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US Shelves Combatant Command Proposals

Feb. 9, 2014 - 10:49AM   |  
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WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is dismissing proposals to merge some regional warfighting commands and will instead push forward with efforts to shrink the sizes of these headquarters, sources said.

In the end, the proposed mergers of combatant commands (COCOMs) proved too controversial and hard to complete, one source said.

A proposal to combine Northern and Southern command into an “Americas” or “Western” command would have been particularly difficult since NORTHCOM, which oversees security within the continental United States, Alaska, Canada and Mexico, heavily involves the National Guard.

Another proposal said to have been on the table — eliminating Africa Command — would have sent negative signals to countries in the region, a source said.

In October, AFRICOM boss Gen. David Rodriguez said, “Right now there are no plans to consolidate” his organization.

Still, the COCOMs are subject to a planned 20-percent cut in headquarters ranks, a move the Pentagon hopes will save $1 billion over the next five years.

These and other changes to the COCOM map would have been made through an update of the Unified Command Plan. The plan is usually reviewed every two years and has not been updated since April 2011.

Last July, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said budget cuts might force the Pentagon to cut a COCOM. At the time, sources said a number of options were on the table, most notably combining Northern and Southern Commands. The pressure was somewhat relieved when Congress passed a two-year federal spending measure that returned a total of $30 billion to DoD in 2014 and 2015.

There has also been debate, primarily in the academic community, about redrawing some COCOM boundaries.

Some have argued that India, Pakistan and Afghanistan should be grouped under the same command. Currently, Afghanistan and Pakistan fall under Central Command and India under Pacific Command.

Daniel Markey, a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations, argues in a new report that Pakistan should be included in the US “rebalance” or “pivot” to the Pacific.

“The United States has an interest in Pakistan’s security, prosperity and regional relations because Pakistan has the potential to affect the region’s economic growth, diplomacy between Washington and Beijing, and prospects for US-India partnership,” Markey wrote in the report.

“Given Pakistan’s huge population, ... geographic location, nuclear arms, and historical relationships with India and China, it is clear that a hostile or violently unstable Pakistan would compromise the broader US agenda in Asia, whereas a cooperative, growing Pakistan would advance it,” he wrote.

Pakistan’s rival India is the only country mentioned by name in the defense strategic guidance, which was announced in January 2012.

But military brass say the current arrangement works just fine as long as COCOM commanders talk to each other.

Asked about whether Pakistan and India should be grouped together, retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, who served his last assignment as the head of Central Command, said, “It can work. All you need is to collaborate between PACOM and CENTCOM.

“I never did anything that might affect India without talking to PACOM first,” he said in a brief interview following a Jan. 27 US Global Leadership Coalition event in Richmond, Va.

“When we are out in the Indian Ocean, our fleets coordinate,” he said. “It’s no sweat.” ■


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