Statement of Senator Carl Levin, Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Today we welcome Admiral Fallon, Commander of United States Central Command, and Admiral Olson, Commander of United States Special Operations Command.

Admiral Fallon and Admiral Olsen command virtually all of the U.S. forces who are currently participating in combat. We ask that you convey to the men and women under your command our heartfelt gratitude for the many sacrifices that they and their families are making on our behalf.

Admiral Fallons command is responsible for U.S. security interests in 25 nations that stretch from the Horn of Africa, through the Arabian Gulf region, into Central Asia. He commands the bulk of U.S. troops in combat today, and is responsible for an area with a host of security challenges. In that position, Admiral Fallon also uses diplomatic skills to help us deter and prevent conflict, almost as much as his military skills when a military response is appropriate. Today we will be seeking his views on a host of troubling issues in his area of responsibility predominately, but not entirely, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Admiral Olson represents the over 50 thousand military and civilian personnel working for Special Operations Command, who are fulfilling critical direct and indirect, long-term and short-term missions all over the globe. Special operations personnel have been heavily concentrated in the CENTCOM AOR since 2003, so it is fitting that we have the two commanders here together today.

Our Army, Marine Corps, and Special Operations Forces are over-stretched and increasingly stressed. General Petraeus has advocated a period of consolidation, perhaps some force adjustments and evaluation before continuing with further reductions in troop levels in Iraq once the five surge brigades complete their redeployment this summer. Although General Petraeus also said theres every intent to further reduce forces, President Bush has already indicated that he would support a recommendation for a pause in redeployments. There is a strong possibility that force levels in Iraq will remain at the pre-surge level of approximately 130,000 and that troop levels in Iraq will about the same when President Bush leaves office as they were in December 2006 before the surge.

At the same time, Iraqi leaders continue to squander the opportunity our troops and taxpayers gave them. Our soldiers risk their lives while Iraqi politicians refuse to take political risks. We cannot have the lives of American service members held hostage to Iraqi political dickering. The State Departments own Weekly Iraq Status Report from November 21, 2007, stated Shiite-led government larger threat than al-Qaida. The report went on to say Senior military commanders now portray the intransigence of Iraqs Shiite-dominated government as the key threat facing the U.S. effort in Iraq, rather than al-Qaida terrorists, Sunni insurgents or Iranian-backed militias.

In Afghanistan, we are now increasing American troop levels, with over three thousand additional Marines slated to deploy in the coming months, and more may well be needed. Meanwhile, our Army troops continue to face multiple tours of 15 month duration, with only 12 months or less at home between rotations, and Marines also see more time deployed than at home, although for shorter, more frequent periods.

These levels of deployment without adequate rest for the troops and repair and replacement of equipment cannot be sustained. General George Casey, the Army Chief of Staff, has said that the Army is out of balance and that the current demand for our forces exceeds the sustainable supply.

For too long, U.S. military operations in Afghanistan have taken a back seat to the war in Iraq. Chairman of the Joint Staff Admiral Mullen acknowledged as much in December, when he said, It is simply a matter of resources, of capacity. In Afghanistan, we do what we can. In Iraq, we do what we must. This is not acceptable.

While the President paints a rosy picture of the situation in Afghanistan, just last week the Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell told this Committee that the Taliban-dominated insurgency has expanded to previously peaceful areas west and around Kabul. He testified that the Taliban controls about 10 percent of the country, while the Afghanistan Government is capable of controlling about 30 percent, leaving about 60 percent of the country outside of eithers control. Defense Intelligence Agency Director General Maples stated that Al Qaidas presence in Afghanistan is increasing to levels unseen since 2001-2002 and that the number of attacks, suicide bombings, and improvised explosive devices continue to rise.

In addition, recent independent reports from the Afghanistan Study Group and the Atlantic Council indicate that the success of the mission in Afghanistan is at risk. The Afghanistan Study Group report finds that efforts to stabilize Afghanistan are faltering, and that since 2002 violence, insecurity, and opium production have risen dramatically as Afghan confidence in their government and its international partners falls. The Atlantic Council report states, Make no mistake, NATO is not winning in Afghanistan. That report concludes, In summary, despite efforts of the Afghan Government and the international community, Afghanistan remains a failing state. It could become a failed state.

As has been reported, Admiral Fallon is conducting an assessment of the Afghanistan mission, one of a number that the Administration and NATO are undertaking. The Atlantic Council report urges that these assessments be completed in a matter of weeks, not months. We will be interested in Admiral Fallons recommendations for strengthening the U.S., NATO, and international communitys efforts in Afghanistan.

Another major challenge in the CENTCOM area of responsibility is addressing the safe havens the Taliban, Al Qaida, and other violent extremists have found in the tribal areas along Pakistans border with Afghanistan. As Director McConnell recently testified, the tribal areas are serving not only as a staging area for attacks into Afghanistan, but also as a terrorist training location for attacks in Pakistan, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and in the United States. Director McConnell and Secretary Gates have testified recently that they believe that Pakistans political leaders now perceive that the lawlessness prevailing in the border tribal areas represents a potentially mortal threat to Pakistan. We will be interested in Admiral Fallons views on what opportunities exist to encourage Pakistan to confront extremist elements on its territory and eliminate the sanctuary for the Taliban and al Qaida along the Afghanistan border.

Over eighty percent of SOCOM operators are deployed in the CENTCOM area of operation. However, SOCOMs responsibilities are global, and the operations in Iraq and in Afghanistan are affecting the commands ability to maintain critical language and cultural skills and relationships in other parts of the world. The Quadrennial Defense Review-recommended increase in the size of SOCOM will help address this problem. I hope Admiral Olson will comment on whether that increase is sufficient.

In addition, while the Department included funding in SOCOMs budget for some personnel growth, the Fiscal Year 2009 SOCOM budget request is $300 million less than their budget for this fiscal year. This comes in a year when the overall DOD funding request is 7.5 percent above this years level, and when the services have increased funding requests ranging from 7 to 9.6 percent above the Fiscal Year 2008 base budget. Some of the decrease in SOCOM funding is due to one-time military construction costs, but since SOCOMs end strength continues to increase, it is unclear why the procurement account, for example, has decreased by 17 percent.

The $300 million decrease in SOCOM funding from Fiscal Year 2008 to Fiscal Year 2009 is all the more perplexing, given the fact that SOCOM also gave the Committee: 1) a list of 31 additional procurement and research and development programs that they would like funding for, totaling $413 million, and; 2) a list of 12 unfunded military construction projects, totaling $186 million. On top of this, Admiral Olson, I understand that, in response to an inquiry from Senator Bayh, you recently identified a $300 million unfunded requirement for Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) a critical asset in the hunt for terrorists in the CENTCOM area of operation. Moreover, this $300 million falls short of the additional $900 million which Admiral Fallon has indicated in a CENTCOM joint needs statement is necessary for counterterrorism in his area of operations.

Again, I welcome our witnesses and look forward to discussing these critical issues with them today.