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05 Aug 21. Palauan President, Austin Discuss Indo-Pacific Security Concerns. Palauan President Surangel Whipps Jr. met with Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at the Pentagon to discuss ways to strengthen the ties between the two nations to provide for a secure and free Indo-Pacific.
The Republic of Palau is 340-plus islands strategically placed in the Western Pacific bordering the Philippines. The nation became independent in 1981 and entered a Compact of Free Association with the United States in 1994.
Palau is heavily dependent on tourism and has some of the best scuba diving spots in the world. While the nation has felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic — tourism has been curtailed — it has been very successful in combating the virus itself. “Today, you have, as I understand it, zero confirmed cases,” Austin said at the beginning of the meeting with the president. “And Palau is the first country that vaccinated 80 percent of the population,” said Austin, adding that the statistic is impressive.
Austin began the meeting by thanking President Whipps for the service of his father in the U.S. Army during the 1960s. As part of the compact, Palauns serve in the U.S. military. Austin noted that 500 of the president’s countrymen serve today.
“I want to underscore that the Department of Defense is deeply committed to our defense responsibilities as a part of the Compact of Free Association, and we look forward to successful negotiations of the economic assistance provisions of that compact that will strengthen our strategic partnership and help us to promote a free, open and secure region,” Austin said.
Palau hosts U.S. forces, and, as the Indo-Pacific becomes ever more important to the United States, the nation will play a greater role. “We appreciate the opportunity to also deploy equipment to Palau that lets us exercise our joint capability and enhanced deterrence,” the secretary said. “The U.S. military presence in Palau and across the Pacific Islands is deeply important to our shared goals of partnership and prosperity, and we are grateful for your cooperation and hospitality.”
Whipps told Austin that the partnership between Palau and the United States is special. He said during a recent meeting on Guam, the DOD personnel said they were committed to defending the homeland, and Palau is part of the homeland, he said.
“I always say that presence is deterrence,” Whipps said. “I was fortunate a few weeks ago to be watching U.S. special forces conduct exercises in Palau. It was extremely exciting to see what they’re capable of doing. We want to continue to strengthen the partnership because we believe in a free and open Indo-Pacific.” (Source: US DoD)
04 Aug 21. Indian Navy to send task force on months-long Indo-Pacific deployment. Amid heightened tensions with neighbouring China, India announced on 2 August that it will send a naval task force on a months-long deployment to Southeast Asia, the South China Sea, and the Western Pacific as part of efforts by New Delhi to enhance military co-operation with ‘friendly countries’ in the region under its ‘Act East’ policy.
Taking part in the Indo-Pacific deployment, which will start in early August and last more than two months, will be Indian Navy (IN) Rajput (Kashin II)-class destroyer Ranvijay , Shivalik (Project 17)-class frigate Shivalik , Kamorta (Project 28)-class corvette Kadmatt , and Kora (Project 25A)-class corvette Kora , all of which are assigned to the IN’s Eastern Fleet.
Along the way, the warships are scheduled to participate in bilateral exercises with the Vietnam People’s Navy, the Philippine Navy, the Republic of Singapore Navy (as part of the ‘SIMBEX’ series), the Indonesian Navy (‘Samudra Shakti’), and the Royal Australian Navy (‘AUSINDEX’). They are also scheduled to participate in the ‘Malabar-21′ multilateral exercise in the Western Pacific alongside the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, the Royal Australian Navy, and the US Navy.
“The deployment of the Indian Navy ships seeks to underscore the operational reach, peaceful presence, and solidarity with friendly countries towards ensuring good order in the maritime domain and to strengthen existing bonds between India and countries of the Indo-Pacific [region],” said the Indian government’s Press Information Bureau (PIB) in a statement. (Source: Jane’s)
05 Aug 21. Afghanistan: Air Strikes Target Taliban In South As Insurgents Gain In North. There has been intense fighting in recent days, as the Taliban seeks to increase its presence. The Afghan Air Force carried out more air strikes against Taliban positions in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, as the insurgent force made additional gains in the country’s north.
