Official: DOD Strives for Middle East Stability, Security
By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 6, 2014 With a lens on the Syria spillover and the growing threat of terrorism and sectarianism in the Middle East, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs today reaffirmed the Defense Department’s commitment to the stability and security of regional partners.
Derek Chollet said efforts will continue to thwart al-Qaida and its associated movements, confront external aggression directed at U.S. allies, ensure the free flow of energy from the region and prevent the development, proliferation and use of weapons of mass destruction.
“The Department of Defense is keenly focused on building the capacity of our partners to fight extremism and support U.S. national security interests,” Chollet said. “We’re working hard to sustain and enhance our military capabilities in the region.”
He reported that the historic transformation in the region during the last three years offers the United States both opportunities and challenges to address core security interests.
“As U.S. military forces have withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan, we are also addressing questions from regional partners about our intentions … and commitments over the long term,” Chollet said.
Currently, he said, U.S. and allied forces have a military presence of more than 35,000 personnel in and around the Arabian Gulf. And in line with DOD’s recent release of the Quadrennial Defense Review, the commitment will not wane, he said.
“Despite budget pressures, we will maintain a robust force posture in the region,” Chollet said.
He also outlined examples of how DOD works to improve partners’ military capabilities, particularly Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan.
In Iraq, DOD works with State Department officials to advise the Iraqi government on long-term strategy to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant organization in what Chollet described as “a very serious situation.”
“Achieving security and stability must include a political solution involving all the people of Iraq,” Chollet said. “The Iraqi security forces have proven competent at conducting counterterrorism and stability operations.” But, he acknowledged, the Iraqis also have gaps in their ability to defend against external threats, specifically in areas such as integrated air defense, intelligence sharing and logistics.
“We remain very committed to working with the Iraqi government to develop its military and security abilities,” he said.
So far, Chollet reported, the Iraqis have purchased from the United States about $250 million in key capabilities, such as Hellfire missiles, ground tanks, rockets, small arms and ammunition. “Those articles have either been delivered or expected to arrive in the next weeks,” he said.
Regarding Lebanon, Chollet said DOD officials continue to see the Lebanese armed forces emerge as the sole legitimate defense force and critical component of the nation’s long-term stability and development. U.S. assistance totaling about $1 billion toward the Lebanese internal security forces strengthens Lebanon’s capacity and supports its mission to secure its own border, Chollet explained.
“We work to maintain strong ties between Lebanese and U.S. officers and officials through international military education and training,” Chollet said, adding that Lebanon has the fourth-largest such program in the world.
DOD also promotes institutional reform through a Defense Institution Reform Initiative with the Lebanese armed forces, he noted.
Similarly in Jordan, Chollet said, the United States remains committed to maintaining a strong defense partnership. “U.S. security assistance helps build the capacity of the Jordanian armed forces, promotes interoperability between our two militaries, enhances Jordan’s border security and counterterrorism capabilities and supports military education and training,” he said.
DOD has provided equipment and training to supplement the Jordanian border security program and improve the capability of its military to detect and interdict illegal crossing and attempts to smuggle weapons of mass destruction, Chollet said. DOD provided the Jordanian government with about $300 million in foreign military financing funds, he added, and has both active joint exercise and officer exchange programs.
Regarding Syria, Chollet reported the United States and its allies have military forces in Jordan manning a Patriot missile battery and an F-16 unit as they assist Jordanians with the planning necessary to strengthen its defense.
(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleAFPS)