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American Forces Press Service

Air Force Pacific Commander Highlights Importance of Engagement

By Nick Simeone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 5, 2014 – The United States needs to remain closely engaged militarily with its Asian and Pacific allies, especially at a time when the region is watching with concern Russia's behavior toward neighboring Ukraine, the top Air Force commander for the Asia-Pacific region said today.

"The importance of the Asia-Pacific to the future of the United States I don't think can be overstated," Air Force Gen. Herbert J. "Hawk" Carlisle told a discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here, more than two years after the United States announced a strategic rebalance to the region. The rebalance includes plans to deploy 60 percent of its warships to the region by 2020 and an increase in American troop rotations there.

Carlisle noted that for Asian-Pacific nations dealing with territorial or internal disputes, Russia's intervention in neighboring Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea are causing increasing concerns.

"What Russia is doing in Ukraine and Crimea has a direct effect on the Asia-Pacific," he said, adding that Russia is becoming "increasingly active" in the Pacific, where the country has a long Eastern border, making its actions "a challenge for us in the Asia-Pacific as well as Europe."

As area air defense commander, Carlisle's command of 45,000 Pacific Air Forces airmen has him overseeing security for more than half the planet's surface and the world's five largest economies, as well as 60 percent of the planet's population. "You can fit every land mass on the planet in the Pacific Ocean and still have room left over for another North American continent and another African continent," the general noted.

A host of potential conflicts challenge the security of the United States and its allies in the region, including ongoing tensions with North Korea, China currently involved in several territorial disputes with its Asian neighbors, as well as cataclysmic natural disasters that often require a U.S. response -- just a few of the potential flash points he listed.

"The tension on the Korean Peninsula is truly as tight as it's ever been, and it appears that it's getting worse and more of a challenge," Carlisle said, pointing to the North's ongoing threats of missile and nuclear tests as well as last year's sudden execution of leader Kim Jong Un's uncle, who had been considered the second most powerful figure in Pyongyang.

One of the toughest challenges, he said, is safeguarding the United States and its allies from region's stockpile of missiles. "The largest missile arsenals in the world are in Russia, China and North Korea," he added, "and most of them are pointed at either us or our friends and allies."

Last year's federal budget sequester had the effect of slowing down the number of U.S. military regional engagements, Carlisle said, but that has since picked up, with the total number set to be about 400 this year. But he warned that the challenges to regional security continue to exceed the capacity of the United States.

"Today, I believe that we have more mission than we have money, manpower or time, and I believe it's going to stay that way for the foreseeable future," he said. So it's increasingly important, he added, for the United States to maintain an increasingly forward presence.

Relationships, he said, are fundamental. "We need to be closer to our allies and partners and friends in the region," Carlisle said.

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