Mattis Cites Joint Forces, NATO Issues at Hill Hearing
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 27, 2007 Providing ready, jointly-trained U.S. forces to combatant commanders engaged in the war on terrorism is a priority task for the U.S. military, a top general said here today.
Marine Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis has been selected to receive his fourth star and become the leader of U.S. Joint Forces Command, based at Norfolk, Va. He appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee today in a confirmation hearing.
If he is confirmed for the job, Mattis pledged, Joint Force Command will continue to provide trained and ready forces to serve worldwide in the war on terrorism.
“Should you confirm me, my first priority will be to support NATO and our combatant commanders in active operations against the enemy,” Mattis said at today’s hearing. “My second priority will be preparing our NATO forces and the U.S. joint team to defeat future enemies.”
However, fielding those troops according to a stable, predictable schedule that provides unit refit, training and rest time between deployments, while minimizing stress on military families will remain a challenge, Mattis noted earlier in written responses to committee questions.
Top defense civilian and military leaders have observed that the U.S. armed forces, particularly the Army, have been stretched while successfully performing overseas missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and other areas of the world.
The fact that a stretched American military continues to accomplish its worldwide missions is indicative of a force “that has never been willing to say, ‘no,’ when it came to a test of our resolve to defend this country,” Mattis said at the hearing.
However, continued development and implementation of “jointness” and transformation across the U.S. military may become compromised in the future, as those stretched forces continue to perform wartime commitments, Mattis reported.
“But, we need to have a balancing act here, where we can candidly and openly share with you what we need to do our job, and recognize sometimes we simply don’t have the forces to do something,” Mattis told Senate panel members.
Mattis also has been recommended by NATO to become its next supreme allied commander for transformation. U.S. and NATO troops are engaged in battle against Taliban and al Qaeda militants seeking to topple Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government. Both positions are presently filled by Air Force Gen. Lance L. Smith, who has announced his impending retirement.
In discussing his potential new duties as the top U.S. military leader at NATO, Mattis told committee members that ongoing U.S., NATO and coalition efforts to assist the Afghan government in confronting terrorists and other criminals “are on target.”
Yet, the growth and sale of poppies that are used to make opium and heroin threatens to undermine the Afghan government, the general said.
“We need a dramatic leap in our interagency (and) in our international partners’ efforts to reduce drug demand, to come up with substitute crops, and the kind of supporting infrastructure that allows those crops to become viable,” Mattis explained at the hearing.
Preparation of NATO forces operating in Afghanistan can also help to mitigate the drug issue there, he added. Yet, Afghanistan’s poppy production is “a larger problem than just the military preparation of the troops,” Mattis acknowledged at the hearing. He pledged to the committee that he’d devote “as much work as much as I can” toward solving Afghanistan’s poppy problem.