Thank you Heather, and it is great to be back at CSIS today. I truly appreciate your warm welcome and introduction. It’s a cold, wet, rainy day and I must mea culpa up front and tell you that I’ve been traveling quite a bit lately, and when you travel you meet all sorts of new and interesting people. I was in Belgrade and I somehow contracted the Belgrade flu from some of our folks in the military liaison office. I’m just coming off the tail end of that. I was in Iraq in a warmer climate last week and that helped to rehabilitate me. But if I stop and have a cough drop you’ll forgive me, or grab a water here while I’m up on stage as I get through the presentation.
So, the topic I was given today was the Eastern Mediterranean. I’m going to kind of get there, but I’m going to go in a roundabout way.
The Eastern Mediterranean is not a new maritime focal point for NATO or for the U.S. The first Mediterranean Fleet, what would have been the 6th Fleet, sailed from Menorca, the home of David Farragut’s father, during the Barbary Wars in our past American history. In 1967, 34 American Sailors died during the attack on USS Liberty during the Yom Kippur War, and in October 1973, the Soviet Fifth Eskadra, numbering 73 surface ships and 23 submarines, was sailing in the Mediterranean. In 2011, the Bataan and Kearsarge Amphibious Readiness Group and Marine Expeditionary Unit participated in JTF Odyssey Dawn and Unified Protector over a period of nine months. I was the J-3 for that operation as a one-star naval officer working for Adm. Harry Harris and Adm. Sam Locklear. Low and behold I find myself in Adm. Locklear’s position today. In April of last year, two U.S. 6th Fleet destroyers launched 59 Tomahawk missiles to destroy an Assad regime chemical weapons compound. So the Med is bounded by the Suez, the Dardenelles, the Straights of Gibraltar, and this former Roman “lake” laps on the southern shores of the Alliance and traces an arc of fluctuating insecurity and instability at NATO’s periphery.
This morning, I’ll be speaking as a NATO Commander and U.S. Navy operational commander. Before I start, the nuance of that difference is sometimes lost on audiences where I go, so I want to ensure that the audience understands the difference. As the Chief of Naval Forces Europe and the Chief of Naval Forces Africa, I am responsible for all U.S. naval operations for two combatant commanders in Europe, commander EUCOM and commander AFRICOM. This area of responsibility spans from the Arctic to South Africa and from the middle of the Atlantic to the Horn of Africa. But as a NATO commander, commander of Allied Joint Force Command Naples, my responsibilities are broader and they pertain to the full spectrum of joint operations including the air and the land component. As a NATO commander I like to talk about my five big rocks. Now my [Public Affairs Officer] is here, she doesn’t like me to say the big rocks. She goes “Sir, call them focus areas, please.” So in the official brochure we have for the headquarters they’re focus areas - but they are big rocks. They are big rocks that are sometimes insurmountable and sometimes kind of hard to put together. You’ve heard the expression build me a rock. We’ve got five of them and we are working really hard throughout the theater. They span from again, the entry points at the Straight of Gibralter all the way into the Black Sea, and I’ll talk a little bit about those today and how they come together at this sweet spot that you are interested in, the Eastern Mediterranean. First big rock, the Hub. The NATO Strategic Direction South, Hub, is the Alliance’s bold new initiative to connect, consult, and coordinate with countries across the Middle East and North Africa. It was established in September 2017 by my predecessor Adm. Michelle Howard at the headquarters in Naples, Italy. The Hub is a forum that brings together allies, partners and subject-matter experts to understand security challenges and seize opportunities for security cooperation in the African continent and in the Middle East. Here, the Hub team is briefing the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, Gen. Sir James Everard, when he came to the headquarters about two weeks ago. The Hub is located in a portion of the building at JFC Naples which is completely unclassified. It’s a fusion center. There is no cost of entry, there is no memorandum of agreement. It is come as you are. I have actually written letters to 28 [federally funded research and development centers] and think tanks all over Europe, Africa, and here in the United States. I wrote one to CSIS and asked for your interest and your help, and hence Heather invited me to come talk to you today about this one big rock, which is a big part of what we do.
With a holistic and collaborative approach, the Hub monitors and assesses the dynamic destabilizing conditions that proliferate violent extremism, and undermine the rule of law in this area of interest: North Africa, Pan-Sahel and parts of the Middle East. The mission is to help coordinate and synchronize NATO activities across the south, optimize resources and maximize effectiveness. As innovative thinkers, I welcome all of you from CSIS. All aboard, come and help us out.
