Mar 16 2023
VIDEO: Fischer Discusses Over-The-Horizon Capabilities, U.S. Military Strategy in Middle East
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today questioned Michael Erik Kurilla, commander of U.S. Central Command, about ISIS-K in Afghanistan and U.S. military capabilities in the region. Sen. Fischer also discussed the United States’ strategy to deter Iranian and Russian aggression in the Middle East.
Click the image above to watch video of Sen. Fischer’s questioning
Following is a transcript of Senator Fischer’s questioning:
Senator Fischer: General Kurilla, how long would it take ISIS-K to generate the capability to conduct external operations?
General Kurilla: Specifically, ISIS-Khorasan, Senator? It is my Commander's estimate that they can do an external operation against U.S. or Western interests abroad in under six months with little to no warning. In a classified session, I will talk about why I make that assessment. It is much harder for them to be able to do that against the homeland.
Senator Fischer: Senator Wicker talked to you quite a bit about over-the-horizon CT and our capabilities that we have there, or don't have there, in Afghanistan. Do you think that you need any additional resources in our upcoming budget to increase or improve those capabilities
General Kurilla: So we have been funded, like I said, for some alternative airborne ISR that will help us get longer duration. But it's not just about ISR. We're also increasing our other intelligence efforts to get penetration into the networks that we want. A part that goes unseen a lot of times is the analytical back side. These are the analysts, the linguists, and the production capability that help us make the decisions. And there has been a significant decrease, shifted from the NDS, to go against higher priority targets. But I would like to see to make sure that we don't lose so much of that capability that we cannot see the threat.
Senator Fischer: Because knowing that threat is obviously very important, as you stated, for the existence that we still see in Afghanistan of the terrorist groups that are there?
General Kurilla: Correct, ma'am.
Senator Fischer: Thank you. Have you requested authority to conduct any strikes in Afghanistan against ISIS-K targets that have been identified?
General Kurilla: So, in a classified setting, ma'am, I can talk about where we are in terms of the find, fix, and finish on them.
Senator Fischer: Okay. Do you still have a need for munitions that can hit hard and deeply buried targets?
General Kurilla: I do, ma'am.
Senator Fischer: Do you have specific requests in that area?
General Kurilla: That was in my Unfunded Priority list last year.
Senator Fischer: Do you plan to include it this year?
General Kurilla: It depends on the full funding, ma'am.
Senator Fischer: Would it be your recommendation and your best military advice to this committee that it should be included?
General Kurilla: So we did receive funding in FY23 to include the additional procurement of the—it's the Massive Ordinance Penetrator, which goes against hard and deeply buried targets.
Senator Fischer: Which are growing in number with our adversaries, is that correct?
General Kurilla: That is correct, ma'am.
Senator Fischer: What's your assessment of Iran and Saudi Arabia reestablishing diplomatic ties? You talked about that a little bit. But how does that affect our mil-to-mil relationship that we have with Saudi Arabia?
General Kurilla: We have a very strong mil-to-mil relationship with Saudi Arabia. I think this agreement is, again, the culmination of three years of talks between them. The more concerning part is that China is the one that was mediating this.
Senator Fischer: As we look at Iran and their proxies, throughout CENTCOM AOR, do they continue to pose a significant threat to our partners and to our own forces in the region? And what more can be done to deter Iran from those malign activities?
General Kurilla: So we see Iran as the largest malign actor in the region. Less than 60 hours ago, we had rockets attack from Iranian-aligned militia group against one of our bases in Syria.
Senator Fischer: What more can be done to deter them?
General Kurilla: So one of the things that we are doing is increasing our defensive posture in these areas, and I want to thank the services for providing a capability. So particularly the Army has given us some tremendous capability in terms of counter UAS and counter rocket, artillery, and mortar at our bases forward.
Senator Fischer: With Syria and Iraq, what do you assess to be the situation in Syria right now, and have you seen any change in Russia's presence in Syria? Or has that remained pretty steady since their invasion of Ukraine?
General Kurilla: So, Senator, Syria is very important to Russia. They have taken very little out of Russia since their invasion. They've taken a small number of forces, some munitions, but, generally, it has stayed about the same. What we are seeing, though, is an increase recently in the unprofessional and unsafe behavior of the Russian Air Force in the region.
Senator Fischer: Can you give us an example of that here?
General Kurilla: I can. So they fly over our bases with ground attack aircraft with weapons on them in an attempt to try and be provocative. But, really, it's unsafe, unprofessional—not what we expect of a professional air force. They want to try and renegotiate the deconfliction protocols that they violate every day.
Senator Fischer: This is not new Russian behavior, is it, sir? And especially with regard to the drone incident that we recently have seen?
General Kurilla: It's not new, but we have seen a significant spike since about one March in Syria.
Senator Fischer: Thank you.
General Kurilla: Thank you, ma'am.
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