Stavridis defends US presence in Europe; wants more cyber security
Admiral James Stavridis, U.S. European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, speaks to at an "All Hands Call" at Stuttgart-Vaihingen, Germany, on August 6, 2012.
STUTTGART, Germany — Adm. James Stavridis, the U.S. military’s longest serving combatant commander, told lawmakers Friday that efforts to curb the growing threat in cyberspace should be the government’s top security priority.
“I would put cyber at the top of the list,” said Stavridis during an appearance before the House Armed Services Committee. “In cyber, we have the greatest mismatch between our level of preparation and level of danger.”
Stavridis, who headed Southern Command before taking over U.S. European Command in 2009, testified Friday alongside Gen. Carter Ham, who leads Africa Command. Both commanders are slated to retire later this year.
Asked to name the three areas on which lawmakers need to focus, Stavridis said cyber security, pan-national terrorist groups and the cross-border movement of weapons should be priorities. To counter those threats, investment in intelligence gathering and special operations forces is needed, he said.
Stavridis also defended the continued presence of about 80,000 U.S. servicemembers in Europe at a time of budget tightening and refocus of attention on the Pacific. Rather than a relic of the Cold War, Stavridis said remaining bases in Europe serve as a platform for engaging in other parts of the world, where threats persist.
“Geography matters,” Stavridis said, describing U.S. installations in Europe as “the forward operating bases of the 21st century.”
“That arc of crisis that runs from Syria, across the northern part of Africa, remains a threat to the United States as well as our allies,” Stavridis said.
In Africa, where the threat posed by Islamic militant groups is growing, Europe-based forces play a key role in supporting AFRICOM, Ham told lawmakers.
Ham said he remains concerned that the three main terror groups in Africa — Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and Al-Shabab in Somalia -- are showing signs of collaboration. In particular, there are signs that AQIM, the best funded of the groups, is providing financial support to Boko Haram, he said.
Ham said his command needs more surveillance capacity to monitor threats. “I have significant shortfalls in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance,” Ham said. “I believe that if the threat that is present in Africa is left unaddressed it will grow over time.”