We call this particular slide - it’s not my slide, it comes from a research center in Norway - we call this the spaghetti chart. It is eerily familiar of what Gen. McChrystal called his spaghetti chart for counterinsurgency operations and theater security cooperation in Afghanistan many years ago. You can see from the diagram just how complex the problem is. These networks which are represented by all the different colored arrows contribute to illicit trafficking and lawlessness: trafficking in persons, trafficking in narcotics, trafficking in weapons. Facilitated by terrorists as they make their way to the north coast, and refugees come across the Mediterranean and into Europe. Some political, some economic, and it puts a terrible burden on the economies of Europe. The reason is because of lawlessness and lack of governance in some of these areas where we are trying to help. Now we’ve got to be invited in. And so the Hub is just getting started, we’re at the initial operational capability. We’re advertising before we go to full operational capability, which I anticipate will be sometime on or about the NATO Summit in July. We look forward to your inputs and we look forward to collaboration with all our friends in this region of interest. That’s the Hub.
Another rock and a big one. The NATO Training Activity in Iraq. Military training teams under the NATO flag advise, assist, and train Iraqi forces—complementing on-going Coalition, EU and United Nations efforts. Comprising two forward locations in Taji and Besmaya and supported by a core team in Baghdad, military and civilian personnel from Allied and partner nations mentor Iraqi instructors in civilian-military planning, equipment maintenance, explosive ordinance disposal and military medicine.
This is an example of how we are forming enduring coalitions in the Middle East to foster stability and security that denies safe havens for terrorists.
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Now, this is an interesting picture and there’s some interesting men in this picture. It was taken last Wednesday when I was at the forward operating base in Bismayah. The gentleman who is standing right next to me with the beret and the Iraqi flag, that’s Brig. Gen. Ghannim, formerly Iraqi Navy. He’s the head of the [explosive ordnance disposal] School Center of Excellence in Bismayah where we’re training Iraqi soldiers to get better at explosive ordinance disposal, dealing with unexploded ordinance and also counter [improvised explosive device] technology so they can deal with stuff all over the place. Particularly in places like Fallujah, Mosul, Raqqa and Ramadi. These are all places that [Brig.] Gen. Ghannim has operated. [Brig.] Gen. Ghannim’s troops were responsible for the preponderance of removal of unexploded ordinance that was on the surface blocking the way into Mosul. Now he says there is still a heck of a lot of stuff there buried and in building and they are going to be doing this for quite some time, so they are going to continue to need our help. These are some of his soldiers that were in training that day with NATO people. We had a couple of sharp Canadians that were there, a major and a command sergeant major who had served in Afghanistan. Really good at their tradecraft, helping our Iraqi friends out. And I asked them, “Can I meet your soldiers?” He goes “sure.” We went right down the line and I was really impressed. They were all young people, under 30. They all spoke English and they all talked to me. They guy right there in the black hat, (they like that tactical gear that a lot of people wear, contractors, Marines when they are off duty) so he’s got his tactical gear on and he’s very proud. [Brig.] Gen. Ghannim says, “Hey this is one of my guys from Mosul, he’s really good at what he does. He was gassed.” I said, “gassed? What do you mean?” He goes, “chlorine gas.” So I’m looking at this young Iraqi Soldier and I go, “You look pretty fit, how do you feel?” He said, “I feel fine.” And I said, “Really? What happened?” He goes, “Well the device went off, there were nine of us, so me and eight of my friends, we were exposed.” I said “What happened?” He goes, “Well we went to an American hospital, and they helped us out.” I said “How are you doing?” He goes, “I feel good.” It was almost like he had fully recovered. “I said you are really, really lucky.”
You know I come from a long line of military history in my family, two grandfathers, [World War I] in the trenches with the commonwealth for four years of combat. My father hit the beach at Normandy in 1944, and my grandfather was gassed in the trenches, but he had a mask, and these guys obviously did not. So they need our help, and they need our help in things that might be beyond just counter IED. They might need our help in dealing with chemical weapons. But that is a requirement that has yet to be determined.
