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Jim Garamone American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 25, 2008 – More than 150 people attending the America Supports You National Summit here today received a quick overview of the American military from U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Carter F. Ham, director for operations for the Joint Staff.
This is the third summit for the Defense Department’s America Supports You program, through which hundreds of volunteer groups and corporations are reaching out to American servicemembers.
Ham, who served in Iraq from 2004 to 2005, gave the group a quick tour of the world, starting with the United States and U.S. Northern Command, based in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“It is the command tasked to defend our country and provide support to civilian authorities and to respond to emergencies inside the United States,” he said.
The command has worked to ensure the United States is not attacked again, and it also helps local, state and civilian agencies when natural disasters strike. Northern Command “is almost never in the headlines; you almost never read about them, but day in, day out they are the ones doing hard work here at home to keep us safe,” he said.
The general moved the tour to U.S. Southern Command, which covers Central and South America, and talked about a new strategy called “soft power.” This is the realization that the application of overwhelming combat power is not always the right solution. “Maybe it’s better to do something quieter, lower key, to build capacity of partner nations, to do something that might deter something from building to a crisis,” he said.
There is a role for the military in soft power, he said. He cited the U.S. Navy partnering with nongovernmental agencies aboard Navy hospital ships to provide medical assistance to more than 100,000 patients in Central and South America in the last year. Soft power has applications well beyond Southern Command.
In Europe, times have changed from the Cold War era, he said. While much of the continent is prosperous, there are still places such as the Balkans where there is conflict. U.S. servicemembers are working with NATO allies to maintain peace in Kosovo and Bosnia. He said U.S. forces there deploy to U.S. Central Command and help train NATO allies in conducting counterinsurgency operations. U.S. servicemembers also work with countries to help them build their military forces to provide security for economic development.
U.S. Africa Command is the new kid on the block, yet it has a crucial mission. Many of the suicide bombers that strike in other parts of the world are from the countries of North Africa, Ham said. “We have a choice: Do you want to fight them here, or do you want to deter them there?” he said. “My vote goes to trying to deter them there.”
Again, soft power plays a part. “If you can get to a young African boy and say, ‘You have an alternative. There’s education, employment for you; there’s a stable government; there’s a better life for you,’” Ham said. “I’d sure like him to have that rather than somebody who turns to him and says, ‘Son, your best destiny is to put on this suicide vest and go kill Americans.’”
U.S. Pacific Command contains almost half of the Earth’s land space and two of the world’s biggest countries: China and India. Those two countries are not U.S. adversaries, but are competitors. The U.S. military has a role with them to stay engaged. “We would very much like to be open with them and increase our programs with their militaries,” he said.
South Korea and Japan are U.S. treaty allies, and thousands of U.S. troops are in those countries, Ham said. De-nuclearizing the Korean peninsula is an imperative to the United States and the countries of North Asia. “A nuclear North Korea is one of those things that keep you awake at night,” Ham said.
U.S. Central Command holds the two hot conflicts of the war on terror. In Iraq, the United States has just under 160,000 troops. Hamm said he sees dramatic changes in the country each time he visits. Problems remain in the country, he acknowledged, and operations continue to chase down extremists of all sorts.
“There is some tough, tough fighting that needs to be done,” he said. “But I’m convinced … that increasingly the Iraqi security forces are able to take on that fight themselves. They need us for right now, but they are increasingly able to do this on their own.”
He said another decision on U.S. force levels in Iraq will be made in the coming months. “I don’t know what the decision is going to be, but from my view there has been accelerated progress over these past couple of months,” he said.
About 27,000 U.S. servicemembers are in Afghanistan, and 3,200 Marines will sail to join those forces beginning in March, Ham said. “We need to do that because there’s been an opportunity that’s been created by the forces that are there now that have the Taliban in what we think is a bit of a weakened state,” Hamm said.
The Taliban will try to renew their efforts in the spring, but they will not be successful, the general said. “But like Iraq, ultimately, success depends on transferring security responsibility to the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police,” Ham said. “The forces have some great commanders; these are some tough hombres. They have been through tough times against tough enemies.”
Ham left the group with the importance of the idea of soft power. “We know that we’ve got sufficient military power … that we can win every fight that we engage in,” he said. “And that’s OK, if you just want to keep fighting all the time.
“We want to use the military force necessary to provide the security under which other types of activities can grow and flourish,” he continued, explaining that military force is needed to establish security so people can send their children to school, and leave their houses to work or go to receive medical care. “Only by doing that do you get lasting success,” he said.