Policy Chief Nominee Discusses Job’s Challenges
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 29, 2012 The strategy in Afghanistan is working, the Pentagon policy chief nominee told Congress today, warning that recent difficulties can’t cause the United States to abandon it in favor of a “Plan B.”
“We are making progress in Afghanistan,” James N. Miller Jr. told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing as undersecretary of defense for policy.
“We have had a difficult few weeks, and no doubt more challenges are ahead, but our strategy is working,” he said. “It is not time for Plan B. It's time to continue the hard work of Plan A and complete the transition to the full Afghan responsibility for their security by the end of 2014.”
If confirmed to replace former policy chief Michèle Flournoy, for whom he served as principal deputy secretary for three years, Miller will play a critical role in issues ranging from managing the transition of security lead to Afghan forces and the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Miller said today he supports the president’s troop drawdown plan in Afghanistan, but emphasized that it’s still unclear what the pace will be. He noted that Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, the top commander there, will assess conditions on the ground in late September, after the United States has drawn its forces there down to 68,000, to recommend additional reductions.
If confirmed as the Pentagon’s policy chief, Miller said, he’ll do everything in his power to help the United States, the coalition and the Afghan succeed and “ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a source of attacks on the United States.”
He said he will focus on other immediate priorities: denying, degrading and defeating al-Qaida; preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon; preparing for the fall of the Assad regime in Syria; and posturing the United States for the transformations brought by the Arab Spring.
Serving as Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s top policy advisor, Miller also would become the department’s point man for implementing the department’s new strategic guidance that Obama announced earlier this year.
“Even as we deal with current operations in Afghanistan and across the globe, we are building the joint force of the future,” he told the Senate panel. Miller noted that the fiscal 2013 DOD budget request reflects this strategy with a goal of shaping force that’s not only smaller and leaner, but also more agile, flexible and technologically advanced.
Consistent with the new strategy guidance, he vowed to work to strengthen the U.S. posture in the Asia-Pacific region, including addressing challenges posed by the new North Korean regime.
Miller called Iran another major concern, noting its pursuit of nuclear weapons, its threat to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz and its support for insurgency and terrorist tactics.
“Iran also poses a potential threat to U.S. forces and coalition forces because of its anti-access and area-denial capabilities, things like their small boats, cruise missiles and so forth,” Miller said, noting that the new strategic guidance and fiscal 2013 budget request reflect this concern. “As we look at the capabilities that the DOD is developing to counter those threats, Iran is certainly a consideration,” he said.
Regarding Syria, Miller said the United States, at this point, has restricted its support to humanitarian assistance and other non-lethal assistance. Providing weapons and other lethal support is problematic, he explained, because anti-government groups there are so loosely knit that it would be impossible to track exactly where the assistance was going and who was getting access to it.
“The viability of any additional aid depends to a degree on the ability of the opposition groups within the country to come together,” he said. “This administration has undertaken an effort to try to facilitate that.”
If confirmed to the post, Miller said, he’ll work to address these challenges while implementing the new strategic guidance in a way that keeps he U.S. military remains on a firm footing to stand up to future challenges. This, he said, includes improving capabilities in space and cyberspace, special operations and missile defense.
Miller told the panel he recognizes that the choices government leaders make today will shape the nation’s future.
“We all want to hand our kids and their generation a better world,” he said. “I believe that this includes ensuring that the United States succeeds in ongoing operations and ensuring that the United States retains the strongest military the world has ever seen.”