Partnering for Threat Mitigation and Regional Stabilization
From Armor & Mobility/August 2017
General Joseph L. Votel
U.S. Central Command
Armor & Mobility had the opportunity to speak with General Joseph L. Votel, Commander, U.S. Central Command, (USCENTCOM), on issues relating to CENTCOM’s critical relationship with various regional partners and ongoing efforts to maintain a balance of power within the Middle East.
A&M: With the 2016 reaffirmation of security partnering between CENTCOM and Saudi Arabia, including efforts to check Iranian destabilizing activities in the region and counter violent extremism, how is CENTCOM leadership working to ensure effective execution of these efforts from a team perspective?
GEN Votel: First, I want to say that the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and civilians that make up the command are world-class and truly the very best at what they do. Our strategic intent for CENTCOM is very straightforward: prepare, pursue, and prevail. We must prepare the environment to ensure an effective posture and strong relationships across the region. We pursue opportunities to strengthen relationships and support our interests. And when our forces are put into action, we prevail in our assigned missions.
With our coalition partners, we’ve adopted a “by, with and through” approach that places a heavy reliance on indigenous forces. We place trust in our leaders in these forward locations to make decisions in time-compressed situations. We are seeing consistent success with this approach, despite some challenges, and it is likely to pay significant dividends going forward. From our train and assist program with the Iraqi security forces to supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces and Syrian Arab Coalition, our armed forces and coalition partners are executing campaigns in the central region with significantly fewer U.S. forces on the ground than in previous years.
A&M: What are CENTCOM’s primary focal areas to achieve its strategic goals in the region?
GEN Votel: I’ve identified three focus areas that I believe we must accomplish in order to successfully execute our strategy:
First, we must restore trust with our partners in the region while at the same time maintaining the trust of our leadership in Washington. The fact is we cannot surge trust in times of crisis so we must do what is necessary now to assure our partners of our commitment and staying power.
Second, we must link our military objectives and campaigns as closely as possible to policy objectives and into our other instruments of national power. In other words, we must align our military objectives and soft power capabilities with desired national and regional strategic end states, recognizing that if we don’t do this, we risk creating space for our adversaries to achieve their strategic aims.
Finally, we must make sure that we are postured for purpose in this region. We must have a credible, ready, and present force coupled with foreign military sales and foreign military financing programs that serve to build and shape partner nation capability in a timely and effective fashion. Ours is a challenging and very important mission.
Our U.S. Special Forces continue to train, advise, assist and accompany indigenous forces in various areas within our region to progress towards a status quo where those forces are able to mitigate threats and maintain stability on their own. For example, we continued to have SOF supporting the Manbij Military Council forces even after Manbij’s liberation from ISIS in August. The MMC provide security to Manbij as local governance works to revitalize their city.
We work in close coordination with partner forces and our allies to remain focused in delivering a lasting defeat to our common enemy, ISIS. We also are already thinking past ISIS occupation cities, and how to transition back to liberation. I visited Mosul once again in early July–just after its liberation was announced. Displacing ISIS from Mosul represents a significant achievement for Iraq, and our Coalition played a key part in that success. Our Coalition partners continue to support the Iraqi Security Forces and stand ready to assist in the effort to rebuild towards self-governance, which will require significant aid from non-governmental organizations and the UN, especially in West Mosul.
A&M: From an integrated air and missile defense systems perspective, how have capabilities improved over the past year in addressing increasing adversarial threats?
GEN Votel: Our Integrated Air and Missile Defense systems represent critical capabilities given the expanding range of threats present today in the Central Region and elsewhere around the globe. We are working towards the deployment of additional advanced systems, including Patriot and THAAD, and continue to work closely with our regional partners through our foreign military sales and foreign military financing and training and exercise programs to help them build the additional needed capability to defend their sovereign spaces and the region writ large. Generally, each year the U.S. military participates in more than 50 exercises with partner nations in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. For example, our Air and Missile Defense Exercise, completed earlier this year, is a U.S.-led exercise that develops and exercises tactics, techniques, and procedures against simulated air and missile threats. U.S. participation in these exercises reassures our coalition and regional partners and allies of our commitment to the security and stability of this region.
A&M: On the maritime front, how is CENTCOM working to strengthen security along coastal zones for increased traffic identification and situational awareness?
GEN Votel: Maritime security is certainly a concern, and the potential for destabilization presents some long-term challenges. We remain steadfast in our commitment to protecting the free flow of commerce through these key maritime sea lanes – as nearly 30 percent of commerce vital to the world’s economy passes through the three main chokepoints in the area (the Suez Canal, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Bab al Mandeb Strait). We are also concerned about Iranian malign influence. Our focus is for stability for all nations and people in the region. We work to encourage all involved nations to first fight ISIS and counter the terrorism that has taken root in the area. Those parties who are working to frustrate those goals are only complicating things for the people in the region, and those who oppose terror across the globe.
I am confident that with the new agreement deal we recently signed with Saudi Arabia, we can implement more advanced systems, such as Multi-Mission Surface Combatant ships, helicopters, patrol boats, and associated weapons systems. We’re always looking for ways to balance out what our requirements are, what the whole joint and combined force brings, and what’s available to us—all capabilities that will enable partner nations to help protect freedom of navigation and deter and defend against maritime attacks or incursions. Together with our partner nations, we will bolster our capabilities and readiness, which is vital to security in the region, and essential to political stability and economic prosperity.