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American Forces Press Service

Centcom Plans for Broader Regional Engagement Post-2014

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

TAMPA, Fla., July 10, 2013 – Exercises, training exchanges and other military-to-military engagements with partners across the Middle East will become increasingly important as the United States draws down its forces in Afghanistan, a senior U.S. Central Command official told American Forces Press Service.

For the past 11 years, sustained combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have monopolized the United States’ focus within the Centcom area of responsibility, Guy Zero, deputy director for training and exercises, said during an interview at the command’s headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.

This limited the number of forces and assets available to support broader engagement elsewhere in the region, he acknowledged.

Despite these constraints, Centcom has pursued a robust theater engagement strategy ranging from senior leader conferences to tactical-level training and exercises with 18 of the 20 regional militaries in activities, Zero reported.

Now, facing a post-2014 future with a reduced troop presence, Centcom is laying plans to engage more broadly across the region.

“As active combat forces leave the Centcom area, the United States will increasingly depend upon strategic engagement through training and exercises to maintain our strategic partnerships,” Zero said.

Recognizing budgetary constraints are affecting operations military-wide, Centcom is exploring ways to cut costs without impacting its engagements, he said. Planners are scaling back some of the expensive field training exercises, while leveraging the benefits of tabletop and command post exercises.

“We will have to make some careful choices and prioritize what training we do, how we do it and whether we do it with forces or [command post exercises], bringing staffs together to exercise processes,” Zero said.

What’s important, he emphasized, is that the engagements continue, and that they continue to grow.

Particularly in light of the defense strategic guidance and its heightened focus on the Asia-Pacific region, the world is watching to see if the United States will live up to its long-term commitments within the Centcom region, he said.

“Our partners in the Middle East, as well as those nations outside the Middle East, are watching very carefully to see what the United States is going to do,” Zero said. “They are watching, I believe, to see if the United States is going to turn its back on the partner nations in the Middle East. This is our opportunity to prove them wrong.”

Military-to-military engagements help bolster partner capacity throughout the region, increasing interoperability so militaries work together more effectively during multinational operations, he said.

But they serve another vital purpose: building trust between the U.S. and partner militaries, and among regional partners that historically have not worked closely together.

“Ultimately, this enhances readiness, and provides a forum of dialogue so, should crisis erupt, we are not meeting and talking for the very first time,” he said. “We are rehearsing concepts so, should they need to be employed, we have done it on some level before.”

Reflecting a global trend, many U.S. engagements in the region have evolved into multilateral exercises. “Based on past experience, we see any future conflict as being multinational and multilateral,” Zero said. “And as such, we need to conduct training and exercises and engagement on a multinational and multilateral basis.”

The recent Eagle Resolve exercise, for example, included 18 nations -- every country in the region except Syria and Iran. ”Everybody else had representation,” Zero said.

To encourage the broadest possible participation, Centcom typically builds the scenarios around non-offensive operations. In many cases, they involve air and missile defense, countermine operations or humanitarian assistance and disaster response, he said.

“The themes are very similar across the [area of responsibility,” Zero said. “What we do in training is not directly connected to world events.”

Eagle Resolve, conducted in April in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, brought together U.S. and Gulf Cooperation Council partners to address integrated air and missile defense, consequence management, critical infrastructure protection, counterterrorism, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear-passive defense, and interdiction and border security.

Eager Lion, held in Jordan in June, focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster response and air and missile defense.

Regional Cooperation, an exercise currently underway and being hosted by Kazakhstan, typically involves scenarios related to acts of terrorism or natural disasters.

Although the scenarios aren’t directed at any particular nation, capacity built through the exercises could be applied to a combat operation if the situation demanded it, Zero said.

“If you practice [humanitarian assistance and disaster response], you are going to be exercising the same types of systems, doing decision-making and executing very similar to what you would do in conflict,” he said. “But by removing the specter of a scenario of conflict, you can really get down to the root of practicing our business practices and the roles and functions of how we operate.”

This puts potential aggressors on alert, he said. “As these countries look out across their portico, they see a collection of countries coming together for a purpose. It is hard to ignore the resolve that is demonstrated by those nations coming together and that sends: that we are here together,” he said.

“That, in and of itself, is a deterrent,” Zero noted.

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