This is a similar group on the battlefield in Bismayah. That is an inert 500lb bomb. They are learning how to disarm it. They are learning how to take the fuse and the detonator out without having the device blow up. It’s really good training. This is one of the largest training facilities in Iraq. Spectacular. And there’s room for growth. As I said, Brig. Gen. Ghannim, he wants to make this the center of excellence for EOD, unexploded ordinance and counter-IED.
We have a little video here. [Video link is available upon request.]
Okay. Let’s go on to the third big rock. It’s been 18 years since the Adriatic naval blockade and air strikes during NATO’s first combat operations. Four security assistance missions demonstrate the Alliance’s enduring commitment to the Balkans: The Kosovo Force (KFOR), NATO HQ Sarajevo, and the EU mission in Bosnia Herzegovina Althea actually reports in once a month to our headquarters and we share information and we share notes. Every three months they come to the headquarters for a physical meeting with me, the NATO Liaison Office in Skopje, and the NATO Military Liaison Office in Belgrade. KFOR, established in 1999 - as many of you know - and the largest NATO operation in Europe. As a Navy admiral, I am proud to command over 4,000 troops from 30 nations (21 allies and 9 partner nations in KFOR). Recently during the fall municipal election, KFOR deployed over 2000 personnel - over half the force - and 20 helicopters, to help safeguard democratic elections sites. I am happy to report that everything went off without a hitch. No incidents. It was a good election and the municipalities freely elected their new mayors and new people for city council to represent their interests to Pristina. Some of these soldiers are from National Guard units, like the state of Arkansas, the Bowie Brigade. Some of these kids I visited just before Christmas, are 5000 miles from home, patrolling daily. It’s kind of cold out there. It was 6 [degrees] below zero on the 22nd of December when I was there outside of Camp Bondsteel. Bondsteel is a camp that we’ve been in for 19 years.
As Robert Kaplan, one of my favorite authors, in Balkan Ghosts recounts - and they said this was a tour guide, but it’s actually turned out to be one of the best references on the Balkan conflict, of any ever written - “The region is a journey through history… but we have to look forward to the future,” and we do. But things are still a little tense in the region and up until mid-January, I was very pleased that Belgrade and Pristina were having a dialogue. They call it the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue. The presidents were talking directly. President Thaci of Kosovo and President Vucic of Serbia were having a continuous dialogue about how we can improve border security, how do we improve relations, how do we conduct economic exchanges to make both of our countries better and used to one another. And then came the unfortunate assassination of a prominent Kosovo-Serb politican Oliver Ivanovic in Northern Mitrovica on the 16th of January earlier this year. He was the head of a new political movement, the Freedom Way and Justice. He was allied with neither Belgrade or Pristinia. He was an independent thinker and was also highly vocal about corruption and organized crime. Somebody shot him five times in broad daylight about 8:50 in the morning as he was walking to his office on the 16th of January. In my humble opinion this was a professional hit. An assassination designed to send a message. The situation was tense. So Maj. Gen. Salvatore Cuoci, who is the commander of KFOR, and I decided to pay a visit to Northern Mitrovica. So we arrived on the southern side, the Albanian side, and we met the Albanian mayor Aghim Bahtiri - a very nice man - and his chief of police in Southern Mitrovica. Then we walked across the very famous Austerlitz Bridge, and that was done with malice of forethought. Many of you know that
I am a disciple and mentee of Adm. Jim Stavridis. Jim Stavridis built bridges throughout life, and he is doing so in academia right now, and so it was our intent to try and build a bridge after this tragedy. And so we walked across the Austerlitz Bridge with the mayor of South Mitrovica, and on the north side we met the Serb mayor Goran Rakic, and his deputy director of police, who was a very impressive Kosovo police officer in Northern Mitrovica. We conducted a press conference. There were a lot of press there, I was surprised.
A lot of people were concerned, and they asked us, “Is KFOR here to stay? Is KFOR going to protect us? Is KFOR going to provide security and stability?” I was quick to remind them that KFOR is the third responder. The first responder is the Kosovo Police. The Kosovo Police are improving their tactics, techniques, procedures and its ranks, and getting better and better every day. The second responder is EULEX, the European Union Law Enforcement Mission, and KFOR is there as a backup. But I reassured the people who were there -- because they were very concerned – that, no, KFOR is not going away any time soon and the reason that we came was to provide them with reassurance. And we walked into Northern Mitrovica and we walked around the town and met with the Mayor Racic and the deputy police chief at his headquarters. [We] had a cup of coffee and we talked about what was going on and shared thoughts on how we can improve security and how we can collaborate with one another. We are right there alongside them as we conduct this investigation.
