Thursday, April 11, 2013

EUCOM nominee outlines priorities during confirmation hearing

by Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

4/11/2013 - WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- The Afghan security transition, the Arab Spring and the U.S.-Russia relationship were among the command priorities discussed this morning during the Senate Armed Services Committee's confirmation hearing for President Barack Obama's choice to be the next commander of U.S. European Command and NATO's supreme allied commander for Europe.

If confirmed, Gen. Philip M. Breedlove -- now commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, U.S. Air Forces Africa and the NATO Allied Air Command, will succeed Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, who has served as commander of EUCOM and as supreme allied commander for Europe since 2009.

Breedlove, accompanied by his wife, children and members of his extended family, told the Senate panel that one of his biggest challenges if he's confirmed will be to manage the evolution of NATO past its operational focus in Afghanistan.

"My first focus is going to be getting the transition in Afghanistan right," he said.

Over the next 20 months, Breedlove said in written testimony, "we must fully recruit, field and ensure the sustainment of the (Afghan national security force) while we shift the main effort for security lead to the Afghans in 2013."

It's important to keep the pressure on ensuring the professionalism of the Afghan military, the general said.

"Quite frankly," he added, "we're doing pretty good there in the armed forces piece, and we have some work to do in the Afghan police piece."

Breedlove said it's important to make the Afghan security forces credible, capable and responsive, and to make sure they appear credible to the Afghan people they would protect.

One of the biggest challenges in the transition process, the general said, involves "enabling tools" such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR, technology.

"As I talk to the other NATO nations and as I've talked to other commanders there in past trips as an Air Force officer, they are very concerned about ... being able to do the ISR that we do, the personnel recovery, medevac and inter- and intra-theater airlift," he said.

"These are all things that (the Afghans) are not capable of doing and that NATO has been providing," the general added, "and I think those are things we need to be concerned about."

Preparations also must be made for the Afghan presidential election while redeploying thousands of International Security Assistance Force troops and restructuring the basing posture to be ready for the post-2014 mission, he added.

NATO, Breedlove said, has changed with the times since its inception.

"The alliance has evolved from a Cold War construct to one with ambitious aspirations and capabilities after integrating former Warsaw Pact and Eastern European Soviet Republics and building an out-of-area expeditionary capability," he said.

As EUCOM commander, Breedlove said, his challenge would be to work to support the broader U.S. government effort to ensure that NATO makes the right choices to maintain its capability, capacity and credibility.

Severe budget cuts called for by sequestration are another challenge, Breedlove said.

"Sequestration negatively affects both theater operations and EUCOM's ability to support the U.S. defense strategy by further reducing an already-declining budget," he noted. Such reductions increase risk, degrade security cooperation relationships forged over many years, and reduce partner participation in operations, the general said, adding that sequestration also weighs on the minds of troops.

"From the numbers of questions that (my command chief master sergeant) and I have gotten as we've circulated the battlefield, forward and in Europe, this is a concern on the minds of our troops," Breedlove told the senators. "And I am concerned that it will impact the long-term retention, health and welfare of our troops."

Another challenge for EUCOM and NATO is the potential for a long-term continuation of the Arab Spring and its impact on Israel's shrinking strategic depth, the general said.

Iran's malign influence in the politics of Syria and Lebanon are a constant concern, he added, and for Israel, specific concerns include Iran's nuclear ambitions, security considerations relative to Syrian chemical weapons and high-end conventional weapons, the decline in influence of Egypt's military and resulting instability in the Sinai, and the strength of Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group and political party.

"This instability will remain throughout the region for some time," Breedlove said. "Our challenge is to lead the military effort to assure Israel of the U.S. resolve to guarantee its security."

EUCOM also must deal with Russia, which Breedlove called an "aspirational superpower hindered by endemic deficiencies" that include mounting internal political, economic, sociocultural and demographic stressors.

Russia is an important influence on many nations on its periphery, the general said -- nations that have been leaning more to the West than the East and have become good partners with the United States and NATO in places like Afghanistan.

"But these nations are clearly still tied to Russia for such things as energy needs, transportation and more," he said. "There are lots of tentacles that go back and forth. So Russia's ability to either help us or hinder us as we work with these nations is still very great.

"I think we would be better off if we quit thinking of Russia as an enemy and tried to bring them into a partnership as we deal with Europe and other places around the region," he continued, adding that Russia has been helpful in areas such as counterpiracy.

"We need to try to find out how to work with them," Breedlove said.