General: CENTCOM Must Prepare to Deal With Violent Networked Extremists
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2008 Looking beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, the forces of U.S. Central Command have to be positioned to deal with violent networked extremists, a top general in the command said today.
“Regionally, we’ve got to network ourselves to prosecute that fight along all the lines of irregular warfare,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert H. Holmes, the command's deputy director of operations, said in a conference call.
The general stressed that the command must go beyond traditional combat and embrace building governance capabilities, financing economic development, building and maintaining infrastructure, and providing basic utilities to be successful.
In Iraq, there has been progress in security and a decline in attacks across the nation, although al Qaeda in Iraq and Iranian-trained Shiite special groups still are able to launch “spectacular attacks,” Holmes said. “But as Central Command has always said, the lines of governance, economic development and the social development have got to fill in their battle space as we support the growth of Iraq as a nation.”
In Afghanistan, the Taliban are not resurging; rather, “they never went away,” the general said. Coalition and Afghan forces have made it evident that they are going to deny the Taliban and its extremist allies any safe havens. As the coalition and Afghan forces move into areas, they are encountering the enemy.
“It’s not a matter of resurgence; it’s a matter of contact with an enemy that never went away,” he said.
Central Command is seeing great success with Afghan army units taking the lead in many areas of the country. The border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan is a natural fortress in terms of geography and in terms of political and cultural makeup, Holmes said. The tribally administered area is providing safe havens for a very determined enemy. The enemy knows the border is a seam, and “a smart, willing, adaptive and creative enemy will exploit that seam,” he said.
Pakistan is a sovereign nation, and the United States must respect that, Holmes said, adding that American planners also must understand the dynamic political situation in Pakistan. “We need to let their political process work, and we need to encourage stability,” he said.
The United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan need to understand that “we share a common enemy there on that border,” he said. Pakistan has been a steadfast partner and has taken many casualties in the fight. He said the command is prepared to help Pakistan if the leaders ask for it.
Discussing the recent Turkish incursion into northern Iraq, Holmes said U.S. Central Command sees that as primarily an issue the governments of Iraq and Turkey must solve. Turkish troops are chasing down members of the PKK, a Kurdish terror group, who are using guerilla bases in Iraq as staging grounds for attacks into Turkey. There were communications between Iraq and Turkey before the incursion, he said. “This is a very deliberate and precise seeking out of those terrorists that are exploiting that seam along the border,” Holmes said.
He added that Central Command planners hope the Turkish military is “discriminating about finding and fixing those terrorists endangering their homeland.”