WASHINGTON, March 30, 2016 —
The men and women of U.S. Central Command have met every challenge thrown at them under the leadership of Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, and they won’t miss a beat as Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel takes the reins, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in Tampa, Florida, today.
Carter presided at the change-of-command ceremony between the two men. Earlier in the day, he presided as Army Gen. Raymond A. “Tony” Thomas received the flag of U.S. Special Operations Command from Votel.
Carter pointed to the myriad of challenges that the command has faced, from conducting operations in Afghanistan to supporting allies on the Arabian Peninsula to engaging with leaders across the 20-nation Centcom area of operations.
He singled out the counter-Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant effort for special mention. The object of the campaign is to destroy the ISIL parent tumor in Syria and Iraq, combat the spreading ISIL cancer worldwide and to protect the homeland.
“One of the leaders we celebrate today put a finer point on our mission,” Carter said. “As General Austin has said, ‘We’ve got to keep our dukes up.’”
The Centcom-led support in the region is giving local forces the advantage against ISIL, the secretary told the audience. “With additional training and assistance for local forces, and with support from coalition partners, we're continuing to gather momentum, and we will deliver ISIL a lasting defeat,” Carter said.
If it was only ISIL the commander of U.S. Central Command had to deal with, it would be enough. But the region is incredibly complex and volatile, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said during the ceremony. “There has been no other geographic combatant command that has been asked to do more, and no other combatant command has done more over the past several years than the United States Central Command,” Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford said.
The country recognizes and appreciates the service and sacrifices of the Centcom team, the general said. “We’ve asked a lot of you, and you’ve delivered,” he said. “When you’re responsible for a part of the world that consists of places like Iraq, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Lebanon, you never know what kind of crisis or challenge you are going to wake up to in the morning.”
Pundits Forecasted Doom
Dunford reminded people that just a short while ago, many pundits were forecasting doom. “But fortunately, the Centcom team wasn’t listening,” he said. “They were too busy developing ways to push back on the enemy and gain momentum. They were too busy developing and maintaining a coalition of more than 60 nations. They were too busy improving intelligence and targeting process and building the capacity of our partners. They were too busy incorporating the lessons learned during the first year of the fight and making the necessary adjustments to win.”
All speakers at the event talked about the tumultuous nature of the Central Command region. Austin addressed the challenges he confronted upon taking command in 2013.
“As you look across that vast expanse, you see unprecedented conflict and turmoil, widespread discord and tremendous human suffering,” he said. “However, despite the many challenges present in that part of the world, I do believe that there is cause for optimism.”
The reason for his optimism, he added, is that the service members, civilians and contractors who make up Centcom “perform miracles on a routine basis.”
Nowhere is that more evident than with the campaign against ISIL, Austin said. “They have less territory, they have less freedom of movement, and we – the coalition – we now have the momentum for the campaign in Iraq and Syria,” he added. “We can expect to see that momentum build in the coming weeks and months as a result of this great team over the past year and a half.”
Getting It Done
While defeat of ISIL will take time and will require the active support of the international community, “we will get it done,” Austin said.
The man who will carry the flag onward thanked Austin for his support, counsel and advice. Votel, too, spoke of the region as an area of persistent strife and conflict and said the nation looks to Centcom to be “the guarantors of American interests in this vital and deeply challenging part of the world.”
Votel laid out his priorities, with the first being to continue efforts to understand the complex operational environment and continue to use the network of interagency and international partners “to stay ready and provide the best options for our civilian leadership.”
“We will recognize that success downrange starts with maintaining an agile and responsive headquarters for our subordinates,” he said. “We will embrace allies, partners and interagency colleagues and remember that what we do in Centcom often affects activities and interests in other regions.”