U.S Central Command at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base is responsible for some of the most sensitive and volatile regions on the globe such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria and Iraq. And Rear Admiral Jeff Harley is in charge of security cooperation for all 17 countries in the CENTCOM Area of Responsibility.
In a recent interview, Adm. Harley talked with me about his job as Vice Director, Strategy, Plans and Policy (J5) – which is principally about building relationships with other military leaders that can be counted on when diplomacy is failing.
REAR ADM. JEFF HARLEY: It’s about building that special trust that’s required to be able to maintain that type of diplomatic opportunity. It’s more than just military power.
BOBBIE O’BRIEN: Building that kind of cooperation beyond military but in the personal relationships – was that best demonstrated most recently in Egypt?
HARLEY: I think one would never really know, but I think there’s certainly been a lot of discussion to that end and in many other countries as well. But, I would say in my heart of hearts that military to military relationship did have a significant influence on the military leadership in Egypt.
We should look at the Arab Spring not just as a crisis. We should look at it as a world of opportunity – a world of opportunity to expand our relationships with the different countries while also reinforcing our values, our national values.
O’BRIEN: There are some concerns obviously with Adm. (Mike) Mullen leaving and his concerns specifically about Pakistan.
HARLEY: I think many people forget how many Pakistani soldiers are lost in the fight against counter terrorism. More soldiers have been killed in Pakistan fighting terrorists than NATO has lost in Afghanistan. They are in the fight against terrorism with us and they do support our efforts in Afghanistan and in a number of other tangible ways. It is a difficult relationship. It is a very complex relationship, but we continue to build a military trust that is enabling our success in Afghanistan today.
O’BRIEN: Rate where that trust is now in the position you’re in now compared to where it was before Osama bin Laden that was before Adm. Mullen’s comments.
HARLEY: I do think that the special trust that we have with Pakistan has been eroded by some of these events and we are working to continue to build that trust. Gen. (James) Mattis in particular has a strong military to military relationship with his counterpart. And we work very closely through our Office of Defense representative in Pakistan to continue the military to military ties that are so critical to being able to help assist in the war against terror in the sanctuary areas of Pakistan.
O’BRIEN: You have mentioned more than once in this interview about “we will be that enduring partner, we will be there.” Is that possibly the biggest concern that you hear from the partners in region? Worry that the U.S. would come in and then leave?
HARLEY: I think that is a concern of our regional partners and it’s one of our enduring themes at U.S. Central Command is that we are a partner and that we are a partner that can be counted on for the long-term. And being a partner doesn’t necessarily mean having bases and facilities in a country, it means being able to establish contacts, maintain those relationships, trade military officers at respective schools. It can be as simple as maintaining a maritime presence which we have for decades and decades.
It’s going to be an exciting future in the Middle East, but it will be that future because of the good foundation of relationships that we’ve created through security cooperation.