- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Army’s top general said that he still hopes to rebuild military-to-military ties with Russia once the political turmoil stirring around the country’s recent invasion of Crimea dies down.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno said during a forum at the Center For Strategic and International Studies Thursday that the Pentagon wants to repair communication lines with Russia and “move forward” after the Ukraine crisis is finally resolved.

“In my mind, every time we get to know each other, pick up a phone, talk to our counterparts, talk about these very difficult issues that we both face — the better off we all are,” Gen. Odierno said. “And you do that by familiarity and by building trust. So, hopefully in the future we’ll be able to continue our relationship with Russia, even though right now we are not.”

Russia seized control of Ukraine’s Crimean region — which has an ethnic Russian majority — after demonstrations in Kiev let to the ouster of pro-Moscow President Victor Yanukovych last month. Protesters were angry over the president’s decision to turn down an agreement with the European Union in favor of maintaining strong economic ties with Russia.

The Obama administration has canceled planned military exercises and other joint activities with Russia to protest the incursion.

Rekindling the U.S. military’s relationship with Russia is as important as forging better military relationships with China, Gen. Odierno said.

The U.S. military recently announced plans to increase joint exercises with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. Last month, Mr. Odierno met with his Chinese counterparts in Beijing, to smooth the path for more combined military exercises.

Separately, the four-star general in charge of helping the Afghan military deal with tribal conflicts and Taliban attacks painted a grim picture of how that military will look in 2015 in the wake of the departure of foreign troops.

Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., the commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, predicted that the Afghan National Security Forces will face fuel shortages, a lack of spare parts and other operational problems when international forces withdraw.

“My own assessment is that Afghans would have a very difficult time in the summer of 2015 because some of these shortfalls will manifest themselves in the summer of 2015 during what is the traditional period of high-operational tempo,” he said.

Gen. Dunford spoke in an off-camera briefing at the Pentagon after spending two days on Capitol Hill discussing Afghanistan with lawmakers. Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s staunch refusal to sign a security agreement that would protect U.S. troops while they are inside the country after December 2014 has raised concerns on Capitol Hill.

Gen. Dunford said that the fears of operational shortfalls are fueled by contract management concerns. The U.S. military is currently in the process of transferring some of the contracts it has been overseeing to the Afghan military, he said.

The U.S. military manages “countless contracts that do everything from feeding the troops at a forward operating base to taking care of the services at a forward operating base,” Gen. Dunford said. Now, the Afghan military will be expected to take some responsibility for those contracts and assure, for themselves, that the food, water and sewage trucks show up on time, he said.