The fourth big rock, Trident Juncture. I love this stuff. Those of you who know me from [exercise Baltic Operations] 2015 and 2016 know that as a submariner there’s no place I’d rather be than at sea. I learned to really enjoy being on top of an amphibious vessel with 360 degrees field of vision. Otherwise it is tunnel vision through a periscope on a submarine at 32 degrees. So I went out in 2015 with 5,000 persons and about 50 ships and the same thing in 2016. Well this time with Trident Juncture, which will take place between Iceland and Norway in October of this year, I’ll command 35,000 troops deploying to central and northern Norway in the largest NATO live exercise since 2015, and one of largest NATO exercises in 20 years. Thirty allies and partner countries will combine forces coherently and effectively, deepening interoperability at every level. The exercise scenario will focus the Joint Task Force headquarters and force elements on the challenge of operating in the northern region against a capable adversary. The span of command ranges across land, air, and sea domains throughout the northern region and will include an opportunity for the Alliance to operate in parallel alongside partner nations like Finland and Sweden, who were there with me for BALTOPS 2015 and 2016. As I said, this is not just a component from the sea. Also, the land component will be delivered from the air, and this will go on for a couple of weeks, 24/7, and 360 degrees around the compass. It’s mutually beneficial to the alliance and to our partners to form a durable asymmetric strategic advantage that no competitor has the ability to rival. We’re stronger together and I think Trident Juncture will prove that.
The last big rock before I get into the Eastern Med… Multinational Division South East [MND-SE]. Now this is a place I have not gotten a chance to see since I took command in October, but it’s the new NATO Regional Headquarters in Bucharest, Romania, scheduled for full operational capability in March and I’ll be there about that time. During exercise Noble Jump last spring, MND-SE coordinated the deployment of 5000 troops and 500 vehicles of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force. The Alliance successfully demonstrated rapid reception, staging and onward movement across three countries in the strategic Black Sea region, a place where my friend Harlan Ullman is very interested. He’s got some very good ideas and he’s working with the Naval War College now on “Porcupine Defense,” which I find fascinating. It’s an area where Robert Kaplan is also very interested in. If you haven’t read the book [In Europe’s Shadow] I highly recommend it to you.
We all focus on these areas for NATO, the U.S. and Navy operations in Europe and Africa, and as background, we now have context to discuss the Eastern Mediterranean as a flash point. So let me roll right into that. We will shift gears.
The Eastern Med, it’s a place of your interest and my interest. It’s a place that during my time as [U.S.] 6th Fleet commander I used to call my “sweet spot.” My staff liked that and they still do today. Where east meets west. Where three combatant commanders operate on any given day: EUCOM, AFRICOM, CENTCOM. With seamless connectivity across unified command plan lines, as though they don’t exist. We work well together with the [U.S.] 5th Fleet and the [U.S.] 6th Fleet and CENTCOM and NAVCENT. This area has become one of the most kinetic AORs [area of responsibility] on the globe. It took off when I was [U.S.] 6th Fleet commander, and in the summer of 2016, one of my officers who was a surface warfare officer used to count tonnage. At that time, Commodore Westbrook reported to me that 840,000-tons of gray-hulled U.S. flag warships were in the Mediterranean. Two carrier strike groups at the same time, and one amphibious readiness group, all in support of Operation Inherent Resolve and Operation Odyssey Lightning in Libya. The carrier strikes from the Med. in Iraq and Syria at that time were the first since 2002. We proved that we could do it and we could fly over land. The Russians did indeed respond with [Admiral] Kuznetsov’s deployment to the Mediterranean. They continued to increase the intensity of military operations in the region. The Kuznetsov operated in the Med for about 86 days. This is not the Fifth Eskadra that I mentioned before, but nonetheless, the strategic communication from the Russian Federation is clear. They are not going to leave.
Let me talk about the Kilos. The Russians are preparing to deploy six improved Kilo class attack submarines with Kalibur cruise missiles in and around the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. What they’ve done, in my estimation, has been very impressive in moving these ships down there. The Russian Federation Navy deploys quiet, modern diesel submarines capable of launching cruise missiles. A Kilo can go anywhere in European waters and strike any European or North African capital from underneath the sea. So it is important that we keep tabs on what they are doing. Russia now has a naval base in the Eastern Mediterranean. Quite frankly the deal with Syria was started back in 1971 but I think they have a lease for the next 50 years for Tartus and Latakia. So, like I said, they are not going away and this is something we are going to have to deal with.
