Washington, DC – House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) delivered the following opening statement at today’s Full Committee hearing to receive testimony from the commander of U.S. Central Command, Admiral William Fallon, on the state of operations and challenges in the CENTCOM area of responsibility:

           "Welcome, Admiral Fallon. Thank you for appearing before the committee today to discuss the operations and challenges in the Central Command Area of Operations. We appreciate the service you provided in your previous role as the commander of Pacific Command, and we thank you for taking on this new challenge. I would also like to take a moment to thank the troops under your command for their hard work and sacrifice. We owe them a great debt.

          "Admiral, I am positive that most of the members present today will ask you about Iraq and Afghanistan. I certainly have many questions. But I hope that we will not lose sight of the other important operations and developments in your area of operations. We would like to know what is going on in the Horn of Africa, both with our Combined Joint Task Force and in Somalia. I hope you can tell us about ongoing regional engagement efforts across CENTCOM, and your view of how our partnerships in the region stand.

           "Spend some time discussing Iran, its role in Iraq, the nuclear program, and how we can best deal with that country going forward. Take a moment to talk about the PKK, the attacks on our ally Turkey, and the risk of conflict there. Members have had a long interest in the situation in Darfur, and we would appreciate an update on that horrible situation. And as we go through this hearing, we would appreciate any thoughts you might have on the growth of extremism in the Middle East and what we need to be doing as a nation—using all the instruments of our national power, not just our military—to diminish this growth over time.

           "I have referred to Afghanistan as our forgotten war. We have a real chance of success there, and we have vital interests at stake. But we must not underestimate the challenges we face there, ranging from a possible spring offensive to record narcotics production and the corruption that follows the drug trade.

           "How can we best address these problems to maximize our chances of success? While Afghanistan is in your Area of Operations, not all the forces assigned there answer to CENTCOM, but instead are under the command of NATO. How can we ensure that you are able to fully coordinate with NATO and ensure our NATO partners will do all they must if we are to succeed over the long-term in Afghanistan?

           "And finally, Iraq. Recently, Moqtada al Sadr’s allies in the Iraqi cabinet resigned. While in some ways this is a welcome development, it is likely to complicate any efforts the Iraqi government might finally make to bring about political reconciliation. American soldiers have spent four years heroically fighting in Iraq, but we cannot end Iraq’s civil war, and we should not be fighting it for them.

            "The Iraqis must take steps to end their sectarian conflict while we begin to reorient our efforts to training the Iraqi troops, fighting terrorism, and protecting Americans. Iraq’s government must make a serious effort to keep its commitments and to meet the benchmarks the President mentioned in his January speech. If they do not begin to seriously address the de-Ba’athification process, pass an oil law, reform their constitution, hold local and provincial elections, and take the other steps they promised to take, the sectarian violence will continue. And we simply cannot keep the same number of troops we have in Iraq for much longer without breaking the Army, if we haven’t already.

              "And that brings me to my last comment. Admiral, I have mentioned several of the challenges and conflicts in your area of operations. There are many more we could discuss. And we could spend hours talking about the potential flash points in your old AOR at Pacific Command. There are many threats and possible sources of military conflict in the world, including the ones we can’t see.

             "In the 30 years I have been in Congress, this country has used force 12 times. None of those actions was predicted years in advance. We cannot continue to take strategic risks without paying for it. We must not allow our Army to be broken because of a misguided policy fighting someone else’s civil war. We have important interests in the Middle East and elsewhere. We must protect them and continue to help our allies there. But we cannot do this with any credibility, and we cannot deal with threats elsewhere, if our Army is broken. Our policy in Iraq has to change and change soon.

             "I now turn to my good friend and colleague from California, Duncan Hunter, the Ranking Member of the committee, for any comments he might wish to make."