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Sept. 11, 2014
Notes from the Pentagon

An imminent beheading?
Counterterrorism officials are concerned that the Islamic State will behead a British hostage next week, noting consistencies in the terrorist group’s decapitations of two American journalists.

Analysts say the video releases of the beheadings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff took place two weeks apart and both were made public on a Tuesday evening.

If the timing was calculated, officials are concerned that the Islamic State will similarly murder British hostage David Haines on Tuesday.

Mr. Haines, a worker for a French non-governmental organization, was shown at the end of the Sotloff video dressed in an orange jumpsuit. The terrorist who spoke on the video said Mr. Haines would be the group’s next victim.

The videos of the Foley and Sotloff beheadings showed a masked, British-accented jihadist cutting off the American journalists’ heads, sparking global outrage and prompting calls for U.S. intervention against the Islamic State.

The first video was released Aug. 19 on an official Islamic State account on the small-scale social networking service called Diaspora.

The second video was released almost exactly two weeks later on an Islamic State account on the Russian social media service Vkontackte — the new outlet for the al Qaeda offshoot following the shutdown of official accounts on Twitter and Diaspora.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert outlined the Navy’s role in the so-called pivot to Asia this week, stating that the shift to the region has three elements: “forces, capabilities and understanding.”

In a speech Monday to a think tank, Adm. Greenert said there are no plans to end U.S. surveillance flights of China, despite pressure from Beijing to do so.

As part of the shift, the Navy will move its most advanced forces to the region, including two new Aegis-equipped destroyers to Japan, another attack submarine to Guam, and four littoral combat ships to Singapore — a modest increase in firepower that reflects the service’s problems resulting from the Obama administration’s sharp cuts in defense spending.

Enhanced naval capabilities in the Pacific, the four-star admiral said, include better electronic warfare, undersea warfare, advanced anti-aircraft warfare and cyber warfare capacities.

The “understanding” element involves creating closer “relations and exchanges” with allies and partners in Asia and bolstering security assurances, Adm. Greenert said in a speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

In a signal to China, whose main strategic goal is to drive U.S. forces out of Asia and assume unchallenged regional power, Adm. Greenert made clear that the United States is not leaving.

“So we’re going to be in this region, economically and politically — it’s critical,” he said. “And we’ll be staying in the South China Sea, and we’ll be staying in the East China Sea.”

Both seas in recent months were the scenes of Chinese military bullying of its neighbors as part of Beijing’s expansive maritime claims on the resource-rich waters.

Significantly, Adm. Greenert threw cold water on China’s latest propaganda campaign aimed at pressuring the Pentagon to halt all surveillance flights near Chinese coasts. That campaign began last month after a Chinese Su-27 fighter nearly collided with a Navy P-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft near the South China Sea in a move the Pentagon called “dangerous” and “unprofessional.”

“We will continue to operate in international airspace,” the admiral said. “We’ve made that clear and we will continue.”

Pressed on whether U.S. surveillance flights would be halted, he stated: “There’s no intention that I’m aware of to do that. We’re flying in international airspace.”

Asked about the P-8 incident, Adm. Greenert said he was concerned by the “unprofessional activity — and we have clear documentation that it was unprofessional” and was worried it would occur again.

The Pentagon, which has made a priority of developing closer ties with China, tried to keep the incident from becoming public and only revealed the Aug. 19 aerial encounter after press inquiries.

Adm. Greenert revealed after the speech that he has had discussions with Taiwan on helping the island buy or build submarines.

“I’ve had conversations with my Taiwan counterpart. I won’t discuss them here, I can’t,” he said.

Xi urges PLA to wage ‘infowar’
Chinese President Xi Jinping is urging the People’s Liberation Army to shift its focus from preparing solely for a future conventional and nuclear conflict to developing “information warfare” capabilities as part of Beijing’s military buildup.

Mr. Xi called for developing advanced military capabilities, including information warfare, as part of what he termed the global revolution in military affairs — a term coined by the Soviet Union’s military and later adopted by the U.S. military for what is now high-technology and intelligence-driven warfare.

The military reforms were discussed during a meeting Aug. 29 of the ruling Communist Party’s Central Committee. In addition to being Chinese president, Mr. Xi is chairman of the Central Military Commission — the ultimate power organ in China that directs all military activities.

“Faced with the severe challenges to our national security and stability and the deep-seated contradictions and problems with reform, it is even more pressing that we greatly liberate our ideas and concepts, have the courage to change our fixed mindsets of mechanized warfare, and establish the ideological concept of information warfare,” Mr. Xi was quoted as saying in state media.

State-run China National Television, the Internet propaganda broadcaster, reported Sept. 2 that “apart from safeguarding the country’s sovereignty and territory, Mr. Xi emphasized strategic interests and the ability to counter non-traditional security threats including economic threats” — an indication China is preparing to wage economic warfare in the future.

China currently holds $1.28 trillion worth of U.S. government bonds, and Chinese military leaders in the past have threatened to use the debt holdings to punish the United States for arms sales to Taiwan.

The directive to build information warfare capabilities follows disclosure in a Pentagon report earlier this year that China is engaged in information warfare.

The report produced for the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment, an internal think tank, identified China’s “three warfares” as psychological, media and legal warfare used as surrogates for conventional and nuclear war.

The report warned that the U.S. government and military are ill-prepared for countering Chinese information warfare since military academies and service schools do not teach the subject.

“The Three Warfares is a dynamic, three-dimensional war-fighting process that constitutes war by other means,” said Cambridge University professor Stefan Halper, who directed the study. “It is China’s weapon of choice in the South China Sea.”

The report said China uses information warfare to counter U.S. power projection.

“The United States is one of four key audiences targeted by the campaign, as part of China’s broader military strategy of ‘anti-access/area denial’ in the South China Sea,” the report said.

According to the report, China will employ information warfare on issues ranging from its dispute with Japan over control of the East China Sea’s Senkaku Islands, to political posturing in the South China Sea with Vietnam and Philippines.

“If the Three Warfares is not a ‘game changer,’ it certainly has the capacity to modify the game in substantial ways,” the report concludes.

Rick Fisher, a China military affairs analyst, said the disclosure is a sign China is increasing its military power.

Mr. Xi has ordered the Communist Party to place a high priority on developing cutting-edge doctrine for joint war fighting forces, said Mr. Fisher of the International Assessment and Strategy Center.

“This will likely accelerate changes in military culture, procurement and training,” he said. “In the U.S., ‘jointness’ in part became a necessity to help compensate for declining military size, whereas for China, this will ensure that an ever increasing military force has an even greater effect.”

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.

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