Franks Lists Threats Facing Central Command
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 13, 2001 While the Persian Gulf is the crucial area for U.S. Central Command, the command has much more on its plate, said Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks.
Army Gen. Tommy Franks observes the opening ceremonies of CENTRASBAT 2000 in Kazakhstan in September 2000. Franks, the commander of U.S. Central Command, said during recent testimony that while the Persian Gulf is critical to the United States, there is much more to his command. SSgt. Jeremy Lock, USAF
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Franks, testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, said the command stands ready to protect American vital interests throughout the Central Command area of responsibility.
"The volatility of our region requires that USCENTCOM remain adaptable and agile," Franks said. "Without a large footprint in the region, we must be truly 'deployable.' Responsive command, control, and communications during peace, crisis, and conflict will remain key to our ability to accomplish the mission.
The key to the Central Command area is to maintain uninterrupted access to energy resources. The Persian Gulf region contains roughly 68 percent of the world's known oil and natural gas reserves -- "more than 40 percent of which pass through the Strait of Hormuz," Franks said.
"And so, one of our responsibilities -- in fact, one of our objectives -- is to maintain access to these energy resources at the same time that we maintain access to markets in the region," he remarked.
Iraq, of course, is the main disturber of the peace in the region. CENTCOM maintains the no-fly zone over the southern third of that country. In addition, the command conducts maritime intercept operations in the northern Arabian Gulf. These operations seek to stop Saddam Hussein from smuggling oil and using the revenue gained to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction or to improve his conventional capabilities.
But there is more to CENTCOM than containing Hussein, Franks continued. The command's area of responsibility encompasses 25 nations in an area about twice the size of the continental United States.
"It includes the northern Red Sea area, the countries of Egypt and Jordan. It includes the Horn of Africa and East Africa; the Arabian Peninsula, certainly; and South Asia from Pakistan up into Central Asia as far as Kazakhstan," Franks said.
Iran is another concern, he said. Franks called Iran an "enigma" during his testimony. He said Iranian President Mohammed Khatami has indicated a willingness to improve ties with the West and loosen the fundamentalist restrictions on the Iranian people, but his hands are tied.
"(Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hoseini-) Khamenei and the ruling conservatives have clearly demonstrated that they will not accept change, nor will they share the principal elements of state power with an increasingly restless population," Franks said. In spite of the internal discord, Iran continues to improve its conventional and unconventional military capabilities, he said.
"Tehran's ability to interdict the Strait of Hormuz with air, surface and sub-surface naval units, as well as mines and missiles remains a concern," Franks told the lawmakers. "Additionally, Iran's asymmetrical capabilities are becoming more robust."
He said these capabilities include high-speed attack patrol ships, anti-ship missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, and hardened facilities for surface-to-surface missiles and command and control. But the main concerns, he noted, are Iran's weapons of mass destruction program and large medium-range ballistic missile program.
"Although President Khatami is attempting to change Iran's image, sustained hostility of conservative hard-liners is evident as we see continued support of terrorism aimed at derailing efforts for peace between Israel and the Palestinians," he said.
The ongoing Israeli-Palestinian violence is of continuing concern in the region, Franks said. In the Persian Gulf, violence has increased internal pressures on moderate Arab governments that must balance responses to public opinion with the value placed on their relationships with the West, he said.
"If the (Arabian) Peninsula states begin to distance themselves from the United States, their inability to face the dual threats of Iran and Iraq will leave them vulnerable to intimidation by these aggressive powers," Franks said.
The October attack on the destroyer USS Cole highlights the threat of terrorism in the region. Franks said the threat remains high and is becoming more sophisticated. "Despite our counterterrorism successes over the past year, including the disruption of terrorist cells in Jordan and Kuwait, extremist groups continue to recruit, train and conduct operations," he said.
One trend is unprecedented cooperation between known and obscure groups. "This cooperation includes moving people and materials, providing safe havens and money and training new recruits," he said. "The trend is especially disturbing as known organizations gain plausible deniability for operations, while the obscure groups achieve an increased capability from training and financial support."
He said terrorist organizations continue to seek larger explosive devices, more lethal tactics and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons. He said this trend points to a more significant problem in the future.
"In addition to the use of unconventional weapons, the potential for terrorists to regard unconventional targets (civilians and civilian infrastructure) as practical options for attack seems likely," Franks said. "As terrorist networks improve their ability to operate within the global communications environment, we see increased capability to support recruitment, conduct fund-raising, and direct sub-elements worldwide. The complex terrorist threat we face today is less predictable and potentially much more dangerous than we have seen in the past."