Tuesday, March 8, 2016


To receive testimony on United States Central Command,

United States Africa Command and United States Special Operations Command

(As Prepared for Delivery)

Let me join the Chairman in welcoming this distinguished panel of witnesses.    General Austin and General Rodriguez, this is likely your last appearance before the committee.  We thank you and your families for your decades of service to our nation.  General Votel, we appreciate your appearance here today as Commander of  Special Operations Command, and look forward to seeing you again tomorrow for your nomination to be Commander of Central Command.  Your service has been exemplary. 

Earlier this year, I traveled to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Djibouti to see firsthand some of the pressing challenges you three face daily. 

In Iraq, the diplomatic and military officials I met universally agreed that the Iraqi Security Force’s successful retaking of Ramadi in January was critical for providing momentum for upcoming operations.  While ISIL has now lost considerable territory that it once held in Iraq, the more difficult military tasks are still ahead.  In the coming months, the combination of a newly trained Iraqi Security Forces, enabled by coalition intelligence and airstrikes, should be able to continue to make progress in evicting ISIL from population centers.  I look forward to our witnesses’ assessment of what we can expect in the coming months as the Iraqi Security Forces turn their attention toward Mosul. 

In addition, Iraq’s political leadership must confront the longstanding questions relating to political reconciliation in Iraq.  General Austin, I look forward to your assessment of the political atmosphere in Baghdad and whether you believe the conditions are set for a political dialogue in Iraq.

In Syria, the cessation of hostilities agreement appears to be tenuously holding, but it remains unclear if this incremental step will be sufficient to set the stage for meaningful political negotiations.  ISIL remains in control of much of Eastern Syria.  Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters, with the assistance of Coalition airstrikes and special operations forces, have made gains in Northern Syria, but the battlefield dynamics continue to present many challenges.  Also, as General Breedlove discussed last week, the “weaponization” of refugees by Russia presents military, political, and humanitarian issues that we have not seen in the modern era.  I hope our witnesses will provide their assessment of the situation and how they are confronting these tasks.

Iran continues to be a cause of significant concern to the committee, particularly its recent missile tests and ongoing support to non-state actors across the Middle East.  General Austin, I hope you will provide your updated assessment of Iran’s activities in the wake of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action’s implementation day. 

In Afghanistan, the past year has been one of significant security and political transition. We must continue to evaluate how we can best enable efforts by the Government of Afghanistan to protect and govern its population.  I understand that General Nicholson, the new Commander of Resolute Support, is now conducting an assessment of what capabilities and associated troop levels he believes will be required to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan throughout the rest of 2016 and into 2017.  General Austin and General Votel, I look forward to your thoughts on the current situation in Afghanistan and what can be done to protect the progress we have made there.

General Rodriguez, one result of CENTCOM’s operations against ISIL in Iraq and Syria has been ISIL’s expansion in Libya.  Your command has undertaken a number of successful military strikes against ISIL in Libya, but the lack of a functioning government in Tripoli or unified Libyan military will make sustainable progress against ISIL difficult.    I hope you will provide your assessment of the security situation in Libya and what effective actions can be taken.

My visit to Djibouti focused particularly on the counterterrorism operations in Somalia.  For many years, the international community has provided substantial support for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and the nascent Somali National Security Forces in their fight against al Shabaab.  While these operations have improved security situation, it was clear from my discussions that a sustained financial and training commitment by the international community will be necessary for many years.  General Rodriguez, I am interested in your assessment of Somalia and what resources AFRICOM will require to sustain our counterterrorism and train and equip operations in the region.

I would welcome the comments of all three of our witnesses on counter-messaging and strategic communications effort against violent extremist groups.  One takeaway from my travels in January was that this is an area of operations where the United States is not yet capable of countering our enemies. 

Lastly, our special operating forces continue to maintain an extremely high operational tempo to support the efforts of both CENTCOM and AFRICOM.  General Votel, I commend you for your efforts not only to ensure SOF have the training and equipment necessary to succeed in combat, but that they and their families also have the requisite resources to manage the stress that can be caused by repeated high-stress deployments.  I look forward to your testimony on these issues and look forward to discussing them more with you and your successor, General Thomas, tomorrow.

Thank you.