Coalition Building in the Middle East

The close cooperation fostered by Operation Inherent Resolve has resulted in better communication and information-sharing practices between the US and its Middle Eastern allies, the former commander of Air Forces Central Command told attendees at AFA’s Air and Space Conference on Sept. 16. Lt. Gen. John Hesterman, USAF’s assistant vice chief of staff, said before the initial attack wave into Syria last year, his first conversation with the Saudi Arabian air chief took place on a satellite phone in the parking lot outside of the Combined Air and Space Operations Center at Al Udeid AB, Qatar, which Hesterman described as “kind of goofy.” As the campaign continued, Hesterman pressed US Central Command to get secure lines set up with GCC air commanders to tie into the existing architecture. The reason the US was able to assemble a coalition of GCC states to participate in the campaign is rooted in the personal relationships previous AFCENT commanders had built over the course of the last decade-plus, Hesterman noted. “And, to keep it together, you have to give them something worth while,” he said. Allies are taking a “fairly significant risk” in personnel, money, and equipment, and “you have to show they are making an impact against the enemy so they can go back and justify why they are there.”