United States Central Command

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The United States Central Command (CENTCOM) is a Unified Combatant Command (UCC) with geographic responsibility for countries in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. As a UCC, it takes operational direction from the National Command Authority. Its current commander is General David Petraeus, U.S. Army.

There are several exceptions to its basic geographic:

To avoid national sensitivities, CENTCOM headquarters are officially at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. A CENTCOM Forward headquarters, however, are in Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar.

Current operations

The active Afghanistan War (2001-2021) and the reducing but significant U.S. role in the Iraq War, insurgency are, of course, the major concerns of CENTCOM. counter-piracy in the waters off Somalia are another area of activity, the focus of Task Force 151, with naval Task Forces 150 and Task Force 152 dealing more with counterterrorism.

It has been confirmed that GEN Petraeus requested Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, to transfer the State of Israel and the Occupied Territories to be assigned to his command. His reasoning was that with U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, Arab leaders had to perceive the U.S. military as directly concerned with the most difficult conflict in the region. Citing the Israeli journal Yedioth Ahronoth, the report continued, in a subsequent meeting between U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, Biden followed up the concern, saying

This is starting to get dangerous for us. What you're doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace. The vice president told his Israeli hosts that since many people in the Muslim world perceived a connection between Israel's actions and US policy, any decision about construction that undermines Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem could have an impact on the personal safety of American troops fighting against Islamic terrorism.[1]


CENTCOM has its ancestry in several previous command structures intended to deal with the tensions of its region. Since 1980, Operation BRIGHT STAR, conducted in Egypt, has been the main coalition training exercise.

Strike Command

Rapid Deployment Force

When the hostage crisis in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan underlined the need to strengthen U.S. interests in the region, President Jimmy Carter established the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF) in March 1980. RDJTF was under the former U.S. Readiness Command.

Original creation and Cold War emphasis=

United States Central Command (USCENTCOM) was established January 1, 1983. To provide a stronger, more lasting solution in the region, President Ronald Reagan took steps to transform the RDJTF into a permanent unified command over a two-year period.

Overcoming skeptical perceptions that the command was still an RDJTF in all but name, designed to support a Cold War strategy, took time. The Iran-Iraq war clearly underlined the growing tensions in the region, and developments such as Iranian mining operations in the Persian Gulf led to USCENTCOM's first combat operations. By late 1988, the regional strategy still largely focused on the potential threat of a massive Soviet invasion of Iran. [2]

Change to emphasis on Iraq

The new USCENTCOM Commander-in-Chief, General H Norman Schwarzkopf Jr., was convinced that the changing international climate made this scenario far less likely. He began to focus his attention on the possible emergence of a new regional threat--Iraq's Saddam Hussein--and translated these concerns into the summer 1990 command post exercise Internal Look. There was an eerie similarity between the exercise scripts and the real-world movement of Iraqi forces which culminated in 1990 invasion of Kuwait Iraq's invasion of Kuwait during the final days of the exercise. U.S. President George H.W. Bush responded quickly. Operation Desert Shield, a deployment of coalition forces deterred Iraq from invading Saudi Arabia, and the command began to focus on ejecting Iraqi forces from Kuwait. The buildup of forces continued, reinforced by U.N. Security Council Resolution 678, which called for Iraqi forces to leave Kuwait.

On January 17, 1991, U.S. and coalition forces launched Operation Desert Storm with a massive air interdiction campaign, which prepared the theater for a coalition ground assault. The primary coalition objective, the liberation of Kuwait, was achieved on February 27, and the next morning a cease-fire was declared, just one hundred hours after the commencement of the ground campaign.[2]

The end of formal hostilities did not bring the end of difficulties with Iraq:

  • beginning in April 1991, Operation Provide Comfort controlled northern Iraq.
  • In August 1992, Operation Southern Watch began in response to Saddam's noncompliance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 688 condemning his brutal repression of Iraqi civilians in southeastern Iraq. Under the command and control of Joint Task Force Southwest Asia, coalition forces in this operation enforced a no-fly zone south of the 32nd parallel.

Throughout the decade, USCENTCOM operations such as Vigilant Warrior, Vigilant Sentinel, Desert Strike, Desert Thunder (I and II), and Desert Fox responded to threats posed by Iraq to its neighbors or sought to enforce U.N. Security Council resolutions in the face of Saddam's continued intransigence.[2]

Somalia operations

The 1990s also brought significant challenges in the east African nation of Somalia as well as from the growing threat of regional terrorism. To prevent widespread starvation in the face of clan warfare, the command responded in 1992 with Operation Provide Relief to supply humanitarian assistance to Somalia and northeastern Kenya. USCENTCOM's Operation Restore Hope supported UNSCR 794 and a multinational Unified Task Force, which provided security until the U.N. created UNOSOM II in May 1993. In spite of some UNOSOM II success in the countryside, the situation in Mogadishu worsened, and a series of violent outbreaks ultimately led President Bill Clinton to order the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Somalia. [2]


Throughout the decade following the Gulf War, terrorist attacks had a major impact on USCENTCOM forces in the region. Faced with attacks such as the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers, which killed 19 American airmen, the command launched Operation Desert Focus, designed to relocate U.S. installations to more defensible locations (such as Prince Sultan Air Base), reduce the U.S. forward "footprint" by eliminating nonessential billets, and return dependents back home. In 1998 terrorists attacked U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 250 persons, including 12 Americans. The October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, resulting in the deaths of 17 U.S. sailors, was linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda organization.[2]

The terrorist attacks on American soil on September 11, 2001 intensified counterterror operations. It was determined that the 9-11 attacks were ordered by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. First, USCENTCOM launched Operation Enduring Freedom to expel the Taliban government in Afghanistan, who were harboring al-Qaeda terrorists and repressing the Afghan population.

In response to a perceived continuing threat from Iraq, as well as noncompliance with United Nations Security Council resolutions, a coalition commenced Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Following the defeat of both the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq, USCENTCOM has continued to provide security to the new freely-elected governments in those countries, conducting counterinsurgency operations and assisting host nation security forces to provide for their own defense.

Regional operations less than war

Since October 2002, USCENTCOM has also conducted operations in the Horn of Africa to assist host nations there to combat terrorism, establish a secure environment, and foster regional stability. These operations primarily take the form of humanitarian assistance, consequence management, and a variety of civic action programs. The command has also remained poised to provide disaster relief throughout the region, with its most recent significant relief operations in response to the October 2005 earthquake in Pakistan and the large-scale evacuation of American citizens from Lebanon in 2006. [2]

Major U.S. service components

Multinational commands for which CENTCOM is a major headquarters


Following the March 2008 resignation of Admiral William Fallon as commander of CENTCOM, General David Petraeus became the new commander.

Dates Name
2008-present David Petraeus, general, U.S. Army
March 2007-March 2008 William Fallon, admiral, United States Navy
2003-2007 John Abizaid, general, U.S. Army
2000-2003 Tommy Franks, general, U.S. Army
1997-2000 Anthony Zinni, general, U.S. Marine Corps
1994-1997 Binford Peay, general, U.S. Army
1991-1994 Joseph Hoar, general, U.S. Marine Corps
1988-1991 H Norman Schwarzkopf Jr., general, U.S. Army
1985 -1988 George Crist, general, U.S. Marine Corps
1983 -1985 Robert Kingston, general, U.S. Marine Corps

As of April 2003:


  1. The Petraeus briefing: Biden’s embarrassment is not the whole story (13 March 2010), "Mark Perry Saturday", Middle East Channel, Foreign Policy (magazine)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 U.S. CENTCOM History