WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, made the following statement today at a nomination hearing for General Lloyd J. Austin, III, to be commander of United States Central Command, and General David M. Rodriguez to be commander of United States Africa Command.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I join you in welcoming our witnesses and thank them for their continued willingness to serve. General Austin and General Rodriguez, you have amassed impressive records of service, including significant time leading our forces in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. This experience will be critical as you prepare to take on these new responsibilities.
“I also welcome Mrs. Charlene Austin and Mrs. Virginia Rodriguez. You, like all of our military spouses, have been the firm and loving foundation for your husbands’ success. I am delighted that you could join us and I wish you, and all our military spouses a very happy Valentine’s Day.
“If confirmed, General Austin, you will be charged with overseeing arguably the most volatile region in the world—and in the midst of a declining defense budget, no less. Just last week, Secretary Panetta abruptly announced the indefinite delay of the Truman Carrier Strike Group deployment to the Middle East—a development that was undoubtedly welcomed by the regime in Tehran. This underscores the real and tangible impact of the looming budget crisis on our ability to operate in a region dominated by growing and complex challenges.
“In Egypt, despite the best hopes of the Arab Spring, President Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government have shown a troubling hostility towards opposition groups and minorities and have taken an increasingly bellicose tone towards our ally, Israel. These developments require us to think long and hard about our relationship with his government, including delaying the planned delivery of F-16 aircraft. Iran, despite growing international pressure, remains determined to acquire a nuclear weapons capability and relies on terrorist proxies like Hezbollah and Hamas to destabilize the region and threaten our allies. In Iraq, our premature withdrawal has directly contributed to a deteriorating security situation and allowed Al Qaeda to reestablish a foothold. In Syria, Bashar Assad’s reign of brutality has now claimed the lives of over 60,000 Syrians and risks spilling into neighboring countries. In Pakistan, we see a nuclear armed government teetering on collapse while militant groups such as the Haqqani Network responsible for killing Americans and undermining our mission in Afghanistan continue to enjoy safe haven. And, one of the most pressing issues you will immediately face is overseeing our operations in Afghanistan. After nearly 11 years of combat, we are entering an extraordinarily consequential time.
“You will oversee a vitally important transition to Afghan security leadership reminiscent of your tenure as the commander of U.S. Forces in Iraq. We must transfer the lessons you learned during your time in Iraq to the ongoing transition in Afghanistan, ensuring a force that is properly resourced to protect itself while accomplishing the mission. Without a doubt, we must make sure that the force structure matches the mission, and is driven by the facts on the ground and not an arbitrary date for withdrawal. We’ve seen tragically in Iraq the consequences of such a course of action. I’m concerned that the president’s recent decision to reduce our presence in Afghanistan by over half will increase the risks of a similar outcome.
“What I’m getting at here general is that there will be no shortage of challenges facing you and the men and women you will lead. The threats in this AOR are growing, and the tools available to address them are declining.
“General Rodriguez, you and I have spoken about the squeeze in the Middle East and its effect on the countries of Africa. I have voiced my concerns to this committee and our military commanders about the spread of terrorism throughout Africa – from the Horn of Africa through the Sahel and Maghreb. That is one of the reasons why I pushed for the creation of one military command focused on Africa. The United States no longer has the luxury of ignoring Africa, and AFRICOM, while still a relatively new Combatant Command, has been thrust to the forefront of our nation’s security interests.
“AFRICOM is the smallest of DOD’s regionally focused combatant commands with less than 5,000 boots on the continent of Africa (54 countries covering over 12 million square miles). I have had to fight for continued funding, expansion of our train and equip programs and keeping AFRICOM headquarters in Germany. Unfortunately, AFRICOM still lacks the resources and persistent access necessary to address the many challenges that reside there—a fact tragically illustrated by the death of four Americans in Benghazi. We lack intelligence-collection assets and the resources to be an optimal influencer in the region. That is why I pushed to include language in the FY13 National Defense Authorization Bill that increases funding for AFRICOM intelligence activities, to include supporting efforts of Ugandan and other regional militaries to remove senior leaders of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).
“We do not have the leisure of making our past mistakes of ignoring African issues such as the Rwandan genocide and the deadly conflicts in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo. Instead, we must understand that instability in the region will have catastrophic impacts on our ability to interdict and defeat Al Qaeda and its affiliates and will lead to further instability on the continent.
“Terrorist groups such as Al Shabaab, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and Boko Haram are growing in capability and have expanded their areas of operation. Many of our partners in the region, however, still lack the capacity to effectively combat these groups and require further support. AFRICOM will be a vital component to this effort.
“While the challenges you will both face are daunting, I am confident in your judgment and leadership abilities during this consequential time.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”