By Bryan Park
United States Senator John McCain of Arizona heavily criticized Commander Lloyd J. Austin III of the U.S. Central Command on various campaigns to combat terrorist organizations during a congressional hearing with armed forces on Mar. 26. Various members of the U.S. military met with the Senate Armed Services Committee to request additional funding for their proposed Fiscal Year 2016 Defense Authorization Request.
“A complex intertwining of ISIS and Iranian problems in Iraq and Syria challenge us in an area that the administration has handled poorly,” said Senator John McCain.
Austin III, who is in charge of operations within more than 20 nation stretching from the Arabian Gulf to Central Asia, stated that the central region is more volatile and chaotic than he has ever seen. He stated that missions to stabilize increasing violence in these regions would require more support from the administration, and that the stakes are higher than ever.
Austin III briefed the senators on various campaigns in the Middle Eastern region that are being undertaken by Central Command. Joint operations between the U.S. Air Force and Iraqi Security Forces are ongoing in Tikrit, Iraq, according to Austin III. The commander stated that the U.S. is only providing airstrikes and supply drops against members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, and working alongside more than 4,000 Iraqi fighters.
McCain also stated to Austin III that using 4,000 air units out of 12,000 total units to actually drop weapons on enemy units in the area endangers inactive pilots and is not a viable way to spend taxpayer money. McCain also dismissed Austin III’s report that airstrikes have decreased due to sudden changes in the behavior of ISIS forces, and stated that anyone could have seen the change coming. McCain also said that Austin’s engagements in Iraq are ignoring the combat in Syria, and that doing so would have severe consequences.
“There is no strategy for Syria and we all know that ISIS does not respect those boundaries, but somehow you and the president do,” McCain said. “To say that you are going to have a strategy for Iraq first and then Syria, of course, is sophistry.”
Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia also questioned the commander’s ability to safeguard Syria from falling into ISIS control. When asked if he could make any assurances that Syria would not fall into the wrong hands with the current U.S. presence, Austin III replied that he could not make any assurances.
Manchin III also inquired about the situation in Yemen, following the coup by extremist forces in March. He specifically asked Austin III on sightings of ISIS soldiers using U.S. military equipment in videos and pictures posted on the Internet. The equipment, costing nearly $500 million, was previously used by Iraqi allies, but was abandoned and is currently not being safeguarded. As a result, millions and millions of the nation’s dollars are being used against ourselves, according to Manchin III.
“Is there nobody in our government that is responsible,” Manchin III said. “We give all this equipment to Yemen and we see it falling apart?”
Austin responded to Manchin III by stating that in a case like Yemen, he did not have the ability to send troops to retrieve the equipment.
During the hearing, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas also announced that the Associated Press had released a breaking news report that Saudi Arabia had launched a ground-led invasion into Yemen to fight the ISIS troops. Austin III said that he did not know about the operation, he would immediately look into the report.
Along with combat reports, mental health within the military was another issue pursued by the hearing to estimate funding.
Commander Joseph L. Votel of U.S. Special Operations Command, spoke about the Preservation of the Force and Family, a program that has a component of peer-to-peer counseling. The program is an important component in identifying stressful behavior among military personnel that could lead to suicide, said Votel. It is designed to enable easy access and resources to those seeking it, which will hopefully empower people by communicating with them earlier.
“I think one of the most important things we are doing is trying to send a clear message across the entire force that it is absolutely normal and expected to ask for help when you need it.”
Following the conclusion of the meeting, the commanders, along with Commander David M. Rodriguez of U.S. African Command, held a closed-door conference to further discuss the 2016 spending for the military.