Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I join you in welcoming our witnesses today and ask that they convey to the men and women under their commands how grateful we are for their continued service and sacrifice, and that of their families.
General Ham, this will likely be your final time testifying before this committee and I want to take a moment to personally thank you for your friendship, your valued counsel, and for your long and distinguished career of service to the United States. You leadership and candor will be sorely missed.
Both of our witnesses today are tasked with overseeing operations that are at the forefront of our nation's security. And while the challenges they confront are growing, the resources available to them are declining. The military has already endured significant cuts and now stands to lose even more through the across-the-board cuts associated with sequestration. This will make the already challenging jobs of our witnesses that much more difficult. It will force them to accept greater risk. And as I have said many times before, due to the nature of military operations: risk equals lives.
That is why last month Senator Toomey and I introduced a bill to give the department the flexibility it needs to mitigate risk and operate within these severe budgetary constraints. 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.
The AFRICOM AOR encompasses 54 countries and over 12 million square miles and is home to a diverse set of threats ranging from transnational terrorism to widespread disease and famine. Despite the growing challenges within its AOR and its massive size, AFRICOM suffers from persistent resource shortfalls. It has no assigned forces, lacks sufficient ISR and mobility support to meet theater requirements, and must rely on manpower from European Command.
The challenges within AFRICOM require a unique approach that combines defense, diplomacy, and development. Small investments can result in significant and positive impacts. We must properly resource our efforts to combat disease, develop infrastructure, diminish instability, and combat the terrorist threat posed by militants filtering down to Africa in response to a multi-national squeeze in the Middle East.
General Fraser, the men and women of TRANSCOM are the unsung heroes of our military operations around the globe. Their tireless efforts ensure that our people, equipment, and supplies move to and from anywhere in the world. Nowhere is this more evident than today in Afghanistan. Your forces are tasked with ensuring that our troops deployed in harm's way receive the supplies necessary to accomplish their mission. And, they are also charged with the herculean task of the retrograde more than one million of pieces of equipment out of Afghanistan. These efforts have been challenged over the years by repeated closures of the southern supply route through Pakistan which has caused greater dependence on the more costly Northern Distribution Network.
Thank you again for appearing before us today and I look forward to your testimony.