A key U.S. objective in the broader Middle East said Commander of the U.S. Central Command General Joseph Votel is to “neutralize and shape the destabilizing impact that Iran has across the region.”
Speaking before Congress, General Votel stressed that “Iran’s malign activities across the region pose the long-term threat to stability in this part of the world.”
He added that the recently published National Defense Strategy rightly identifies the resurgence of great power competition as the principal national security challenge.
One of those vying for power is Russia, said General Votel. Its support of the Assad regime in Syria has not only propped them up, but has added complexity to the Defeat ISIS campaign. “Diplomatically and militarily,” said General Votel, “Moscow plays both arsonist and firefighter, fueling tensions among all parties in Syria. . .then serving as an arbiter to resolve disputes, attempting to undermine and weaken each party's bargaining positions.”
Despite the key role that the Syrian Democratic Forces and the coalition have played in dealing a defeat to ISIS, Russia has placed this progress at risk with their activities, said General Votel. Indeed, Russia is “not focused on defeating ISIS,” he said, “but rather on preserving their own influence over the outcome of the situation.”
Another power player in the region is China. It is improving its military posture by connecting ports such as Gwadar in Pakistan with its first overseas military base in Djibouti, adjacent to the critical Bab-el-Mandeb, a strait connecting the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.
While Beijing claims both locations support peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, the new military base and port bolsters China's force projection into the region, warned General Votel.
Both China and Russia are increasing defense cooperation and sales of their equipment to U.S. regional partners and cultivating multidimensional ties to Iran. Russia, supported by Iran, continues to bolster the Assad regime in Syria, attempts to limit the U.S. military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, and creates friction among NATO partners.
“We in CENTCOM,” vowed General Votel, “stand ready with all of our partners to defend U.S. interests against these and other threats. . . .We are postured for purpose, proactive in pursuing opportunities and resolved to win.”