.

     WALDHAUSER:  Well, my understanding is that once the secretary signs off on this, then those reductive briefs (ph) will go to the families first, just like we did at the outset of this. As you may recall, the team went to each family and spent hours with them to give them the first look at this and I'm sure it's been taken a long time, and I know that they've had a lot to process and probably have more questions. But it's my understanding...

     GALLEGO:  General, without a doubt that the family has actually the process this. I think the problem that we have, is we actually can't process what actually occurred because we're not getting a full report. I think that's my dissatisfaction right now, because there are currently operations probably happening in AFRICOM, and I have zero doubt that there's actually been full change (ph) because I don't know who actually was responsible for this major mess up. And it -- it scares me the DOD is at this point, still hiding this information; it has been two years. So I hope that that will be coming out soon, because I think that we'll have to take extraordinary (ph) measures to actually get that to happen. I yield back my time.

     SMITH:  Thank you. just quickly at the end, the only comment I -- I will make, I know a lot of people have raised concerns about Afghanistan, and no matter which path you take, there are going to be concerns about Afghanistan, but trying to find a negotiated settlement is the best way forward without question. We don't presume what that settlement is going to be, but I for one, am supportive of the negotiations and discussion you're having, because ultimately our goal is to reduce our footprint in Afghanistan, reduce the risk.

     Men and women in our Armed Forces, lives are at risk in Afghanistan every day right now. To the extent that we can shift that responsibility to people in the region, I'm all for it, it's not going to be easy. It's a very, very difficult part of the world, as -- as many of you know, far -- far better than I do. But it is the direction we have to go if we're going to get to the outcome that we want. So I appreciate those efforts and we'll certainly stay in touch with you on the details. And then on that, we'll take a brief break and we'll reconvene upstairs in a few minutes.