Senators Quiz Special Operations Command, Northcom Nominees on Budget Issues

By Stew Magnuson

Senate Armed Services Committee members questioned nominees for three major commands July 10 about budget cuts and their thoughts on the war in Afghanistan.

Navy Adm. William Gortney, nominee to lead U.S. Northern Command, Gen. John Campbell, tapped to lead the international security assistance force in Afghanistan, and Lt. Gen. Joseph Votel,

President Obama’s choice to lead Special Operations Command testified before the committee on a range of topics including budget cuts, cyber operations and new missions in the  Arctic.
Votel was asked if there has been progress in Afghanistan and if local forces had reached full operational capability yet.

“I assess we are on the right path. … We are moving very quickly and effectively to make them capable partners on the battlefield,” said Votel, who is currently commander of Joint Special Operations Command.  

Sustaining Afghan National Security Forces will be the greatest challenge to prevent terrorism, he said.

Votel testified that he was concerned about scarce resources. Of particular concern, was funding for more intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance technologies. “We definitely need more ISR.”

Without these capabilities it is difficult to build relationships on the ground with partners and assist them during conflicts, he added.

Special operators are adequately trained now, he said, but additional funding would allow the command to do more.

Gortney, who would lead both U.S. Northern Command, and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), said, “I think the greatest threats we have are cyber threats.”

One of Northcom’s roles is to detect, deter and prevent malicious cyber activity targeting the command. The command is making good investments despite budget cuts, said Gortney, who is currently commander of the Navy’s U.S. fleet forces command.

“Our security environment is always changing and we must be ready to challenge assumptions, think creatively, and meet future threats,” he said. That includes efforts to improve information sharing and cyber security, he said.

Committee Chairman Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., peppered Gortney with questions on missile defense, noting that funding has declined from about $2 billion to half of that.

“That does concern me,” Gortney said, but he didn’t elaborate.

Gortney also expressed concern about having adequate funding for new missions in the Arctic region. “In order to operate there, we have to have the ability to communicate, navigate and sustain ourselves. … That’s going to require some significant investments from the department.”

Campbell, the nominee to take over as commander of the International Security Assistance Force and commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan, said he supported President Obama’s announcement that, if the U.S. Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement is signed, the military would retain 9,800 U.S. service members in the country.

The challenge will be to continue effective counter-terrorism operations in training, advising and assisting Afghan partners, he said.

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Leadership, Missile Defense, Special Operations-Low Intensity Conflict

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