U.S. Central Command Cuts Forces in Iraq and at Home

Major General Karl Horst, Chief of Staff at U.S. Central Command.

U.S. Central Command and MacDill Air Force Base help make up the backbone of the Tampa Bay economy. So it’s no surprise that news of job cuts sent shivers down that spine. CENTCOM plans to eliminate more than 20 percent of its workforce.  That’s around 1,100 jobs while also drawing down troops in Iraq.

Major General Karl Horst, Chief of Staff at CENCOM, told reporter me Tuesday that the budget cuts will not hurt their efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq or the 18 other countries CENTCOM is responsible for including Yemen and Syria.

MAJOR GEN. KARL HORST: We’ve been working hard to allay peoples’ fears, give them the facts about where we’re going and what we’re doing. More importantly, why we’re doing it and how fits into the grander scheme of the Dept. of Defense and the  efficiencies we’ve been asked to look at.

BOBBIE O’BRIEN: So what kind of fears are you hearing? What are they worried about?

HORST: They’re worried about 1,100 jobs going away overnight and the fact of the matter is we’re going to reduce 1,100 across about a three year period. It’ll come through normal attrition. We’re not going to hang pink slips on peoples’ computer screens that say don’t come to work on Monday because we no longer need you. What we’re going to do is as people rotate out of the command, we’re just not going to request people to replace them.

A lot of the folks that are going to be affected are transitory in nature anyway. They’re not permanent party. They don’t live on base, they don’t live in houses and their families don’t go to school and so it doesn’t really affect the tax base. It doesn’t really affect the overall population. As things change in the AOR (Area Of Responsibility), the manpower requirements will diminish a bit and all we’re doing is is we’re just following consistently with what’s going on in the theater and we’re following the guidance that the Secretary of Defense gave us which was look at your manpower numbers, make sure we’re doing things effectively, efficiently with the manpower you’ve got and cutback where you can possibly do so.

OBRIEN:  Any idea yet how many civilians and how many military?

HORST: What we’ve asked each of the directors to do is to look at their organizations and tell us looking at your permanent manpower, look at your temporary manpower, look at your civilians and look at your contracts. Tell us how you can better do your job efficiently with fewer people and fewer dollars.

OBRIEN: Let’s talk about doing your job. Your responsibility is for 20 countries and CENTCOM is probably responsible for the hottest area on the globe, or AOR, Area Of Responsibility, I think you call it. What about doing that while you’re still talking about cutting forces?

HORST: With two major conflicts going on, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. It took a good amount of increase of manpower to sustain those fights. As those fights come to a close and as we reduce the manpower footprint, the folks, the staff that was supporting those operations there’s less of a need for some of the skill sets.  We’ll still maintain vigilance over the 20 country AOR, but the level of activity in Iraq right now is coming down.

OBRIEN: So, as U.S. troops leave, what kind of dangers is Iraq going to face?

HORST: The biggest threat to Iraq right now is the malign influence of Iran on the eastern border. There are Iranian forces that are supporting the militias that are operating inside of Iraq right now and frankly I believe the greatest threat to the long-term stability of Iraq and the government of Iraq are the malign influences of Iran and illegal militias.

OBRIEN: Are the Iraqis cable of handling the militias?

HORST: Well, I think that its incumbent upon the Iraqi security forces both the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Police to work very hard to limit the influence of those militias. What you’re seeing in militia activities is predominately sectarian in nature. The militia supported by Iran are Shia militias and so the violence is against Sunnis. I think also as American forces leave, there is indication of a resurgence of Al Qaeda in Iraq which is predominately Sunni backed. And you see that violence occurring against Shias.

And so I think it’s going to be a very fragile situation when we leave and it will be important upon the Iraqi security forces to stand up to do what they’ve been trained to do, follow the rule of law in Iraq and do what is best for the country of Iraq not for individual groups or militias.

OBRIEN: Can you describe the transition in Afghanistan? What kind of progress is the U.S. making? Are there some successes?

HORST: If you look at Kabul, Kabul has transitioned and its Afghan National Security Forces partnered with NATO  troops that are providing security in that area. There are very few U.S. troops in Kabul providing support to Afghan National Security Forces because they’ve already transitioned so I think that’s a very positive step.

O’BRIEN: But what about somebody who just looks at the headlines – they’re going to see that the U.S. Embassy was just attacked in Kabul.

HORST: It was and the Afghan National Security Forces responded to it with the help of their NATO partners. And they took on the insurgency and there was an attack but it was not successful from a Taliban standpoint.

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