Korea, Pacific Command Nominees Testify
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 26, 2002 The war on terrorism, living conditions for service members in Korea and shipbuilding were among the questions senators asked of President Bush's nominees to be the new U.S. Pacific Command chief and United Nations Command chief.
Adm. Thomas Fargo and Army Lt. Gen. Leon LaPorte testified before the Senate Armed Service Committee April 26 and spoke about the issues facing them. Fargo, currently commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, is in line for the Honolulu-based Pacific Command. LaPorte, currently deputy commanding general, chief of staff, U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort McPherson, Ga., is up for the U.N. command.
Fargo answered many questions about the Philippines. More than 650 U.S. military personnel are in the republic providing counterterrorism training and education to Philippine soldiers in the southern part of the archipelago. In addition, about 340 U.S. military engineers are building roads and helping build infrastructure needed to combat the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group. Finally, more than 2,500 U.S. personnel are exercising with their Filipino counterparts on the main island of Luzon.
Fargo said the U.S. mission in the republic is clear. "Our mission is to train, and advise and assist the armed forces of the Philippines so that they can develop a sustainable counterterrorist capability so that they can put continual pressure on those terrorist organizations and ultimately root them out," he said.
The U.S. role is not direct combat with Abu Sayyaf, he told the senators. "We do have the normal protection of self- defense," he said. "And that's the manner in which we'll move forward."
U.S. military personnel in the Philippines are advising at the battalion level. Fargo said if U.S. teams work at the company level that he would notify the Armed Services Committee of any change. The admiral told the committee that if he is confirmed as the commander in chief of U.S. Pacific Command one of his first trips will be to the Philippines, "where I can spend time on the ground, and talk to our commanders and evaluate and assess this mission."
LaPorte told the senators he believes the U.S.-North Korea Agreed Framework of 1994 is still in the best interests of the United States. "It has met its intent in terms of reducing the production of weapons-grade plutonium (in North Korea)," he said. He said North Korea seems to have met its portion of the agreement but that the significant aspect "is continued verification."
LaPorte said he will continue the push to improve living conditions for American service members assigned to South Korea. The senators told LaPorte that many U.S. service members view duty in Korea with such distaste that they leave the military rather than serve there.
"If confirmed, I'll focus on and make sure the soldiers and the NCOs and officers and all the servicemen serving understand that I'm going to work very hard to improve the conditions which they live in; their housing, the barracks and the facilities they work," he said. LaPorte also said he will emphasize to all service members "the leadership opportunities that are presented to them in an (area of responsibility) that has some demanding challenges."
The vast Pacific region poses unique challenges for operational commanders. "I think probably the two areas that we're feeling pressed the greatest, as we deal with the global war on terrorism and significant operations worldwide, are the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance requirements throughout the world, as well as our lift and refueling requirements," Fargo said. "Clearly, those are probably the two most pressing areas where we have a high demand and a limited number of assets to deal with all of the current requirements."
Shipbuilding figures in this equation. If approved, the United States will build five warships in fiscal 2003. Administration officials realize this in not enough to maintain the fleet at current levels. Fargo said he would continue to assess the needs of Pacific Command to ensure the requisite number of ships are available.
He also said he would assess base structure in the region. "I think one of the things that we need to continually assess is whether we can be more efficient in terms of our base structure," Fargo said. "It's clear to me that the presence of our combat capability for right now shouldn't be diminished, but that shouldn't restrict us from looking at what kinds of efficiencies we might be able to garner while providing that combat capability forward."
A vote of their nominations is expected on April 29.