U.S. Central Command: Differentiating Its Major Operations

By Katie Lange
Defense Media Activity

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis recently visited Afghanistan to meet with leaders at U.S. Central Command, one of the Defense Department’s combatant commands. Each command has a particular mission with varying operations and exercises to fit them.

Centcom, as we call it, has been around since 1983 and is one of the DoD’s busiest combatant commands. It’s area of responsibility includes Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Syria and 15 other countries found in the center of the world map (hence, “central” command).

U.S. Central Command’s AOR is highlighted. DoD graphic

Centcom’s major missions are ones we hear about often in the news – Inherent Resolve, Resolute Support, and Freedom’s Sentinel – but we easily get them confused. So here’s a little explainer.

Operation Inherent Resolve

In late 2014, the U.S. created a new combined joint task force to fight the terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The mission was named Operation Inherent Resolve to reflect the deep commitment of the U.S. and its partner nations to eliminate ISIS and the threat it posed to the Middle East and across the world. This mission continues.

Navy sailors work on the flight deck aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in the Arabian Gulf. Nimitz is deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. While in this region, the ship and strike group are conducting maritime security operations to reassure allies and partners, preserve freedom of navigation, and maintain the free flow of commerce. Navy photo by Seaman Emily Johnston

Many members of the coalition, made up of 62 nations, provide military support via arms, equipment, air power, training and advice. Others are helping to degrade and defeat ISIS by cutting off its funding and flow of fighters and exposing its true nature.

While ISIS’s territory and abilities in Iraq and Syria have been degraded since 2014, there’s still fighting to do. The coalition is committed to the restoration of stability to the region.

How Inherent Resolve is different than prior Iraq operations:
Many remember Operation Iraqi Freedom, which included major combat operations, occupation and reconstruction during the War in Iraq from March 2003 to August 2010. Iraqi Freedom’s replacement was Operation New Dawn, which coincided with the drawdown of troops in the region by 50,000. New Dawn concluded when the War in Iraq ended in December 2011.

As for Afghanistan, there are currently two operations going on in that region, and they’re both successors to Operation Enduring Freedom. Enduring Freedom lasted more than 13 years (October 2001-December 2014) and aimed to expel from Afghanistan the Taliban government, which was harboring al Qaida terrorists.

Enduring Freedom formally ended in January 2015. That’s when operations Resolute Support and Freedom’s Sentinel began.

Operation Resolute Support

Resolute Support aims to stabilize Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. It’s a NATO-led mission involving troops from more than 40 countries who train, advise and assist Afghan forces and institutions build their capabilities and create long-term stability in the region.

At a ceremony at Resolute Support Headquarters, Gen. John Nicholson, commander of Resolute Support, pays his respects to service members who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Robert M. Trujillo

Resolute Support is a smaller noncombat mission compared to its predecessor during Enduring Freedom, the International Security Assistance Force. The ISAF had provided security and training for Afghan forces since August 2003, with the hopes of making sure Afghanistan would never again be a safe haven for terrorists. When Enduring Freedom ended, NATO handed off the reigns from the ISAF to Afghan forces so they could assume all of their own security responsibilities.

Resolute Support was launched immediately after that. Its goal is to help the country reinstate a fully functioning government by developing Afghan leadership, advising them on reforms for fighting corruption, and optimizing ANDSF capabilities and resources so they can protect themselves from enemies.

The coalition helps provide the framework and guidelines for those goals through eight key areas:

  • Multiyear budgeting
  • Transparency, accountability and oversight
  • Force generation (recruit, train and equip the force)
  • Force sustainment (supply and maintenance)
  • Strategy and policy planning, resourcing and execution
  • Intelligence
  • Strategic communications
  • Civilian oversight of Afghan Security Institutions

The coalition also contributes to the financing of the ANDSF and works to strengthen political consultations with the country.

Operation Freedom’s Sentinel

Army Reserve soldiers board a flight at Fort Bliss for a deployment in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. Air Force photo by Ismael Ortega

Freedom’s Sentinel is essentially the continued counterterrorism efforts aimed at ridding the remnants of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups from the region. The goal is to make sure that Afghanistan is never again used to stage attacks against America, like it was for Sept. 11, 2001.

Freedom’s Sentinel works hand in hand with Operation Resolute Support.

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U.S. Central Command: Differentiating Its Major Operations