May 06, 2008

Strategic Questions for Generals Petraeus and Odierno

By Michèle Flournoy, Shawn Brimley and Vikram J. Singh

Overarching Questions
The Central Command Area of Responsibility (AOR) requires a Combatant Commander to balance an unprecedented range of challenges: two hot wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, tensions with Iran and Syria, chaos in Lebanon, crises in Sudan and Somalia, and regional efforts to counter violent extremism to name just a few.

•  QUESTION: General Petraeus, can you give us your assessment of the overall priorities and force require­ments in the region and tell us how you plan to balance across the range of demands? How will you tailor your approach to deal with diff erent extremist groups in diff erent contexts in the CENTCOM AOR?

Military Readiness
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff , the Secretary of the Army, the Army Chief of Staff and the Commandant of the Marine Corps have all testifi ed to Congress about the enormous strains on U.S. Soldiers, Marines and their families.  They have also expressed concern that the current pace of operations is both unsus­tainable  and taking a substantial toll on the United States’ ability to respond to other crises beyond Iraq and Afghanistan.

•  QUESTION: Generals, do you share their assessment that the current pace of operations is not sustainable and that the lack of ready and available ground forces for other contingencies increases our level of strategic risk?  What, if any, steps would you recom­mend taking to reduce the strains on our ground forces and rebalance risk?

Iraq
Generals, as you both have commented on numerous occasions, America’s path for­ward and ultimately out of Iraq depends on a successful transition from U.S. forces leading population security missions to an “overwatch” posture characterized more by an increased focus on training and advisory missions. For Congress to exercise its oversight role, we need to better understand  what an “overwatch” position looks like. 
•  QUESTION: Please outline for the committee exactly what your defi ni­tion of “overwatch” is, describe the key features of the transition to such a posture, and the key capabilities and missions that will characterize American operations in Iraq in an overwatch position.

General Petraeus, during your last visit to Congress you commented that further reductions in violence in Iraq will only occur in the context of political accom­modation between the various actors in Iraq. Over the last several months, American and Iraqi negotiators have been outlining both a Status of Forces Agreement and a broader Strategic Framework Agreement that will help shape the contours of our future relation­ship with Iraq. The Maliki government has asked for many things from us, including an extensive amount of security assistance to the ISF along with external security guarantees.

•  QUESTION: To what degree are we making security assistance and ISF capacity building conditional on the integration of the Sunni community – particularly the so-called Sons of Iraq? What do you think will happen if large armed units of Sunni security volunteers fail to be integrated into Iraq’s security forces? Shouldn’t we be using these ongoing negotiations to exercise our signifi cant leverage over the Maliki government and push them toward more political accom­modation on key issues?

Iran
General Petraeus, in your new role at CENTCOM you will have an important influence over how America deals with Iran. Your predecessor, Admiral Fallon, repeatedly advocated engagement with Tehran, and Secretary Gates said in a speech last week: “We need to figure out a way to develop some leverage with respect to the Iranians and then sit down and talk with them. If there’s going to be a discus­sion, then they need something, too. We can’t go to a discussion and be completely the demander with them not feeling that they need anything from us.”

•  QUESTION: What are your views on Iranian intentions and capabilities regarding Iraq and the region, and how will you approach the issue of engagement with Iran?

Afghanistan
General Petraeus, the new Pakistani government is implementing a truce with the Taliban and other extremists along the border with Afghanistan. Th e truce will likely include a redeployment of Pakistani forces away from the border. As you know, that border is only a solid line for our forces and Afghan and Pakistan government forces. The terrorists cross it at will. This sanctuary in Pakistan con­tinues to undermine allied efforts to help Afghanistan and provides Osama bin Laden and his deputies a safe-haven.

•  QUESTION: How do you see a truce between the Government of Pakistan and the militants affecting the ability of U.S. forces in OEF to accomplish their mission? What changes do you expect to be required to U.S. deploy­ments near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan, and do you see this requir­ing an increase in U.S. force levels?

  • Michèle Flournoy

    Chief Executive Officer, CNAS

    Michèle Flournoy is Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).  She served as the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy from Febr...

  • Shawn Brimley

    Executive Vice President and Director of Studies

    Shawn Brimley is Executive Vice President and Director of Studies at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) where he manages the center’s research agenda and staff. Mr....

  • Vikram J. Singh