"Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And let me thank our distinguished witnesses, who are two of the most impressive military leaders currently serving our nation. We are all grateful for their many years of dedicated service. We are also grateful for the men and women they lead in U.S. Central Command and Special Operations Command, amazing Americans of every service who carry on the fight after a decade of war.
"Admiral McRaven: This is your first time testifying before this Committee as the Commander of SOCOM. And it is fitting that you do so alongside General Mattis, a seasoned veteran of this Committee's hearings who has the scars to prove it. Nowhere is the work of America's special operators more persistent and important than in CENTCOM's area of responsibility. These forces play an instrumental role in ongoing counterterrorism operations, both in the region and around the globe.
"While Al-Qaeda's Senior Leadership has been diminished by sustained pressure against them in Pakistan, Al-Qaeda's global operations have become increasingly decentralized and no less deadly. Regional affiliates seek safe haven in countries beset by weak governments and internal instability, particularly in places like Yemen, the Horn of Africa, and the Trans-Sahel. This is why SOCOM's ongoing efforts to build the capacity of partner nations in troubled regions remain a vital component of our strategy to disrupt and defeat these terrorist organizations.
"I am concerned, however, that as the Administration seeks to decrease the size of our military's conventional ground forces, many people are already coming to see special operations forces as a "fix-all' to the myriad security challenges that our country faces. I look forward to your thoughts, Admiral, as to the proper role of special operations in the "Total Force' -- and what more can be done to ensure that these operators are not stretched at the expense of their unique core capabilities.
"General Mattis: All of us here have the utmost respect for you, but we do not envy you. Few of our military leaders have more on their plate -- from supporting our friends in Jordan and Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E., to keeping a watchful eye on the fragile but very different situations in Bahrain, Yemen, and Lebanon.
"In Afghanistan, despite the progress that our troops are making on the ground, we are at an impasse with President Karzai on the negotiation of a strategic partnership agreement, which is critical to sustaining our gains and locking in lasting success.
"In Pakistan, our relationship remains fraught by a series of setbacks and a lack of trust, largely arising from the fact that the country's intelligence service continues to support terrorist groups such as the Haqqani Network that are killing Americans.
"In Iraq, Prime Minister Maliki continues to centralize power at the expense of the other political blocs, while the threat posed by Al-Qaeda appears to be growing, along with the kinds of horrific spectacular attacks like the one we saw yesterday.
"The Iranian regime continues working to subvert Iraq and many other countries in the region. Its recent attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, as well as Israeli officials in Southeast Asia and the Caucuses, suggests a growing and increasingly reckless threat -- a threat that would expand exponentially if the Iranian regime were to acquire the nuclear weapons capability that it clearly seeks. Unfortunately, the impressive international effort to impose crippling sanctions appears to have done nothing to dissuade Iran from its military nuclear pursuits.
"And then there is Syria. After a year of bloodshed, the crisis there has reached a decisive moment. It is estimated that nearly 7,500 lives have been lost. Syria today is the scene of some of the worst state-sponsored violence since the Balkans. Bashar Al-Assad and his top lieutenants appear to be accelerating their fight to the finish. And they are doing so with the full support of Russia, China, and Iran. A steady supply of weapons, ammunition, and other assistance is flowing to Assad from Moscow and Tehran, and as the Washington Post reported on Sunday, Iranian military and intelligence operatives are likely working in Syria to support Assad.
"The President has made it the objective of the United States that the killing in Syria must stop, and that Assad must go. He has committed the prestige and credibility of our nation to that goal, and it is the right goal. The United States has a clear national security interest in stopping the slaughter in Syria and forcing Assad to leave power. The end of the Assad regime would sever Hezbollah's lifeline to Iran, eliminate a long-standing threat to Israel, bolster Lebanon's sovereignty and independence, and remove a committed state sponsor of terrorism that has engaged in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It would be a geopolitical success of the first order and a strategic defeat for the Iranian regime.
"However, it is not clear that the present policy will be able to achieve our goals in Syria. In recent testimony to this Committee, the Director of National Intelligence stated that if the status quo persists, Assad could hang on for the foreseeable future. And that was before Homs fell. With each passing day, the international response to Assad's atrocities is being overtaken by events on the ground in Syria.
"What opposition groups in Syria need most urgently is relief from Assad's tank and artillery sieges in the many cities that are still contested. But time is running out. Assad's forces are on the march. Providing military assistance to the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups is necessary, but at this late hour, that alone will not be sufficient to stop the slaughter and save innocent lives. The only realistic way to do so is with foreign airpower. And the time has come for it.
"Airstrikes could help to establish and defend safe havens in Syria, especially in the north, in which opposition forces can organize and plan their political and military activities against Assad. These safe havens could serve allow for the delivery of humanitarian and military assistance -- including weapons and ammunition, body armor, tactical intelligence, secure communications equipment, food and water, and medical supplies. These safe havens could also help the Free Syrian Army and other armed groups in Syria to train and organize themselves into more cohesive and effective military forces, likely with the assistance of foreign partners.
"Rather than closing off the prospects for some kind of a negotiated transition that is acceptable to Syria's opposition, military intervention is now needed to preserve this option as credible. Assad needs to know that he will not win. But right now, unfortunately, Assad seems to think he can win, for good reason, I'm afraid. I look forward to hearing our witnesses' advice about how we can change the balance of power against Assad, so as to finally end his bloodshed and brutal rule in Syria.
"Thank you, Mr. Chairman."