By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 14, 2013 – Two generals nominated to lead U.S. combatant commands focused on the role of partnerships in national defense strategy in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing today.
Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, nominated to lead U.S. Central Command, and Army Gen. David M. Rodriguez, the president’s nominee to lead U.S. Africa Command, testified together in a confirmation hearing.
Centcom’s area of responsibility covers 20 countries in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Syria and Yemen. While the Centcom commander doesn’t control combat operations in Afghanistan, the command is responsible for supporting those operations.
Austin, now the Army’s vice chief of staff, told senators the war in Afghanistan remains Centcom’s top priority. President Barack Obama announced this week that 34,000 U.S. troops, about half of those now there, will leave Afghanistan over the next year.
The movement of people and equipment that will involve, Austin told senators, will be a “herculean undertaking.”
The general noted he oversaw a similar effort as commander of U.S. forces in Iraq in 2010 and 2011. If confirmed as Centcom commander, he said, “I will do everything within my power to help set the broader conditions for our success in this most important endeavor.”
Austin said the nation owes a debt of gratitude to current Centcom commander Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis, who will retire in March.
“General Mattis has led Central Command masterfully over these past two and a half years,” he said.
Mattis’ leadership and his team’s efforts over a decisive period “have been tremendous,” Austin said. “If confirmed, I intend to sustain and continue this important work.”
The general acknowledged Centcom’s mission is demanding.
“Our national interests, and those of our allies and friends, demand vigilance,” he said, “as well as our continued commitment to … address the many challenges that exist, and to achieve and maintain stability throughout the Middle East, and South and Central Asia.”
In a complex and “extremely volatile” world, Austin said, “much of the instability and associated challenges reside in the Centcom area of responsibility.”
The role of a combatant command is to be prepared to respond to contingencies whenever they occur, he said.
“If we truly want to have an effective and lasting impact in the region, our friends and allies must be assured of our support, and our potential adversaries must understand that there will be consequences for their actions,” he said.
Austin said the years since 9/11 have demonstrated that agencies responsible for elements of national power - military, economic and diplomatic – must work together. He said he has worked closely with senior military and civilian officials across government, and with partner nations’ government and military leaders.
“I can personally attest to the effectiveness of these kinds of collaborations,” he said. “If confirmed, I will continue to cultivate my existing relationships, while pursuing additional opportunities and partnerships that will surely prove beneficial to our efforts.”
The general said while these are “historic and difficult times,” they are marked by new opportunities and a shared desire for peace and prosperity, even in places that haven’t known them before.
“I fully appreciate that the work ahead will be great and the road will not be easy,” Austin said. “But if confirmed, I pledge to give all that I have towards our success, and ensuring the success of our allies and friends around the world, in this most worthy endeavor.”
Africom, formally established in 2008 with headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, is the nation’s newest geographical combatant command, responsible for operations, exercises and security cooperation on the African continent.
Rodriguez now serves as head of the Army’s Forces Command. He said in a brief opening statement that if confirmed to lead Africom, he will “[work] closely with this committee, as well as all our joint, interagency, intergovernmental and multinational partners to address the challenges we face, and the opportunities to increase stability on this strategically important continent.”
Strong partnerships are key to that stability, Rodriguez said. He credited Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, the current Africom commander, with sustaining such partnerships among the 54 nations of Africa and “providing the foundation for our continued engagement across the continent and globally.”
Rodriguez said that if confirmed, he hopes to expand on the work Ham has done.