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Jan. 4, 2018
Notes from the Pentagon

China building military base in Pakistan
China is constructing its second overseas military base in Pakistan as part of a push for greater power projection capabilities along strategic sea routes.

The facility will be built at Jiwani, a port close to the Iranian border on the Gulf of Oman, according to two people familiar with deal.

Plans call for the Jiwani base to be a joint naval and air facility for Chinese forces, located a short distance up the coast from the Chinese-built commercial port facility at Gwadar, Pakistan. Both Gwadar and Jiwani are part of Pakistan’s western Baluchistan province.

Plans for the base were advanced during a visit to Jiwani on Dec. 18 by a group of 16 Chinese People’s Liberation Army officers who met with about 10 Pakistani military officers. Jiwani is located on a peninsula about 15 miles long on a stretch of land with one small airfield.

According to sources, the large naval and air base will require the Pakistani government to relocate scores of residents living in the area. Plans call for their relocation to other areas of Jiwani or further inland in Baluchistan province.

The Chinese also asked the Pakistanis to undertake a major upgrade of Jiwani airport so the facility will be able to handle large Chinese military aircraft. Work on the airport improvements is expected to begin in July.

The naval base and airfield will occupy nearly the entire strategic peninsula.

Jiwani will be China’s second major overseas military base. In August, the PLA opened its first foreign base in Djibouti, a small African nation on the Horn of Africa.

The Pentagon has dubbed China’s foreign military basing ambitions the “string of pearls” strategy. The Chinese are planning to set up bases along a line of states stretching from the Persian Gulf through the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia.

The military bases are part of a bid by Beijing to protect strategic sea lanes used to transport oil and other resources for China’s large energy-consuming modernization.

Chinese Communist Party and military leaders fear the country could be crippled by foreign powers through a blockade or other military interdiction operations to disrupt oil shipments to China along the sea route during a crisis or conflict.

China’s government has sought to downplay the Djibouti base as merely a logistics facility for anti-piracy sea patrols in the region and not a power-projection tool. Similar propaganda will be used to limit international reaction to the Jiwani base.

Some Pentagon officials, however, regard the Djibouti base and the future second base at Jiwani as part of efforts to control oil shipping in and out of the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. Both Chinese bases are located near strategic chokepoints — Djibouti near the Bab el Mandeb on the Red Sea and Jiwani close to the Strait of Hormuz on the Persian Gulf.

Pakistan’s military also has been moving additional troops and security forces into nearby Gwadar, where China has invested heavily in building a commercial port and other infrastructure projects.

President Trump on Monday issued a harsh rebuke of Pakistan, tweeting that the United States “foolishly” supplied Pakistan with $33 billion in aid over 15 years and stating that “they have given us nothing but lies & deceit.”

“They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” Mr. Trump tweeted.

Reuters reported that China’s investment has included $500 million in grants and $230 million for an international airport.

China is also promoting what Beijing calls the Belt and Road Initiative, a development program of land and sea routes over 60 nations in Asia, Europe and Africa.

As part of that initiative, China plans to turn Gwadar into a megaport for transshipping goods worldwide, along with energy pipelines, roads and rail links connecting to western China. Chinese naval and air forces at nearby Jiwani would then provide protection for that base.

China also has leased a port on the Indian Ocean island of Sri Lanka that recently opened at Hambantota. The facility has raised concerns in India that views China as a growing regional and global threat.

Defense Secretary James Mattis recently voiced concerns that foreign jihadis being driven from Syria and Iraq will move to other parts of the region and around the world to conduct terrorist attacks.

But the retired four-star Marine Corps general told reporters Dec. 29 that U.S. and allied forces are working to crush all remnants of the Islamic State terrorist group.

Mr. Mattis said the strategy put into place by the Trump administration is producing good results, despite criticism that the military efforts were not moving fast enough.

“We deal with reality,” he said. “We told you that the caliphate was going to go down. Well, there were numerous people who thought perhaps the strategy was wrong when it was initiated by the last administration, thought it was too slow when I came in, thought there was this complexity with Turkey or that complexity with the Russian regime or the Iranians.

“We sit here today at the end of 2017, [and] the caliphate is on the run,” he added. “We are breaking them.”

The terrorists’ capital of Raqqa in Syria was retaken along with other Islamic State strongholds at Manbij and Tabqa.

“Some people escaped,” he said. “That’s what happens in war. They moved, clearly, into the Middle Euphrates River Valley. We are in the process of crushing the life out of the caliphate there while trying to keep the innocent people safe, which is very hard with this group.”

Mr. Mattis said the fleeing terrorists are “not a big issue.”

“They’ll have to be hunted down,” he noted, adding that the remnants of the organized terrorists have been launching counterattacks.

So far, the Islamic State does not appear capable of regrouping within some safe havens in the region, such as central Iraq.

“They’ve been shattered, and then the remnants gather somewhere, which is what we expect them to do, and so we have repeatedly said in this room the war is not over,” Mr. Mattis said.

The defense secretary said the objective is to so weaken the Islamic State where the danger can be handled by local forces and police.

But hunting down Islamic State fighters is continuing.

“Am I worried about it? Not in the least,” Mr. Mattis said. “These guys have not proven they can stand against the Iraqi security forces. They cannot stand against the [Syrian Democratic Forces]. Their best bet is against unarmed men, women and children, and once they’re confronted with this, it’s mostly an intelligence fight. Once the intelligence fight is won, once we identify where they’re at, it’s just a matter of: Can we surround them so they don’t get away to fight another, and then kill them? It’s not who’s going to win.”

The comments on Syria by Defense Secretary James Mattis last week came during one of his infrequent press briefings that in the past took place unannounced in the small reporters’ office near the Pentagon press office in the eastern wing of the five-sided building.

Mr. Mattis often conducted the press sessions after picking up his laundry from the Pentagon dry cleaners. That format forced press outlets to keep reporters in the office at all times to avoid missing a potential news story.

Mr. Mattis told the gathered scribes last week that he would try to provide more notice for his impromptu stop-bys.

The defense chief said he was pressed by The Associated Press’ Bob Burns, a veteran Pentagon reporter, to regularize the press meetings and promised to try to announce them in advance.

“The problem with that is that, if I do that and tell you in advance, and then something comes up and I don’t show up, then that becomes the story,” said Mr. Mattis, who is considered one of the Trump administration’s senior officials who is very cautious when speaking to reporters.

“You just have to understand, there are times when other things come up that intrude on my schedule,” he said. “And it’s like anything else on my schedule. I may just dismiss the forward officers who spent two weeks preparing the brief for me because something’s come up and I’ve got to go over to State Department or need to run out to some other place.”

Mr. Mattis said his press meetings generally will take place later in the week since Monday is “when I have the least control of my schedule, and it actually gets better during the week.”

“But, if something goes on in Korea or something like that, then things change. That’s the way it is.”

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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