President Biden’s nominee to lead U.S. Central Command told lawmakers Tuesday that America should not lose sight of the Middle East even as the nation’s geopolitical focus has shifted to the Indo-Pacific region and Eastern Europe.
The Middle East and Afghanistan remain zones of uncertainty with key U.S. national interests and allies at risk, Army Lt. Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing.
“This is a critical time for the 21 countries of Central Command,” Lt. Gen. Kurilla said “The United States faces a new era of strategic competition with China and Russia that is not confined to one geographic region and extends into the CENTCOM area of responsibility.”
“The Middle East is home to nine of the top 10 violent extremist organizations, including al Qaeda and ISIS, which are both reconstituting,” he said.
Mr. Biden nominated Gen. Kurilla for promotion to four stars and command of U.S. Central Command, which is based in Tampa, Florida. Its area of responsibility includes the Middle East, Central Asia and parts of South Asia.
If confirmed by the Senate, Gen. Kurilla will succeed Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie, who has been in charge at CENTCOM since March 2019 and capped his tenure just last week with a successful operation that resulted in the death of a key Islamic State leader.
Gen. Kurilla will inherit a heavy workload, including potential blowback from the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, the botched evacuation that claimed the lives of 13 American troops killed by a suicide bomber and a U.S. drone strike that killed an aid worker and several children rather than the terrorist target.
“We must remain engaged in the Middle East. It remains home to America’s national interests,” Gen. Kurilla said.
Iran’s influence in the region will likely be the most pressing matter for Gen. Kurilla at Central Command, said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, the Rhode Island Democrat who chaired the confirmation hearing Tuesday.
“Iranian-linked groups continue to mount drone and rocket attacks in the region, including against bases in Iraq and Syria with a U.S. military presence,” Mr. Reed said.