Joint Staff General Gives ‘E’ Ring View of State of World
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 14, 2013 The Joint Staff’s director of strategic plans and policy spoke about how the world looks from the Pentagon’s “E” ring -- where the military’s top officials work -- during a presentation at the Defense One Summit here today.
Army Lt. Gen. Terry A. Wolff told National Journal reporter James Kitfield that as the United States winds down operations in Afghanistan, more assets, emphasis and attention will move to the Asia-Pacific region.
America will continue to strengthen ties with treaty allies South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and Thailand, Wolff said, and U.S. leaders will engage with other countries in the region, such as China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Military-to-military relations with countries in the region play a role in the U.S. “whole-of-government” approach. Wolff said the United States “has certain sorts of activities, training, opportunities that we work with our partners.”
Wolff emphasized that the U.S. shift to the region is not aimed at countering China. The U.S. relationship with China is on the upswing, he said, and the tone of the relationship under President Xi Jinping has improved. Still, “it’s a work in progress,” he said.
Wolff shifted to Afghanistan, saying the Afghan security forces have proven their worth over the past year. “Their fighting prowess against the Taliban over this past year? They’ve done pretty well,” the general said.
Ahead are Afghan elections in April and the end of the NATO International Security Assistance Force mission in the country. Then, as the NATO mission changes to Operation Resolute Support, 8,000 to 12,000 alliance troops will remain in Afghanistan to train, advise and assist Afghan forces, and provide maintenance and logistics support. Some U.S. forces will have a counterterrorism mission in the country.
All this is predicated on Afghanistan approving a bilateral security agreement with the United States that will go before a nationwide council later this month.
Syria remains a tragedy, Wolff said. While the country has met the deadlines for declaring its chemical weapons stockpile, the international community now has to figure out what happens to the chemical weapons material, the general said. No one should underestimate the difficulty of securing, safeguarding and ultimately destroying this material, he added.
The Syrian refugee crisis has grown, and American allies in the region are being stressed to deal with more than 1 million refugees who have fled the country and another 6 to 7 million internally displaced. “This is putting pressure on Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey, and the numbers continue to climb,” Wolff said. The United States is working with the United Nations and allies in the region to help alleviate these problems – especially as winter approaches, he added.
Wolff ended his “tour of the world” discussing NATO. “I think it is pretty amazing what NATO has done,” he said. “Ten years ago, there were discussions about transitioning the regional commands [in Afghanistan] to NATO lead nations. The conditions changed -- they became significantly more violent. NATO responded to that challenge. They hung tough with us.”
The question, Wolff said, will be what NATO envisions for its future.
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