Delegates throughout South and Central Asia and the Middle East joined their U.S. Central Command counterparts in Columbus earlier this week for the fifth annual Land Forces Symposium.
The forum brings together international military leaders to discuss common challenges, exchange views and promote security cooperation in the region while strengthening relationships among partner nations. Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen were among the countries represented.
This year’s theme was “Multilateral Approaches to Regional Challenges.” GEN George Casey, the Army’s chief of staff, and LTG William G. Webster, commander of the Third Army and U.S. Army Central, co-hosted the event, which took place Aug. 1-4.
Casey delivered a speech to the CENTCOM leaders and symposium delegates Monday night at the National Infantry Museum.
“They’re discussing how we can work together to shape the security environment for the 21st century,” he told Army reporters earlier. “We do this really in every region of the world. There is some forum every year or every other year that brings the head of the army from that region together with us. And it’s absolutely critical to building up the relationships and the sharing of ideas.
“As you look particularly in the Central Command region now, we’re all wrestling with an extremist there (in Iran). How we deal with that and how we can help each other with that is exactly why we have these types of forums.”
Webster said the Land Forces Symposium allows senior leaders from the Middle East and South and Central Asia to address topics of mutual interest and concern. Partner nations can discuss shared lessons and objectives in a multilateral approach, he said.
“We’re looking to synchronize our efforts … to be more successful against potential adversaries,” Webster said. Panel topics included consequence management and critical infrastructure protection, regional security challenges and security cooperation programs. A total of 268 people attended — among them were 13 officers and four NCOs from foreign nations.
“You plant the ideas, and what you see is as these people that come here go back to their countries, they sift through the thoughts they’ve had … and they implement the ones that suit them,” Casey said. “It’s not about us telling them how to do their business; it’s about professionals listening to each other talk, and then taking things that suit their needs and applying them.”
As CENTCOM’s Army service component command, Third Army supports a 20-country region. Its operations include the “responsible drawdown” from Iraq and the Afghanistan buildup. Officials said there was much discussion about the latter at the forum.
Safi Roshan, sergeant major of the Afghan army, said the symposium was highly beneficial and he applauds the U.S. presence in his country.
“The U.S. brought a shining future for the people of Afghanistan,” he said. “There are many good things happening in Afghanistan because the U.S. came ... We are forever grateful for what the U.S. did.” Under the Taliban, there were no educational opportunities, Roshan said. Now, 4 million children are enrolled in school. He said the U.S. also built up Afghanistan’s army and security forces, and the nation has a constitution.
Meanwhile, the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq remains on schedule, Webster said. The troop level will drop to 50,000 by the end of this month. In addition, Third Army and ARCENT is overseeing the movement of more than 3 million pieces of equipment out of the country.
Casey said the Iraq withdrawal has been very successful to this point and he praised the men and women of Third Army behind the effort.
“It’s one of the largest movements of troops and equipment since World War II,” he said, “and it’s going on below everybody’s radar … I’m hugely proud of them. It will have a huge impact on our ability to reset this Army in the years ahead.”
As part of the conference, delegates observed training at Fort Benning, including a Rangers in Action demonstration Tuesday at Hurley Hill and Victory Pond.
This year marked the last annual Land Forces Symposium, Third Army officials said. Future events will be conducted every two years.