Thank you, Mr. Chairman. General Mattis and Admiral McRaven: Thank you for your many years of faithful service to our nation, and on behalf of our entire committee, please convey to the brave men and women you lead how grateful we are for their sacrifice, and that of their families.
This hearing comes at a critical time for our nation's security. Our military has already endured significant budget cuts and now stands to lose significantly more under sequestration. These cuts will directly impact the readiness and capabilities of our force, particularly at a time when they are confronted with a global security environment that is as tumultuous and dangerous as any time in recent history--a fact that is particularly true within the CENTCOM AOR.
The reality of these cuts and the pain of operating under continuing resolutions mean that you will have declining resources and reduced flexibility to address increasing threats. You will be forced to accept greater strategic risk. And as I have said many times before, due to the nature of military operations: risk equals lives. As we accept greater risk, like we did by under-resourcing AFRICOM prior to the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, we must understand that it will result in greater loss of life. That is why last month Senator Toomey and I introduced a bill to give the department the flexibility it needs to operate within these severe budgetary constraints, and to mitigate risk. Although the amount of the cuts to the topline would remain the same, the Department would have maneuvering room to decide where to take them. I talked to all of the service chiefs about this topic, and all of them agreed that this flexibility would provide significant relief and help to reduce risk.
I look to our witnesses to provide the committee with their assessment of how the ongoing budget crisis will impact their ability to effectively address the challenges within their areas of responsibility and whether the current strategies that they are operating under are still executable given the budget realities.
General Mattis, in CENTCOM, the threats you deal with on a daily basis are staggering. One of the most vexing challenges we face is Iran. Their malign influence continues to spread across the Middle East and into Africa, Europe and the Pacific through their proxy network of terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah. Additionally, Iran is developing more complex anti-access and anti-denial weapons while simultaneously pursuing ballistic missile and nuclear weapon capabilities. I'm greatly concerned that our ongoing economic and diplomatic efforts to halt Iran's acquisition of a nuclear weapon have been ineffective and we risk arriving at a similar outcome as we now see in North Korea.
In Afghanistan, we are entering a new consequential chapter. The President recently announced a reduction of 34,000 U.S. troops over the next year and discussions are ongoing about what a post-2014 residual presence should look like. We must ensure that decisions about the future of our mission are based on sound strategy and the facts on the ground rather than domestic political calculations. I worry that we will repeat our mistakes in Iraq and draw down too many troops too fast, resulting in a security vacuum that allows the resurgence of Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. We must listen to the commanders on the ground, to you General Mattis and Admiral McRaven, and your best professional military advice on what it will take to preserve our hard fought security gains and prevent Afghanistan from returning to a breeding ground for terrorists determined to strike at the American homeland.
And in Syria, the country's civil war has entered its second year and has now claimed the lives of nearly 70,000. As the conflict drags on, we see Syria increasingly becoming the front lines of a protracted global struggle between Sunni and Shia terrorist groups that threatens broader regional stability. Iran continues to support to the Assad regime through their Hezbollah proxy and more directly through arms shipments that overfly Iraq. Despite numerous requests from the United States, Iraq continues to allow these flights which is damaging the relationship between the U.S. and Iraq.
The flow of Syrian refugees into Jordan and Lebanon will likely exceed more than 10% of their respective populations and top over 1 million as quickly as June of this year. The overwhelming influx of refugees could rapidly exceed the capacity of these small countries to absorb massive humanitarian and economic burdens. And if we are not careful, these conditions will foster and fuel further instability, which much like we've seen in North Africa, could serve as a breeding ground for terrorism.
Admiral McRaven, as commander of SOCOM, you play an instrumental role in shaping our global counterterrorism campaign. As we have seen in recent years, despite our many successes on the battlefield, Al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist organizations remain remarkably resilient. They have developed sophisticated illicit and operational networks that transcend national borders. I'm concerned that to date, though, our strategy has been ad-hoc and focused primarily on a country-by-country approach. We must confront this threat by developing a strategy that is truly global in nature. I understand that you have taken steps to this end and I look forward to you updating the committee on these efforts.
Admiral, I am also interested in your ongoing efforts to support your most important asset--the men and women serving under your command. Your predecessor, Admiral Eric Olson, made headlines when he stated two years ago that after a decade of combat operations, the force was beginning to "fray around the edges." As a result, Admiral Olson began a comprehensive assessment of the force and their families and instituted a number of programs to address these stressors. I know you have continued these vital efforts and I look forward to your update on their status.
Thank you again for appearing before us today and I look forward to your testimony.