CENTCOM nominee talks China, Russia deterrence

By Tony Bertuca / February 8, 2022 at 2:44 PM

The Army general nominated to lead U.S. Central Command is aware that focus on the Middle East has waned after 20 years of conflict, stating national security policy has "rightfully prioritized China and Russia," specifically focusing on U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

Still, Lt. Gen. Michael Kurilla, the commander of the 18th Airborne Corps at Ft. Bragg, NC, nominated to become the next CENTCOM chief, stressed his proposed area of responsibility would remain key to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s burgeoning doctrine of “integrated deterrence.”

In written answers to advance policy questions, Kurilla told the Senate Armed Services Committee today he will, if confirmed, work to deter China and Russia, as well as continue to focus on threats emanating from the Middle East.

“President Biden’s 2021 Interim National Security Strategic Guidance amplifies the focus on China as the pacing challenge and Russia as a disruptor, as well as the global challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change,” he said.

“If confirmed, I will evaluate the implications of the forthcoming 2022 National Defense Strategy for the USCENTCOM AOR,” Kurilla continued. “Advancing U.S. interests in the CENTCOM region requires active engagement with Central Asian partners. Given advanced Chinese and Russian influence, durable partnerships that benefit our mutual security assume increased importance.”

Maintaining and building partnerships, he said, will be especially important in Central Asia since U.S. forces have completely withdrawn from Afghanistan.

“Russia actively seeks to maintain influence in the region and endeavors to bolster its position as the perceived security provider of choice in Central Asia,” he said. “Russia continues to foment the idea of U.S. abandonment of Central Asia in the aftermath of American withdrawal from Afghanistan. Similarly, China, through its calculated investments in the region, seeks economic advantage.”

Kurilla’s nomination not only follows the complete U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and a pivot toward China, but also comes as the White House is trying to prevent a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Like Austin, Kurilla said he believed strengthening partnerships would be central to success.

“I will place emphasis on opportunities to build integrated deterrence approaches across domains in collaboration with our interagency and regional partners,” he said. “This will require more meaningful integration of allies and partners into our theater-level defense planning to draw on our collective sources of strength.”

Meanwhile, Kurilla said during testimony one of his top challenges will be continued “over-the-horizon” counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan, a landlocked country where the United States must now rely on other nations for access.

“It is resource-intensive, to be able to do the finding and then the fixing and the finishing of those targets that you’re going after,” he said, adding U.S. surveillance missions spend approximately two-thirds of their time flying to and from Afghanistan.

For instance, he said, an MQ-9 Reaper drone can remain in the sky for about 30 hours, meaning that an aircraft must launch every 10 hours to ensure continuous surveillance.

The United States, meanwhile, continues to negotiate basing rights with countries neighboring Afghanistan.

The mission, Kurilla said, “is difficult but not impossible.”