Cent­com Looks Beyond Iraq, Afghanistan, Petraeus Says

By Lisa Daniel
Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice

WASHINGTON, March 16, 2010 — While the Unit­ed States draws down in Iraq and builds up in Afghanistan, “we must not lose sight of our oth­er chal­lenges” in the Mid­dle East, the com­man­der of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand said here today.
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus told the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee that the Unit­ed States must remain vig­i­lant in over­see­ing broad­er secu­ri­ty chal­lenges through­out the region.

Petraeus called Iran the “pri­ma­ry state-lev­el threat” in the Mid­dle East. He told the pan­el that Iran under­mines secu­ri­ty through­out the region in its efforts to gain nuclear weapons, which threat­ens a broad­er arms race, and uses its para­mil­i­tary force to influ­ence Iraq, Lebanon, Syr­ia, Gaza, Afghanistan and the Gulf region.

Petraeus con­firmed that Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma “has not tak­en the mil­i­tary option off the table” with regard to Iran. “No one can say Iran has not had every oppor­tu­ni­ty pos­si­ble to them,” he said. “Our hand was out­reached, and they did­n’t grasp it. The focus is shift­ing to what is known as a pres­sure track, but I don’t want to get ahead of the admin­is­tra­tion.”

The gen­er­al not­ed the capa­bil­i­ties of the U.S. mil­i­tary and its strong part­ner­ships in the region. “Togeth­er with our many coali­tion part­ners, we are bring­ing secu­ri­ty to the region,” Petaeus said. “This is the most expe­ri­enced, most capa­ble mil­i­tary in our his­to­ry. They and their fam­i­lies made tremen­dous sac­ri­fices.”

Turn­ing to anoth­er piv­otal coun­try in the region, Petraeus said the Pak­istani peo­ple now real­ize that extrem­ist groups such as the Tal­iban are their biggest threat. “They real­ize the Tal­iban want­ed to take Pak­istan back sev­er­al cen­turies, not for­ward,” he told the sen­a­tors.

The Pak­istani mil­i­tary car­ried out “sev­er­al impres­sive oper­a­tions” against the Tal­iban in recent months, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the north­west trib­al regions and down to South Waziris­tan, Petraeus said, adding his sup­port for increased fund­ing to the Pak­istan mil­i­tary.

In Yemen, Cent­com is imple­ment­ing a plan he devel­oped last year and that the Yemeni gov­ern­ment accept­ed last sum­mer to quell ris­ing extrem­ism there from a group known as al-Qai­da in the Ara­bi­an Penin­su­la, Petraeus said.

A coun­terin­sur­gency tac­tic Cent­com used suc­cess­ful­ly in Iraq and Afghanistan and hopes to expand, Petraeus said, is to counter extrem­ists’ mes­sages to the pub­lic. A region­al task force is need­ed to expand Oper­a­tion Earnest Voice, a joint mis­sion with the State Depart­ment used in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.

“We were the first in com­ing for­ward with the truth,” Petreaus said. “We can’t let the extrem­ists get the upper hand in cyber­space. Clear­ly, this is an area in which we will need addi­tion­al poli­cies, capa­bil­i­ties and resources.”

Ene­mies of the Unit­ed States have become adept at using the Inter­net in achiev­ing their aims, the gen­er­al said. “Extrem­ists recruit there, they pros­e­ly­tize there, they share tac­tics and strat­e­gy there,” he explained. “We have to ask our­selves if this is some­thing we can allow to con­tin­ue. If not, then we must fig­ure out how to stop it with­out infring­ing on free speech.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)