The European Union, United Nations and Human Rights Watch urged both sides to avoid causing civilian casualties as the fighting rages on.
The Taliban has been on the offensive in recent months, as US and NATO forces complete their pullout from the war-torn country.
They have taken vast swathes of land and have now turned their guns on larger urban centres.
A defence ministry statement said air strikes were carried out across the country, including in the southern Helmand province, where the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah is being fiercely contested.
Residents in Lashkar Gah reported heavy bombing near the government radio and television station, which is under Taliban control.
Several wedding halls and a guesthouse of the provincial governor are near the station.
The fighting has driven thousands of people from Kandahar and Helmand provinces in the south to seek refuge in Kandahar city, which is under siege by the Taliban.
Government forces control only three of Kandahar province’s 17 districts.
The battle for the city remains at stalemate despite days of ground and air operations.
Most of the markets are closed, and people in the four displacement camps lack proper access to water under a scorching sun.
In northern Afghanistan, the Taliban have taken control of most of the provincial capital of Sar-e-Pul, the head of its council, Mohammad Noor Rahmani said.
In recent months, the group has gained control of dozens of districts across several provinces in the north..
Meanwhile, the northern Jawzjan province remains under a three-month Taliban attack.
The stronghold of Marshal Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek warlord, has lost eight out of 10 districts to the insurgents, who continue to advance on the capital, Shibirghan city.
The Taliban onslaught seems to have intensified with the start of the final withdrawal of US and NATO troops in late April.
As attacks intensify, Afghan security forces and government troops have retaliated with increasing air strikes, aided by the United States.
This has raised growing concerns about civilian casualties across the country.
“We can tell you that we are deeply concerned about the safety and protection of people in Lashkar Gah, in the south, where tens of thousands of people could be trapped by fighting,” Stephane Dujarric, the United Nations spokesman said on Wednesday.
“We, along with our humanitarian partners in Afghanistan, are assessing needs and responding in the south, as access allows,” he said. (Source: forces.net)
05 Aug 21. Russia’s ongoing grey-zone warfare. While military theorists remain fixated on the civilisational joust between the US and China, the once great Russian bear crept into the shadows building economic, military and informational relationships the world over to challenge US primacy.
The sustained, and perhaps expanded, campaign for Russian influence was analysed by Anne-Marie Slaughter and Heather Ashby in Project Syndicate and appearing on ASPI’s The Strategist this week. Slaughter, chief executive of New America, and Ashby, a foreign policy expert, argue that the country’s deepening global military alliances, arms sales and widespread disinformation campaigns have enabled Russia to sustain, and in fact grow, their influence within the global south despite a weakening national economy.
Is it just sabre rattling?
Despite the overwhelming focus on the South China Sea, or perhaps the sovereignty of Taiwan, the Russian Federation ratified numerous bilateral and multilateral military agreements entrenching their position as a global military superpower.
“Russia has also signed military co-operation pacts with 39 countries (as of early 2020),” Slaughter and Ashby argue, demonstrating the breadth of Russia’s global military reach.
It is crucial that Western military theorists don’t confuse this for simple Russian posturing. Russian groups have probed the resilience of US, European and Australian infrastructure via the use of state-sanctioned (if not state sponsored) cyber attacks. From the Colonial Pipeline attack that shut down some 45 per cent of the US east coast’s gas pipelines, to targeting US 400 hospitals for ransomware attacks amid the coronavirus pandemic and even attacking Queensland’s UnitingCare.
Such targeted attacks on critical civilian infrastructure show that the sabres aren’t simply drawn. Rather, Russia is in the middle of waging a grey-zone war.
Not only does Russia continue to maintain extremely favourable relations with many nations in the global south, according to Slaughter and Ashby they’ve used their liberal arms trade policies to build inroads with the many of the United States’ longstanding allies with whom the US has demonstrated reticence to sell arms.
