Skip to main content

Building Capabilities, Nurturing Alliances at Heart of U.S. Strategy

By June 28, 2019June 11th, 2023Print

As published on

Developing partnerships is at the core of American strategy, the deputy assistant defense secretary for the Middle East said.

Michael P. Mulroy spoke at the Middle East Institute in Washington today and said American service members will continue to work with allies and partners throughout the region to foster stability and create capabilities for the nations.

U.S. Marines assigned to Fox Company, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, run to firing positions during live-fire training in Jordan as part of Eager Lion 2018, April 21, 2018. Eager Lion was a capstone training engagement that provided U.S. forces and the Jordan Armed Forces an opportunity to rehearse operating in a coalition environment and to pursue new ways to collectively address threats to regional security and improve overall maritime security. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Dengrier M. Baez/Released)

The National Defense Strategy also directs leaders to find ways to conduct missions in a more sustainable and efficient manner, he said. “In the Middle East, we recognize the heavy U.S. troop presence in the region since 9/11 is difficult to maintain and, at times, hard to justify,” he said. “Building partner capacity is a key way of staying engaged and investing in long-term stability, while reducing our footprint.”

Building capacity has been a common theme across U.S. presidential administrations, and it wasn’t limited to the Middle East. For example, American service members worked with nations of Europe in the Partnership for Peace effort, and previously worked with Colombian military allies to build capabilities in that country. The partnership effort continued in the Philippines, Thailand, in Africa, the Caribbean and Central America.

U.S. Soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, stand in formation, wearing experimental jungle uniforms, during the closing ceremony of exercise Cobra Gold 2018 at Phu Lam Yai, Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, Feb. 20, 2018. Cobra Gold is a regularly scheduled series of multinational exercises and humanitarian assistance projects designed to promote international security cooperation in Southeast Asia. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. David N. Beckstrom)

And it has become a pillar of the peace process in the Middle East.

Mulroy discussed the building capacity efforts in Iraq, Syria and Jordan. “These efforts are crucial to regional stability and to securing U.S. interests in the region,” he said. The priority now is to ensure U.S. and coalition investments in the [defeat]-ISIS fight outlive the warfighting of the last five years.”Michael P. Mulroy, deputy assistant defense secretary for the Middle East

In Iraq, the security partnership with the United States is the foundation of a stable region and all members know it, Mulroy said. “When I was last in Iraq in March, every member of the government underscored the importance of its security partnership with the United States and the broader coalition,” he said. “Iraq’s prime minister, president and speaker emphasized the importance of maintaining the coalition’s presence in Iraq to prevent an ISIS resurgence. The 5,200 U.S. forces operating in Iraq are present at the express invitation of the government of Iraq and anchored in the Strategic Framework Agreement signed by our two countries more than 10 years ago.”

U.S. Army Cameron Buehler with Charlie Troop, 1-32nd Cavalry, 1st Brigade, demonstrates how to use combat gauze, on Camp Taji, Iraq, May 6, 2019. Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve focuses on providing training, support, and equipment to enhance the professionalism, technical expertise and equipment capabilities of Iraqi Security Forces. This will enable the ISF to counter future external and internal threats independently and establish permanent security across the country. (Portions of this photo have been blurred to protect operational security). (U.S. Army Reserve photo by Cpl. Tamara Cummings)

The American/coalition effort is needed to ensure ISIS doesn’t return. “Five years ago, ISIS controlled approximately 55,000 square kilometers and more than 4 million people in Iraq lived under their oppressive rule,” Mulroy said. “Now they do not.”

The Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, which includes the U.S. and 15 other nations, continues to help train and equip 28 Iraqi brigades comprising thousands of soldiers. 

Syrian Democratic Forces members stand in formation during a victory announcement ceremony over the defeat of Daesh’s so-called physical caliphate Mar. 23, 2019 at Omar Academy, Deir ez-Zor, Syria. The Global Coalition will continue addressing the threat Daesh continues to pose to the partner nations and allies, while preventing any return or resurgence in liberated areas. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Ray Boyington)

“The priority now is to ensure U.S. and coalition investments in the [defeat]-ISIS fight outlive the warfighting of the last five years,” he said. “We will continue to empower Iraq’s security forces to protect the nation’s sovereignty and prevent and ISIS resurgence.”

The premise behind the effort is to help Iraqis secure Iraq. “The more capable Iraq’s security institutions, the more resilient Iraq will be in the face of malign foreign actors bent on coercion and exploitation,” he said.

U.S. Army Soldiers with the 3rd Cavalry Regiment fire artillery alongside Iraqi Security Force artillery at known ISIS locations near the Iraqi-Syrian border, June 8, 2018. Iraqi Security Forces and Coalition partners provided fire support to assist the Syrian Democratic Forces as they continued Operation Roundup, the military offensive to rid the final pockets of the terrorist organization from the Middle Euphrates River Valley in Syria. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Anthony Zendejas IV)

Across the border in Syria is another example of building capacity. “Our partnership with the [Syrian Democratic Forces] is a unique and powerful example of the success of our ‘by-with-through’ approach to counterterrorism,” he said. “Partnering with the SDF enabled the defeat of the ISIS so-called caliphate with limited U.S. and coalition resources.”

The U.S. military, with coalition support, has partnered with, trained, equipped and enabled the SDF. It grew from a force of a few hundred in 2015 to a “thousands-strong multiethnic force of Syrians that includes Arabs, Kurds, Syriac and other ethnic groups,” he said. “SDF forces have been fighting to take back their homeland from ISIS, and they remain committed despite suffering thousands of casualties.”

The SDF need to rebuild their country and deal with the humanitarian crisis. “We must support local partners to stabilize the areas that have been liberated from ISIS’s control,” he said. 

U.S. Marines wait for the order to fire an 81mm mortar during training in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in Hajin, Syria, August 4, 2018. The training is part of the building partner capacity mission, which aims to enhance the capabilities of forces fighting ISIS. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook)

Jordan is a crucial U.S. ally in the Middle East and globally. The Jordanian military is a highly professional force, and King Abdullah works with nations in the region to counter radical ideology.  

The United States has a long history of working with Jordan’s military and  U.S. security assistance spans training, joint exercises, institution building activities and U.S. equipment. “Since the 1950s, the U.S. has given over $15 billion to the government of Jordan, though most of this has been in the shape of economic assistance,” Mulroy said. “We continually work with Jordanian military leadership on identifying its needs, capabilities and gaps to apply security assistance towards mutual threats.”

The Syrian war has strained the Jordanian economy, he said. “With the closure of trade with Syria, Jordan lost a vital trade route to Europe while simultaneously absorbing hundreds of thousands of refugees,” Mulroy said. 

The U.S. government is working closely with Jordan to ensure the country can weather this storm.

Relationships are much more than a talking point in a speech, Mulroy said. “They represent the will and resolve of the international community to defend those that cannot defend themselves and provide lasting security that benefit all,” he said. “As the National Defense Strategy calls for an economy-of-force posture in the region, these efforts will become all the more important.”