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
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
"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
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.