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U.S. Must Stay Committed to Middle East, Carter Says

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service

SOUTHWEST ASIA, Oct. 17, 2012 – It is important for the U.S. to maintain its commitments to the Middle East, even as the nation’s defense strategy starts to shift focus away from the region, the deputy defense secretary told troops on a military installation here today.

Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter spoke to approximately 200 U.S. service members about the transition of the nation's defense strategy, but emphasized remaining engaged in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

“You, right here, right now, are at the fulcrum of so much of our national security thinking,” he said. “We did put together a good defense strategy last year. We're going from the era of Iraq and Afghanistan where we all were totally riveted [daily] on supporting the fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Carter noted that Afghanistan operations continue.

“We're still in there, and will be now for two [more] hard fighting seasons, and then an enduring presence there after,” He said.

The secretary called the drawdown in Afghanistan “a realistic plan” requiring “us to keep going hard for another couple of years.”

“You all are an important part of that effort. But, this is where the transition comes in. You can see the ending of that era. [The] first, post-9/11 era of focus on Iraq and Afghanistan. You can see that era coming to an end,” Carter said.

“So all of us are picking our heads up out of that foxhole, and looking around, looking forward, looking ahead,” he said. “[We're] asking ourselves what are the security challenges that are going to define our future?”

Carter said many people are familiar with the shift in focus toward the Asia-Pacific, but added “there's a second part of that.”

“[It] is to retain our commitment to this CENTCOM [area of responsibility], and it's changing set of issues which are just as weighty as Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “They're just different.”

Yes, we still have to continue to support Afghanistan, Carter said,   because it's still happening. This means both sending stuff in there, and getting stuff out.

“But looking beyond that, what do we have?” Carter asked. “Iran – very serious. All of the problems that you see didn't begin with the Arab Spring. They are made visible by the Arab Spring. All the tension in this region.”

The secretary talked about changes in the military's approach to dealing with conflict from the “old days” to now.

“In the old days, you could wind up real slowly before you delivered a punch,” Carter said. “That was okay. For Desert Storm, we took months getting ready, bringing stuff in. All the while saying 'brother, in six months, you're going to be sorry you messed around with the United States.'”

“Now you have to be postured,” he said, “where it's 'brother, you're going to be sorry in six hours that you messed with the United States.'”

Carter said the “velocity of conflict” has increased, but so has the opportunity to “snuff” that conflict out.

“[It's] got to happen very fast, and so the presence, what we have here daily, matters in a way, strategically, that it didn't matter 20 years ago,” he said. “So, you all are in a critical place, at a time where when we're asking you to do an entirely new set of things.”

“A hugely important set of things, Carter said. “And we're counting on you back in the [United] States. We'll come as soon as we can, but the reality is you're it.”

The secretary said it's “trivial” to talk about jointness, but it is “truly impressive” to see such team effort.

“The fact that you're able to operate as a joint force is a huge advantage,” Carter said. “It's something that is like anything else in life, particularly, military affairs.”

“It doesn't come for free – it comes from working at relationships,” he said. “Practicing, making the whole sum of the parts do that.”

This, Carter said, is why the U.S. has the best military in the world.

“Thanks to you all for what you're doing here,” he said. “It is much appreciated. And that's why … Kuwait looks to us for security.”

“We have an excellent relationship with the Kuwaitis, and I thank you all for what you do to keep that going,” Carter said.

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