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Jan. 28, 2016
Notes from the Pentagon

Report faults Pentagon's Asia rebalance
A Pentagon-sponsored study has found that efforts to refocus U.S. policies and forces on Asian security are faltering because of an increase in Chinese high-technology weapons and instability in the Middle East.

“Militarily, the Pacific Command has fully embraced the rebalance, but the anti-access challenge is worsening and China’s tolerance for risk has exceeded most expectations,” said the report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The report concludes that the Asia rebalance “may be insufficient” to secure U.S. and allied interests in the region.

“Chinese and North Korean actions are routinely challenging the credibility of U.S. security commitments, and at the current rate of U.S. capability development, the balance of military power in the region is shifting against the United States,” the study said. “Robust funding is needed to implement the rebalance.”

The Obama administration is faulted in the report for failing to provide a single, agreed-upon definition of the U.S. rebalancing strategy. Administration officials questioned by a CSIS panel of experts found “confusion” about the strategy and concern about implementation.

The study urged expanding the military presence in Asia to ease fears among states in Asia about U.S. force posture, especially in Northeast Asia.

“The Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s anti-access/area denial capabilities that many once viewed as Taiwan-specific are rapidly expanding to the Second Island Chain and beyond, affecting not only an increasing number of U.S. allies and partners, but also U.S. territories such as Guam,” the report said.

China’s island-chain strategy calls for expanding power and influence farther from Chinese shores through two island chains stretching from Japan through Southeast Asia. China has been rapidly building up its forces designed to push the U.S. military out of Asia. The buildup includes new submarines, warships, anti-ship missiles, and cyberwarfare and space warfare weapons.

The U.S. military also needs to develop new military capabilities to counter Chinese weapons. Specifically, the Pentagon needs to develop counters to Chinese anti-ship and surface-to-surface ballistic missiles.

“We recommend institutionalizing a culture of experimentation; encouraging rapid platform evolution; developing advanced long-range missiles; funding innovative missile defense concepts; fielding additional air combat systems; exploiting the U.S. undersea advantage; and augmenting space, cyber, and electronic warfare capabilities,” the report said.

China’s naval expansion, including aircraft carriers, risks turning the contested South China Sea into “virtually a Chinese lake,” the report said.

A Chinese military expert criticized the report. Yin Zhuo, director of China’s Navy Information Technology Advisory Committee, told the Hong Kong news outlet Tung Fang Jih Pao that the report was the designed to bolster the U.S. military and defense industry. Mr. Yin stated that U.S. military aircraft operating in the South China Sea pose greater threats to the region than does China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying this week rejected U.S. criticism of Chinese island-building in the South China Sea, where military facilities are being constructed on reclaimed territory.

“We do not accept such unreasonable criticism,” she said Tuesday.

“The Chinese side has on many occasions expounded on the legitimate, reasonable, and public-interest nature of the construction activities on relevant island and reef of the Nansha Islands and inspection and test flights on Yongshu Reef,” she said. The United States, she added, should “stop making groundless accusations and hyping up the issue.”

U.S. officials said there are signs that senior Islamic State leaders recently traveled to the Libyan city of Sirte.

Social media postings by known Islamic State members and sympathizers in the past several days indicated that leaders and other members of the terrorist group moved into Sirte from the southern part of the port city, located about halfway between Tripoli and Benghazi.

One Twitter user using the handle “Macmadas Surt” reported that SUVs with tinted windows known to be used by Islamic State fighters took part in the arrival of the leaders. The vehicles’ transit “confirms reports about the arrival of key ISIL leaders in the city,” the user said.

Another social media posting stated that the Islamic State provincial leader in Sirte, known as Abu al-Jazrawi, was killed in an airstrike Jan. 23 along with other Islamic State fighters on the “outskirts of the city.”

The movement of the Islamic State into Libya has alarmed senior Pentagon leaders, who are concerned that the terrorist group is shifting its base of operations from Syria and Iraq as a result of stepped-up bombing against the group in Syria and Iraqi military operations in Iraq. U.S. intelligence agencies estimate that 5,000 Islamic State fighters are in Libya and more have been detected moving into the war-torn country in recent weeks.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters traveling with him in Europe last week that the U.S. is considering an escalation of military operations against the Islamic State in Libya.

“It’s fair to say that we’re looking to take decisive military action against ISIL in conjunction with the political process” in Libya, Gen. Dunford was quoted by wire services as saying. “The president has made clear that we have the authority to use military force.”

Gen. Dunford said, “I am concerned about the spread of ISIL in Libya.”

U.S. military flights and intelligence operations have been tracking Islamic State activities in Libya.

The chairman said military operations in Libya could be undertaken in concert with forces from France, Britain and Italy. Defense leaders from those countries discussed intervention plans last week.

Italy’s government announced that it is prepared to take part in military action in Libya, based on an assessment that the Islamic State threat has increased.

In a related development, news reports from Iraq revealed this week that the leader of an Islamic State suicide bomb squad was killed by Iraqi forces in Ramadi. The leader, Abu-Hammam, and six of his aides were killed when an Iraqi tank shelled their location, the Al-Sumariyah News website reported.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps has no plans to relent in its war on the United States despite the recent nuclear deal and the lifting of sanctions on Tehran.

An editorial in the hard-line Islamist daily newspaper Resalat stated that the IRGC carried out the recent detention and release of 10 U.S. Navy sailors on two coastal patrol boats on Iran’s Farsi Island in the Persian Gulf.

“The Americans should understand that [the nuclear agreement] does not mean the end of the fight against the encroaching policies of America,” the paper stated in an editorial. “The great actions of the IRGC and Washington’s retreat in this incident are significant issues. America should understand that the war formation of the IRGC was very serious on that day, and if they had continued their actions, they would be facing a different fate in the region today.”

IRGC naval forces are “counting the minutes until circumstances arise that will allow them to” fire missiles at U.S. vessels as directed by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

After nearly two years of delay in the face of pressure from China, the South Korean government is signaling that it favors deployment of a new ground-based missile defense system that can counter North Korean missiles. The Seoul government has delayed allowing the Pentagon to deploy the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in South Korea since early 2014.

Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, had sought the missile defense, considered one of the most effective against medium-range missiles.

But China has opposed the THAAD deployment in South Korea, claiming the missile defenses could be used to counter Beijing’s own large and growing missile force. Beijing has offered economic and trade incentives to the government of South Korean President Park Geun-hye. However, the recent underground nuclear test by North Korea is spurring the South Korean military to seek the defense system.

On Monday, South Korea’s defense minister announced that he favors deploying the system.

“The deployment of a THAAD battery clearly needs to be seen from defense and security points of view,” Defense Minister Han Min-goo told reporters.

The state-run newspaper China Daily then published an article arguing against THAAD deployment.

“Deploying the anti-missile system on the peninsula would mainly serve the interests of the U.S., which wants to generate more deterrent effects on both China and Russia, drive a wedge between Beijing and Seoul, and expedite its trilateral military coordination with Japan and the ROK,” said the report, written by a Chinese official using the acronym for South Korea’s official name, the Republic of Korea.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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