WASHINGTON (Army News Service, January 9, 2014) – With U.S. forces drawing down in Afghanistan, the Army is rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region and seeking other regional alignments, said Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno.
Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, Odierno addressed the future of the Army, and spoke about a wide range of topics including ending sexual assault, and the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq.
FOCUS ON REGIONAL ALIGNMENTS
The Army has between 84,000 to 88,000 Soldiers assigned to the Pacific command, said Odierno.
“That’s quite an investment that we have in the Army that’s available to the Pacific commander in order for him to prevent conflict, shape the environment within the Pacific command,” said Odierno.
Some Soldiers who were assigned to the Pacific command had been in Iraq and Afghanistan for operations. But now, they are back in the Pacific region, he said.
“That’s our re-balance, as we call it,” said Odierno.
The Army has some 2,400 Soldiers in Africa based on the regionally aligned forces concept, he said, noting that a recent mission on the continent included deploying a 15-person platoon to Ethiopia for training and humanitarian assistance activities.
“Those are the kinds of missions that we will use with the Soldiers we have from the continental United States, using them in an expeditionary manner in order for us to move forward in building security capabilities around the world,” he said.
The general noted that the Army has rotational forces in various places in the Middle East.
“We will use forces that are in the continental United States in order for us to continue to help us engage in very key areas, such as North Africa, such as places in the Middle East, which will enable us in order to continue to provide what’s necessary for them to prevent conflict in the future,” he said.
With fewer forces engaged in Afghanistan and the Army already out of Iraq, more units are available for regional rotations, he said.
“Obviously, it’s disappointing to all of us to see the deterioration of the security inside of Iraq,” said Odierno, who was a top commander in Iraq and spent years deployed in the country. “I spent a lot of my life over there.”
When the U.S. military left Iraq in 2011, the levels of violence in Iraq were at the lowest level they had been in a long time, he said.
“I believe we left it a place where it was capable to move forward,” he said.
But now, he said, because of internal political issues in Iraq, that security situation “devolved into something that is, in my mind, concerning,” he said.
It is important, he said, for the United States to stay involved diplomatically in Iraq, but that it is “certainly not the time to put American troops on the ground.”
The Afghan Army and police are showing signs that they are being very successful in handling their nation’s security situation, he said.
“We turned almost completely over the security operation to them last year in April, and they’ve gone through a very significant fighting season with the Taliban and actually performed very, very well,” said Odierno.
“They’ve proven that they can do it. They’ve proven they have the leadership to do it,” he said.
Afghanistan has demonstrated over the last 10 months that it can be aggressive, fight the enemy, and continue to enlist Soldiers, said Odierno.
“We’re seeing a broad success in their leadership at the tactical and operational level,” said Odierno, who noted that the United States can assist Afghanistan in building the institutions that allow the country to sustain those gains over the long term.
He said the United States is waiting for the signing of a bilateral security agreement with Afghanistan and then the decision will be made whether to leave residual forces in the country after American units exit at the end of this year.
Odierno said during the hour-long forum that the Army will not tolerate sexual assault in the ranks, and it is up to commanders to make sure that a climate of acceptance does not exist.
“Sexual assault is a complex problem that has to be dealt with on several different levels,” he said.
A culture needs to exist where everyone understands that sexual assault will not be tolerated in the military or anywhere else, he said.
“The best way to ensure that it’s not tolerated is the chain of command’s involvement in enforcing the standards and policies that we have today — that includes the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” he said.
Commanders who are not doing the right thing will be held accountable, he said.
In addition, the Army must make sure it is providing victims the resources for them to move forward and to ensure that they don’t become victims to the process, he said.
A strong chain of command is critical in the process, Odierno said.
More people are willing to come forward now, he said, and people are reporting sexual assaults that happened years ago.
“It’s not perfect yet. We still have a long way to go,” he said.
“The pressure we’re getting is good because that will help us continue to make sure that we stay on point to solve this problem,” said Odierno.
LOSS OF SOLDIERS
During his speech at the National Press Club, Odierno also talked about the many Soldiers who have sacrificed so much in service to the nation.
It is “incredibly difficult” to deal with the lives that have been lost, no matter what the cause, whether in Iraq or in Afghanistan, or in a car accident or by suicide, Odierno said.
Members of the Army are brothers and sisters in arms who volunteered to be in the military and were proud to be part of the force, he said.
“There’s a relationship there that’s built that you’ll never forget,” he said.
“I can never explain properly to anybody when somebody gives their life,” he said.
But many Soldiers, proud to be a part of the Army and do the mission, died doing the things that they wanted to do, said Odierno.
“I remember their service and their sacrifice, and I remember that they dedicated themselves to something much greater than themselves personally,” he said.
“That’s what the Army’s about, and that’s what I remember, even though I know it’s very difficult as we look back at some of the sacrifices that were given,” said Odierno.