TAMPA — As the commander of U.S. Central Command, Army Gen. Joseph Votel has one of the world's most challenging to-do lists.
Votel, whose headquarters is at MacDill Air Force Base, spent about 40 minutes Tuesday afternoon describing that list to about 100 members of the Tampa Rotary Club. It includes the wars in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and competition from Iran and Russia.
"I want to share with you a few things I spend most of my time on," Votel said.
The Iraqi armed forces, he said, "are making wonderful progress" in the 4-year-old fight against the so-called Islamic State. "It is amazing to watch how far they have come in just a couple of years, from an army that was running away to one now that is very proud and taking their own country back."
Iraq's second-largest city, Mosul, has been liberated, and in Syria, the so-called ISIS capital of Raqqa is mostly freed.
However, as the fight against ISIS winds down, "you see converging forces and diverging interests every day," Votel said. "We are now coming into competition … with the (Syrian) regime, with the Russians and others."
Recently, Russian forces have been accused of firing on the Syrian Democratic Forces, which are aligned with the United States in the fight against ISIS.
Another complication in the world's most complex region is Monday's vote by Kurds on a referendum calling for eventual independence from Iraq, a move condemned by the United States, Iraq, Turkey, the United Nations and most other countries.
The referendum "in our estimation, is ill-timed," said Votel, who as CentCom commander has to deal with the regional fallout. "The principal reason is that we are at an important point in the military campaign."
Iran, too, has been "extraordinarily destablizing," said Votel. He flashed on a screen a picture of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, head of that nation's Qods Force.
"He is the instrument through which most of the malign activity that is orchestrated by Iran occurs," said Votel.
In Afghanistan, where he fought as a Ranger in 2001 and has returned every year since, Votel said he sees hope for a better future.
Despite "an extraordinarily large number of casualties," the Afghans, who have been leading the fight there for several years, "are holding the Taliban and some of the other organizations there at bay."
Some 3,500 more troops authorized by President Donald Trump should help, said Votel, along with Afghan's commitment to fight corruption and poor leadership.