Central Command, United States: CENTCOM (PETER ANTILL)

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The Reagan Administration and Emergence of CENTCOM
The United States Central Command
Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm
After Desert Storm


The Reagan Administration and Emergence of CENTCOM

The Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF) had been officially activated on the lst March 1980 and based at MacDill Air Force Base under the US Readiness Command. In the words of it's first commander, General P.X.Kelley, "It's the first time that I know of that we have ever attempted to establish, in peacetime, a full four service Joint Headquarters" [note 1] and "the only group in this country whose current full time activities focus on joint and combined combat operations" [note 2] for a limited contingency operation. The aim of the RDJTF was that of deterrence - against possible Soviet or proxy invasion, conflict among the states of the area and subversion and insurrection within the states and thus "help maintain regional stability and the Gulf oil-flow westward". [note 3] The RDJTF was designed to be flexible - it was not designed to have specific forces but to draw in times of crisis from a central pool of resources depending on the nature of the threat, geographical location and time available for deployment. Initially the RDJTF was under REDCOM but later became a separate Joint Task Force, which started it down the road to becoming a full unified command. It's area-of-responsibility was expanded to include Egypt, Sudan, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia as well as Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, the People's Republic of Yemen, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and the Yemen Arab Republic. Almost immediately after its creation, the RDJTF and the Carter Doctrine had come under sustained attack. Both Senators and Congressmen had "expressed doubts about the substance of the policy. Some had called Carter's doctrine a bluff. Analysts charged that the Rapid Deployment Force concept was so dependant upon non-existent airlift and sealift capabilities that the RDF was neither rapid, deployable nor a force". [note 4] While many of the criticisms were merited, it was noted by Carter's National Security Advisor that in a democracy, public pronouncements had to be issued first for the ground to be laid for long term programs, ahead of capability. The American military had been in the same position in 1947 with respect to Greece and Turkey and in 1949 with respect to Western Europe and NATO. The Carter Doctrine and the RDJTF were to be seen as evolving ideas that would mature with time. The concept had been formulated after several years of study, and the US Military were not blind to the logistics problem that it would entail. After a Joint Chiefs of Staff mobility study in 1979, measures were put in place to, over time, increase available airlift and sealift, preposition more supplies and expand base facilities in Southwest Asia. The Military were also looking at the command structure. Analysts had suggested forming a unified command for the Persian gulf region to take over from the European and Pacific Commands which the Department of Defence had also been considering. As the Reagan Administration refined it's policy towards the region, events continued to take a hand. The Lebanese civil war dragged on and after the United States, Britain and France had intervened, two terrorist attacks killed over 250 US personnel, President Sadat was assassinated, Israel invaded Lebanon, the Soviets continued their war in Afghanistan and the Iran-Iraq war continued in a bloody stalemate. Two years after the Administration's decision, the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force was deactivated on December 31st 1982 and the United States Central Command was activated on the 1st January 1983 with an increase in its area of responsibility to include Jordan, the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf as well.

The United States Central Command

The US Central Command (USCENTCOM) was the first such unified command created in over thirty-five years. It took over the RDJTF headquarters at MacDill AFB and has the same mission, that of supporting friendly states, stopping external aggression and combating subversion and insurrection. Structurally, the new unified command changed very little. The Commander of US CENTCOM (CINCENTCOM) reports to the JCS. Under him is Commander, USARCENT (who also commands the reformed US Third Army, Fort McPherson, Georgia), Commander, USCENTAF (who also commands the 9th Air Force at Shaw AFB, South Carolina), Commander, USNAVCENT and Commander, USMARCENT stationed at Camp Pendleton, California. The forces committed to USCENTCOM gradually grew and modernised throughout the 1980's. The Army added the 197th Mechanised and 194th Armoured Brigades and continued acquisition of the M1 Abrams tank, M2/3 IFV/CFV, M109 self-propelled artillery piece and MLRS system for the ground forces and UH-60 Blackhawk and AH-64 Apache helicopters for its aviation formations. The Marines equipment was gradually upgraded to include M-60A3 tanks (later with reactive armour), LVT-7A amphibious assault vehicles (AAV), LAV-25 light attack vehicles (LAV), the AH-1T Cobra attack helicopter, CH-53E Sea Stallion transport helicopter and the new AV-8B Harrier close support aircraft. The Navy continued it's procurement of Nimitz class supercarriers, F/A-18 Hornets, upgrading the F-14 Tomcat, E-2 Hawkeye and A-6 Intruder, procuring new amphibious assault ships for the Marines, additional sealift and prepositioning ships, the new Los Angeles class submarines, Ticonderoga class cruisers, Spruance class destroyers and Perry class frigates. The Air Force continued procurement of the F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-15E Strike Eagle, F-117A stealth Fighter. It continued improving strategic airlift in two ways. Firstly existing assets were refitted and upgraded and secondly started procurement of C-5B and KC-10 tanker/cargo aircraft. The new command was in action almost immediately with Operations Early Call, Arid Farmer and Eagle Look. USCENTCOM was also kept busy during the 1980's with the Iran-Iraq war and the threat to international shipping in the Gulf. The command also kept up it's exercise program, continuing the Bright Star, Gallant Eagle and Gallant Knight exercises and working diplomatically with various Gulf states. As the 1980's continued, the effects of Glasnost and Peristroika started to take effect under Gorbachev and relations between the West and the Soviet Union began to improve dramatically. With a reduced possibility of a major invasion of Iran, General Norman Schwarzkopf (who took command on the 23rd November 1988 from General George B.Crist) started working on alternate warplans, one of which was the possibility of a major regional power moving to occupy the rich oil fields to the south. The new plans were tested in a command post exercise, Operation Internal Look, which was carried out from the 9th July to the 4th August 1990. On the 2nd August 1990, Iraq's forces invaded Kuwait.

Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm

The origins of the second Gulf War go back generations but were fuelled by the dispute over the Rumaila oil field. Iraq claimed that Kuwait was pumping more oil from the field than it was entitled to and that it was ignoring the OPEC production quotas set in 1980 and selling more than it should on the open market thus lowering the price of oil and Iraq's income. Iraq also had historic claims to the land, claiming it was once part of the Basra Province and should have been made part of Iraq in 1932. Things came to a head when the Iraqis demanded $16.5 billion in compensation (for the illegal pumping and loss of revenue) and cancellation of the $12 billion debt that Iraq had run up in the war with Iran. The Kuwaitis refused. As invading would wipe out much of its debt, provide extra funds and control of major oil reserves, Iraq invaded. The crisis USCENTCOM had organised, trained and planned for had come. The deployment, code named Operation Desert Shield, began on the 7th August. The paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne started arriving on the 8th, with elements of the 101st and 24th Mechanised Divisions leaving CONUS (Continental United States) for Saudi Arabia by the 13th August and forward elements of the 1st MEF (Marine Expeditionary Force) (1st Marine Division plus airwing) arriving in the peninsula on the 12th August. These units had completed deployment by the 20th September with elements of the 1st Cavalry Division, 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment, 11th Air Defence Brigade and 197th Mechanised Brigade en route. Also deployed were significant air assets (1st, 4th, 35th, 363rd and 401st TFWs and 50 B-52 bombers) and the air power of six carrier battle groups, the striking power of the Persian Gulf Squadron and Persian Gulf Amphibious group. During the months from August to February, the US Transportation Command moved 504,000 people, 3.7 million tons of dry cargo and 6.1 million tons of petroleum products to USCENTCOM's area of operations. As the build-up proceeded and the forces in Saudi Arabia formed into an Allied Expeditionary Army, USCENTCOM started to plan to retake Kuwait. With the expiry of the UN deadline for withdrawal on the 15th January 1991, the allied assault began on the 17th January with the start of a massive air campaign and after five weeks of intensive operations, the ground attack began on the 24th February. Kuwait was liberated on the 27th and a cease-fire came into effect on the 28th February 1991 at 0800 hours.

After Desert Storm

Even with the termination of the war, USCENTCOM still had an important role to play. It continued to operate the UN sanctions against Iraq with a multinational naval force and took control of Operations Southern Watch (the no-fly zone over southern Iraq) and Provide Comfort (a similar operation in the north). Elsewhere USCENTCOM started Operation Provide Relief in August 1992 in Somalia, and formed the Joint Task Force (JTF) Provide Relief to conduct operations. However, purely humanitarian assistance was not enough and on 9th December 1992 USCENTCOM initiated Operation Restore Hope to support UN Resolution 794 and led a multinational coalition, the Unified Task Force (UNITAF) to ensure security of transportation and distribution routes, relief convoys and the relief operations themselves. During 1993, UNITAF had established the basic infrastructure and helped with medical care. The UN took control (UNOSOM II) but as the months passed unrest become more rampant and the US was forced to put substantial forces on the ground to aid the UN. After several bloody incidents with the militia led by General Mohammed Aideed, US forces had pulled out by the end of March 1993. The USCENTCOM also restarted it's exercise program with the Ultimate Resolve command post exercise and Intrinsic Action ground exercise in 1993. The USCENTCOM is continually monitoring the situation in it's area-of-responsibility and is continually upgrading it's capacity to react to regional crises as shown in Operation Vigilant Warrior where after detecting two Iraqi Republican Guard divisions moving towards Kuwait, USCENTCOM initiated a rapid build-up in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to deter Iraqi aggression. The ships USS Leyte Gulf and USS Hewitt would be joined by the Nimitz class carrier USS George Washington and battle group, the USS Tripoli with 2000 Marines and several Air Force squadrons from Europe and CONUS. The lead elements of the 24th Mechanised Division were dispatched to marry up with prepositioned equipment in Kuwait and with the announcement of large scale reinforcements from CONUS the Iraqi forces were pulled back and tensions eased.

Since then CENTCOM has kept busy with an expanded strategy based on maintaining regional contact, forward presence, security assistance programmes and a readiness to fight. The sixth CINCENT, General Anthony Zinni, USMC (who took over from General Binford Peay) developed strategies that were specific to each sub-region. He also recognised the danger posed by the spread of advanced technologies and weapons of mass destruction. CENTCOM has faced a number of terrorist attacks against its personnel (such as the June 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers in Dhahran) and increasing intransigence from Iraq which was countered in Operations Desert Thunder (February 1998) and Desert Fox (December 1998). In October 1999 CENTCOM assumed responsibility for five former republics of the Soviet Union: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan
[BACK] 1 General P.X.Kelley quoted in Dr. E. Asa Bates "The Rapid Deployment Force - Fact or Fiction", RUSI Journal, June 1981, pp. 23 - 33
[BACK] 2 General P.X. Kelly "Progress in the RDJTF", Marine Corps Gazette, June 1981, pp. 38 - 44
[BACK] 3 John Clementson "Mission Imperative: The Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force", Armed Forces, July 1983, pp. 260 - 265 and August 1983, pp. 304 - 308
[BACK] 4 M.A.Palmer Guardians of the Gulf, 1992, 1st Edition, Free Press, New York, p. 114

How to cite this article: Antill, P., Central Command, United States: CENTCOM (PETER ANTILL), http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/concepts_centcomlong.html

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