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March 12, 2020

ICYMI: SASC Chairman Inhofe Opening Remarks at CENTCOM Hearing

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, gave opening remarks this morning at a hearing to receive testimony on United States Central Command in review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2021 and the Future Years Defense Program. 

General Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr., Commander of United States Central Command, testified.

As Prepared for Delivery:

 Good morning. The Committee meets today to receive testimony on the United States Central Command. I’d like to welcome our witness General Frank McKenzie, Commander of United States Central Command.

Immediately following this morning’s open hearing, we will move to SVC-217 in the Senate Visitors Center for a closed session, which will be an opportunity for General McKenzie to answer any question that can’t be addressed here.

I’d like to begin by recognizing the two U.S. Marines, Gunnery Sergeant Diego Pongo and Captain Moises Navas, who were killed earlier this week during a mission against an ISIS stronghold in northern Iraq. I also want to recognize the two additional Americans who were killed yesterday in a rocket attack against Camp Taji.  

Their loss is a painful reminder that even where we’ve been successful, such as in destroying ISIS’ caliphate, we still have troops in harm’s way, and I had the opportunity to meet with some of our troops when I visited Iraq with several other committee members two weeks ago.

General, later this month you’ll commemorate your one-year anniversary as CENTCOM commander, and I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s been a challenging year. 

Since May of 2019, we’ve seen Iran and its terrorist proxies escalate their asymmetric aggression against the United States and our partners throughout the region: In May, they hit our partners’ oil tankers. In June, they downed an American drone. In September, they attacked Saudi oil facilities, threatening the global energy supply.

Throughout this uptick, President Trump announced new sanctions on Iran and bolstered protection of our troops in the region.  But he sought to avoid a military escalation, and even offered to negotiate with Tehran.

Then in December, Iran’s proxies killed a U.S. citizen in Iraq and attacked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

These actions crossed President Trump’s redline, and the President responded by ordering the strike that killed the leader of Iran’s Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani.  

Iran countered by firing ballistic missiles that thankfully missed our troops in Iraq, though over 100 soldiers sustained concussions.  After that attack, however, the situation appeared to deescalate. 

 Yet despite the deployment of approximately 14,000 new troops to the region to deter Iran, your written testimony says:  “Ample intelligence exists indicating the Iranian regime’s desire to continue malign operations that threaten lives.” And early media reports suggest that Iranian-backed groups were responsible for yesterday’s attack at Camp Taji.

So if the deployment of approximately 14,000 troops to the region won’t deter Iran, then what will?  Are there other – more cost-effective – ways of achieving deterrence?

I ask because this committee’s top priority is effective implementation of the National Defense Strategy, which says to focus on China and Russia as “the central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security.” And, as you highlight in your written testimony, to accept greater risk in the CENTCOM AOR.

Countering Iran is an important aspect of American credibility in the Middle East – and bolstering American credibility is vital to preventing our partners from looking towards Russia and China for their security needs.

But every battalion that we send to the Middle East is a battalion that is not being sent to support our priorities in Europe and the Pacific.  

Moreover, this ramp-up in the Middle East comes while other priorities, such as counterterrorism and security cooperation in Africa, are being under resourced.  

So I hope you will address how these new deployments to the Middle East are changing Iran’s behavior for the better.  Or, if conflict with Iran remains likely in your view, I’d like you to explain what these new deployments are achieving. 

I look forward to your testimony, General McKenzie. Senator Reed. 

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