Wicker Leads Hearing on Africa, Middle Eastern Force Posture
Armed Services Leader: China, Russia, Iran, and ISIS All Threaten U.S. Regional Interests
March 17, 2023
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today participated in a full committee hearing discussing the posture for U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM).
In his remarks, Wicker focused on the need to compete with strategic adversaries like China and Russia in the Middle East and Africa.
“Our top adversaries, including China and Russia, are testing American resolve – not just in East Asia and Europe, but also across the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa,” Wicker said.
Wicker additionally emphasized the growing threat of Iran and terror groups to regional security.
“We are right to focus on the growing Russian and Chinese threats, but, we cannot take our eyes off the other security challenges coming from the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa,” Wicker said. “In Afghanistan, the disastrous withdrawal of U.S. troops nearly two years ago left a security vacuum that the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and ISIS filled… As a result of the Biden administration’s policies, the world’s number one state sponsor of terrorism, Iran, presents an increasing threat to our personnel and partners in the region.”
Citing the full range of threats presented to the region, Wicker again called for a sustained increase in the defense budget topline above inflation.
U.S. Army Gen. Eric Kurilla, commander of CENTCOM, and U.S. Marine Corps General Michael Langley, commander of AFRICOM, appeared before the committee for testimony.
Read Wicker’s opening statement as delivered below or watch here.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I would like to thank our witnesses for being here.
In recent weeks, the committee has heard from top military and civilian leaders about the significant security challenges facing our nation. Our top adversaries, including China and Russia, are testing American resolve – not just in East Asia and Europe, but also across the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa.
In the Middle East, Russia and Iran grow closer. Recently, Iran agreed to purchase 24 advanced Su-35 fighter jets. Today, Russia is deploying Iranian drones to kill Ukrainians. Meanwhile, China works to displace the United States as the partner of choice for many of our longtime friends in the region. The Chinese Communist Party offers more streamlined arm sales and Huawei 5G networks that would undermine our operational security in the Middle East.
In Africa, the Russian mercenary group Wagner does Putin’s bidding. They sow instability across the continent by supporting coups and spreading lies. They use exploitative practices to get critical minerals; they pressure African governments to move away from the West. At the same time, China is using economic coercion to gain leverage and expand its military footprint and basing – something former AFRICOM Commander, General Stephen Townsend, called his “number one global power competition concern.”
We are right to focus on the growing Russian and Chinese threats, but, we cannot take our eyes off the other security challenges coming from the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa. In Afghanistan, the disastrous withdrawal of U.S. troops nearly two years ago left a security vacuum that the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and ISIS filled.
The Biden administration assured us that the Department of Defense could conduct counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan even without a limited number of U.S. troops on the ground, but the United States has only conducted one strike in more than a year. The withdrawal from Afghanistan emboldened ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates around the world, not just in Afghanistan. The terrorist threat is real and growing.
As a result of the Biden administration’s policies, the world’s number one state sponsor of terrorism, Iran, presents an increasing threat to our personnel and partners in the region. President Biden should have focused on countering Iran’s missile program and its support for terrorism. Instead, he focused on returning to the flawed 2015 nuclear agreement. In the process, this administration has given them practically everything and got absolutely nothing. According to the Department of Defense, Iran could now produce enough fissile material for a bomb within just twelve days, and its proxies are on the march regionwide.
These facts make it clear: Continued significant real growth in the defense budget topline above inflation remains essential to our national security.
I will be looking closely to ensure our security assistance funding remains strong in these theaters and that our counterterrorism and contingency forces are fully resourced. This includes additional force protection measures in both theaters, particularly to protect against more complex Iranian-backed attacks.
I would also note that the budget’s zeroing out of LPD amphibious ships is the exact wrong move, when we did not even have the capacity to send one amphibious ship to Turkey to help with their earthquake.
Finally, I am interested in how the Office of Strategic Capital might be leveraged to push back against the CCP in your theaters and elsewhere as they seek to buy ports and raw materials across the globe.
I thank our witnesses and look forward to their testimony.