“I believe that Iran is operating in what I call a gray zone,” Commander of the U.S. Central Command, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, told the House Armed Services Committee in testimony Wednesday. “And it’s an area between normal competition between states — and it’s just short of open conflict.”
The general said Iran is exploiting this area in a variety of different ways, through things such as “lethal aid facilitation,” the use of “surrogate forces” and cyber activities, among other things. He also believes Iran poses “the greatest long-term threat to stability” in the entire region.
U.S. Central Command is responsible for U.S. security interests in an area stretching from the Persian Gulf region into Central Asia. It includes more than 80,000 soldiers on land, sea and air as well as the ongoing campaign to defeat Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (or ISIS) as well as the Taliban in Afghanistan.
“We need to look at opportunities where we can disrupt [Iran] through military means or other means their activities,” he said. “We need to look at opportunities where we can expose and hold them accountable for the things that they are doing.”
Votel said he gets regular reports on Iran’s use of boats to harass U.S. military and others in international waters off its coast, with around 300 incidents in the past year alone. Some, he said, could be considered “unprofessional” or “unsafe.”
“We are paying extraordinarily close attention to this, but I feel very confident in our ability to protect ourselves and to continue to pursue our missions,” he said.
That said, the general conceded, “Iran has a role in the region. I want to be clear that we think differently about the people of Iran than we think about the leadership of Iran — the Revolutionary Council that runs Iran. Our concern is not with the people of Iran, it is with their revolutionary government.”
Meanwhile, the CentCom commander also responded to questions about reports the U.S.-led coalition air strikes against ISIS fighters contributed to the deaths of nearly 200 Iraqis in a western Mosul neighborhood on March 17.
“We are doing everything humanly possible to prevent these kind of events and incidents from occurring as a result of our operations,” said the general.
The U.S. military is assessing and conducting an initial review of the Mosul circumstances, Votel said. U.S. officials visited the Mosul incident site Tuesday to gather both “additional evidence and perspective on the situation,” he added.
He also dismissed reports that the high Mosul casualty count may have been somehow due to a change in administration policies about military activities in civilian areas. “This was a very dynamic situation,” Votel said of the airstrike. “So this wasn’t a deliberate target or anything else. This was an evolving combat situation.”
The general said the military has a standardized process in place on how it looks at such cases and will pull together information from various sources in conducting the Mosul probe. One of the many things he said the investigators will look at is the “intelligence that was provided to the us by the Iraqis.”
Even so, he added there’s a “fair chance” that the U.S. coalition strike targeting ISIS fighters may have also contributed to the high casualties, echoing a comment made Tuesday by Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the U.S. commander on the ground in Iraq.
Source: / cnbc /