Commanders Cite Top Security Concerns
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 25, 2009 What keeps the top U.S. commanders up at night? Three four-star officers from Europe and the Pacific got asked that question yesterday during a House Armed Services Committee hearing and shared their most pressing concerns.
Army Gen. Walter “Skip” Sharp, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, said his No. 1 concern lies directly north of his Seoul headquarters. “It’s Kin Jong Il in the North Korea regime … and his willingness to be able to do everything he can for his regime’s survival,” even at the expense of his own people, he told the panel.
For Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, commander of U.S. European Command, the biggest concern is making sure NATO has a force “ready and adequate” to respond to a threat or direct attack.
Meanwhile, at U.S. Pacific Command, Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating said he sees “the spread of radical terrorists and those who would support them” as the biggest threats in an otherwise stable region.
Sharp called North Korea “the primary threat to stability and security in northeast Asia.”
“We continue to be concerned with the threat posed by North Korea’s large conventional military, artillery, ballistic missiles and special-operating forces, all that are located very near the North-South Korea border,” he told the panel.
In addition, North Korea is the world’s leading supplier to ballistic missiles and related technology, and a major proliferator of conventional weapons, he said.
Sharp pointed to North Korea’s most recent provocations -- including a planned satellite launch -- “an attempt to ensure the regime survival and improve its bargaining position at international negotiations to gain concessions.”
Meanwhile, Craddock said his biggest issue is ensuring the 26-nation NATO alliance is ready to respond to “Article 4 or 5 directives” issued due to a direct threat or attack on a NATO ally.
“It’s when they tell me to do it, I have something capable to do it with,” Craddock told American Forces Press Service.
Russia’s incursion into Georgia last summer shook some long-held assumptions, he said during yesterday’s testimony.
“For years -- 15, 16 years -- the assumption made in our focus on Europe was that there would be no invasions of anyone's land borders," Craddock said. “Well, that turned upside down, and that created an angst, a sense of tension among many of the NATO nations.”
The key in moving toward the future, he said, is to “find and strike a balance between Russia and the NATO members and NATO partners.”
“I believe we need to open up a dialogue and an engagement both bilaterally, the United States with Russia, and also from an alliance perspective,” Craddock said.
As the discussion turned to the Pacific, Keating told the committee, “We don’t lose sleep over many things at our headquarters.”
He called the threat of violent extremism a black mark in his area of operations that’s otherwise characterized by “a remarkable level of stability.”
Keating noted progress made in preventing its spread, particularly in Indonesia and the Philippines, during congressional testimony yesterday and last week. “I think we’re making reasonable to good progress on our efforts to make life difficult for them, to reduce their number and to reduce their support base,” he said.
Pacom currently has about 650 special operations forces in the Philippines, training the Philippine military, Keating told the panel. As a result of this type of cooperation, the Philippines’ armed forces are “making great strides in reducing the vulnerability and the sustainability of the Abuy Sayyaf group and the Jamaah Islamiyah terrorists that have been trying to secure a foothold in the southern Philippines,” he said.