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Hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee - U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command Command in Review


Location: Washington, DC

"Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And let me join you in welcoming Admiral Stavridis and General Ham and thanking them for their distinguished service. I especially want to acknowledge Admiral Stavridis, as this will be his final appearance before this Committee in uniform. I know he is grateful for that. Thank you, Admiral, for your service and dedication to our nation. I wish you fair winds and following seas.

"What is clear from our commanders' prepared testimonies, and what will become clear today, is that the work of our armed forces, both in Europe and Africa, is not decreasing. It is increasing. It is becoming more complex. And it is becoming more important to our national security. We must bear all of this in mind as we in this Committee, and we in the Congress more broadly, debate whether and how to reduce to our defense spending, including the catastrophic effects of sequestration.

"Our European allies remain our preeminent security partners. And today, EUCOM and NATO are being called upon to bear an ever greater responsibility for diverse international security challenges -- from Afghanistan and Libya, to cyber threats and transnational terrorism, to ballistic missile defense and the strategic balance of forces on the continent. We must be mindful of the enduring value and impact of our European alliances as we evaluate changes to our force posture.

"In its recently released defense strategy, the Defense Department has proposed the withdrawal of an additional Brigade Combat Team from Europe. At the same time, this draw down of forces is complemented by new U.S. military commitments to Europe -- including a brigade-sized contribution to the NATO Response Force, new rotations of troops for joint exercises and operations, the installation of a ground-based radar in Turkey, and the stationing of four ballistic missile defense-capable Aegis ships in Spain. Overall, this seems like a prudent realignment of our forces and commitment in Europe.

"Amid the growing global focus of U.S. European Command, we must remember that the vision of a Europe whole, free, and at peace will remain unfulfilled so long as the country of Georgia remains forcibly divided and occupied by Russian forces. Georgia is an aspiring member of NATO and one of the largest contributors of forces to the Afghanistan mission. And yet, our bilateral defense relationship remains mired in the past. As a bipartisan report led by two members of this Committee, Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Lindsey Graham, concluded last year, the United States needs to build a more "normal' defense relationship with Georgia, including defensive arms sales in coordination with our NATO allies.

"At a time of uncertainty in Russia, when lashing out at manufactured foreign enemies remains a tempting way to garner domestic legitimacy, it is not in America's interest to leave Georgia without adequate means to defend itself. It is for this reason that the Congress included a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act last year that requires the Department of Defense to provide the Congress with a strategy for the normalization of the U.S.-Georgia defense relationship, including the sale of defensive arms. We look forward to Admiral Stavridis updating us on the development of that strategy.

"One area where we and our European allies are increasingly working together is Africa. But while European Command has 68,000 forces assigned to it, AFRICOM has none. The increasing threats in Africa make it hard to justify this disparity.

"As General Ham notes in his prepared statement, the danger of transnational terrorism across Africa is growing and troubling. As Al-Qaeda's Senior Leadership continues to be degraded through sustained military pressure, Al-Qaeda franchise groups, especially those in Africa, are expanding their ambitions and capabilities. Al-Shabab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria, and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb are all increasingly making common cause with each other and exploiting weak governments in Africa to facilitate their operations. That is why AFRICOM's efforts to build the capacity of our African partners to disrupt these terrorist groups and deny them safe haven and freedom of movement is so critical.

"Two of the best emerging partners we have in this regard are Libya and Tunisia, which was reaffirmed once again for me last week, when I traveled to both of these countries with a few of my colleagues from this Committee.

"In Tunisia, the operational tempo of their armed forces has increased substantially due to the conflict next door in Libya. More than 100,000 Libyan refugees are now living in Tunisia. The Tunisian government is seeking additional military assistance to enable them to sustain their security operations along their border with Libya, as well as to combat Al-Qaeda franchise groups that seek to destabilize the country. The Tunisians are seeking spare parts for the sustainment of their force, wheeled vehicles, aircraft, and better capacity to monitor their maritime domain and land borders. We look forward to General Ham's assessment of how AFRICOM can better assist Tunisia in these ways. It is critical that we do so.

"Finally, it is essential that AFRICOM remain actively engaged with the National Transitional Council in Libya, and with the elected government that will eventually succeed it. The most urgent and important area where we can assist the Libyans is in the demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration of the many militias that remain in the country. It is critical that we support Libya in training and equipping a security force that can be a source of national unity and internal stability, as well as a capable partner for our armed forces. This effort goes hand in hand with our continued assistance to the Libyans to help secure loose weapons inside the country, especially MANPADs, and keep them out of the hands of terrorists.

"At the same time, we must do far more to assist the many Libyans who have been wounded in this conflict. Our military is the best organization in the world when it comes to medical treatment for wounded warriors, especially in prosthetics and rehabilitation. This remains one of the most emotionally resonant issues among the people of Libya, and it would only increase the enormous goodwill and influence that we enjoy in the country if we could expand our assistance for these wounded Libyans, including in our military medical facilities in Europe. Such assistance would not require much of us, but it would honor the sacrifice that so many in Libya have made to free their country, and thereby stand as a firm pillar of mutual respect and solidarity on which to build our partnership with the new Libya.

"Thank you, Mr. Chairman."

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