One of the other places that we operate in is the Black Sea. I operate P-3 and P-8 marine patrol aircraft. We operate in international sea space and international air space in accordance with rules and norms and standards of behavior. Recently, you are probably familiar with an interaction that took place during an intercept op between one of our EP-3s and a Russian Su-27 that was categorized as unsafe and unprofessional. I’ll let you decide.
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Here are some photos that were taken from the cockpit. This is the slant of the cockpit window inside the U.S. aircraft looking at the Russian pilot and his aircraft. Another still of the Russian aircraft as it was conducting intercept ops for over two hours and 40 minutes with the EP-3 as it continued in international air space. Then we have a video. This is the fly-by. And next what you are looking at is the Russian aircraft. That’s the propeller of the EP-3. That’s how close it was. At the end of the interaction, the Russian aircraft cleared to the right, came to the left, afterburners aglow and it closed to within five feet of the EP-3 aircraft before he went home. The turbulence from the after burners rattled the personnel in the cockpit and that is the portion of the interaction that we determined to be unsafe. So we will probably discuss this at the annual INCSEA [Incidents at Sea] Conference, and it’s a good thing we have that dialogue so we can discuss our concerns to our Russian counterparts.
We have a capability in four very capable Aegis-class destroyers stationed in Rota, Spain. They are hardly ever there. They are underway over half the time and NATO and the U.S. need the right set of measures of deterrence in order to help maintain a peaceful and secure environment in the Mediterranean. U.S. naval presence is foundational. U.S. naval presence is foundational to the security strategy of the United States and NATO. Under the European Phased Adaptive Approach, four multi-mission Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are forward-deployed [FDNF]. By virtue of their location in Spain, these ships can go anywhere in the Med. They can go up north. They can also go into the Black Sea, gratis of our Turkish allies and the Montreux Convention. Two FDNF-E ships, USS Ross and USS Porter, launched Tomahawk strikes in response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons in Syria. During such violations of international laws and norms, we have a requirement to demonstrate capability and a strong resolve with the alliance. Actions such as these support our national security strategy and our national defense strategy, which I am sure you have all read. They are carried out by what our CNO [chief of naval operations] just articulated about a week ago at the Heritage Foundation, and are carried out by the Navy our nation needs. So we need more of these ships and we need more forward presence in order to do this.
We are also in integrated air and missile defense. In 2015 we did our first SM-3 missile shot off the Hebridies Range off of the United Kingdom.
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That is a $13 million bullet. It’s quite an expenditure for the United States to agree to do this, but we do it because we are in solidarity with our European allies in defense of European capitals. We did it again in Oct. of 2017, and that’s the shot of it taking off of USS Donald Cook against a very challenging, long range target with NATO partners and allies in this ring of fire around the [Donald] Cook, defending her from anti-ship cruise missiles which were launched simultaneously. So our allies and partners are very interested in integrated air and missile defense and they are building platforms and radars accordingly. We are going to do this again in 2019 and we already have a groundswell of interest in that exercise. I think it will be quite good to get the allies and partners together and see how much progress they make. About every two years is right because they will make technological progress and they will want to show us how far they’ve come.
That is USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Charles DeGaulle sailing alongside in the Mediterranean. The U.S. is committed to acting collectively with our NATO Allies and the international community to degrade and disrupt terrorist organizations or anyone that brings about instability to the region. Our National Security Strategy and our National Defense Strategy both talk about our greatest asset, allies and partners. I am a firm Trans-Atlanticist. I believe in the NATO Alliance, and I will tell you that everywhere I go, just like Jim Stavridis did. It’s a habit I got from him. I carry a pocket copy of the NATO Charter. Article 5: an attack on one is an attack on all. It is a defensive alliance. We don’t go looking for a fight, we’re there to defend and to deter. Those are the two favorite words of the secretary general, whenever he makes a speech. Our presence in Europe and the relationships built over the past 70 years provide the U.S. strategic access critical to respond to threats against our allies and partners. Every day, our allies and partners join us in defending freedom, deterring war, and maintaining the rules which underwrite a free and open international order. We will continue to do so.