US Centcom Commander Says Military Force Has Deterred Iran
With President Donald Trump nearing the end of his term in office by announcing troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of United States Central Command (Centcom), which oversees the Middle East and Central Asia, has stressed both the importance of US deterrence and multilateral cooperation.
In a virtual address to the Washington-based National Council on US-Arab Relations, McKenzie spoke on “two key issues” that Centcom is “working through.” The first was protecting “stability in the Middle East by deterring Iran,” and the second “addressing the threat of terrorism against the [US] homeland and our allies.”
On Iran, McKenzie stressed it was “very important” to note there was “no military component” to the ‘maximum pressure’ campaign of the Trump administration, which has introduced draconian sanctions since withdrawing in 2018 from Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers.
“It [‘maximum pressure’] is strictly a diplomatic and economic approach,” McKenzie explained, “but Iran’s lack of diplomatic or economic levers to counter…‘maximum pressure’ has caused it to pursue overt or covert…military action against the United States and our partners.”
Iran, McKenzie said, had stirred “sectarian violence and terrorism” across the region, as well as “propping up the murderous Assad regime [in Syria]” and “providing advanced weapons to the Houthis in Yemen in a proxy war against Saudi Arabia.”
While Iran had sought “to undermine international and regional support for US policies,” McKenzie said, it has had been “largely deterred” with its military actions petering out. Iran understood, McKenzie concluded, that “an escalatory cycle” would not end well for Tehran.
Turning to “the threat of terrorism,” McKenzie stressed that ISIS – the so-called Islamic State group - remained present in Iraq and Syria with 10,000 fighters. He praised the “great strides” made by Iraqi forces with “global” support while Centcom carried out the troop reductions ordered by Trump.
But McKenzie warned that ISIS retained the aspiration of attacking US soil, that it had now a ‘cellular structure’ and found fertile ground in refugee camps. He said countering ISIS required global repatriation and deradicalization of fighters.
“There will never be a time when ISIS, or whatever follows ISIS, is going to be completely absent from the world stage,” McKenzie said. “Even the brightest possible future will not be a bloodless future, but it can be a future in which local security forces are able to contain those extremist forces and groups without significant external help.”