“The second pillar of Russia’s grand strategy is arms sales. In south-east Asia, Russia is selling weapons to Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam. In the Middle East, where the United States is withdrawing, Russia has effectively opened an arms bazaar,” Slaughter and Ashby maintain.
“In 2017, the United Arab Emirates purchased over US$700m worth of Russian weapons during the International Defense Exhibition and Conference. Egypt has also increased its purchases of Russian arms over the past decade. After the Biden administration temporarily suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia at the beginning of this year, Riyadh looked to Moscow.”
The US also must beware of basing their foreign policy off of little more than an “enemy of my enemy” criteria.
During the Sino-Soviet split, much of the global south was forced to pick their either the USSR or the CCP as their benefactor. As such, many nations that exhibit anti-CCP tendencies have longstanding relationships with Russia, few more obvious than India.
Interestingly, India and Russia have long had a fruitful relationship following a bilateral agreement in 1971, creating a prosperous defence industry relationship.
“More than 60 per cent of India’s defence forces are equipped with Russian weapons. India’s ambition to become an arms exporter also explains why it collaborates with Russia in producing arms,” Anita Inder Sing wrote in Lowy’s The Interpreter earlier in the year.
“Both countries are cooperating in the manufacture of the ‘Brahmos’ missile system and licensed production in India of SU-30 aircraft and T-90 tanks. They reportedly plan to jointly manufacture AK-203 rifles, involving full technology transfer. India’s decision to buy Russia s S-400 missile system – providing India with a sophisticated anti-aircraft weapon – reflects its wish to maximise its military and diplomatic options by being able to diversify its arms suppliers.”
The US must look beyond using an “enemy of my enemy” as a case to build alliances.
Disinformation or charity?
Russia has leveraged long held anti-Western sentiment across the developing world to maintain influence via a well-funded disinformation machine. This has protected and enhanced Russian influence on almost every continent, from Asia to Africa and Latin America.
According to Slaughter and Ashby, this was recently demonstrated via the creation of a Spanish language news source to promote anti-US sentiment across Latin America.
“Russia is also pushing anti-colonialist narratives in Latin America. According to EUvsDisinfo, the Spanish-language social-media accounts of the Russian state-funded news sources RT and Sputnik have more than 26 million followers. Among the stories the Kremlin is peddling is that the US is blocking delivery of Russia’s Covid-19 vaccine, Sputnik V, to Latin America,” the pair argue.
Leveraging these narratives has also been successful in Africa.
“In a meeting with his Sierra Leonean counterpart in May, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recalled that ‘Russia, and the Soviet Union, made a decisive contribution to supporting the battle against colonialism’ there.”
“Today, Lavrov continued, Russia believes in ‘an African solution to African problems’ and supports developing-country demands for greater representation on the UN Security Council. While that commitment has yet to be backed up by action, the declaration clearly aims to distinguish Russia from the Western countries that resist reform.”
Russia has not taken a back seat to China as the global hegemon of anti-Western and anti-colonial thought. The country has maintained and enhanced its relationships across the world via military and economic relationships, supported by a disinformation machine. Despite being less vocal, they are still competing for military and political primacy. (Source: Defence Connect)
04 Aug 21. U.S. Will Continue to Operate in South China Sea to Ensure Prosperity for All. There’s a variety of concerns that keep Indo-Pacom on its toes — many centered around the activities of China, which quite often don’t match up with the words that come out of Beijing, its commander said.
“We certainly view with concern many of the actions that we’ve seen from Beijing,” Navy Adm. John C. Aquilino said during a presentation today at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. “I think what I view with most concern are certainly not the words, but the actions that we’ve seen.”
China’s actions in Hong Kong, for instance, reneging on promises of autonomy guaranteed there under agreement in 1997 with the British government, are of concern, Aquilino said.
“Those actions were completely disconnected from the words from Beijing to adhere to the agreement that was in place,” he said. “We see similar actions if you were to look at the border of India — we view that with concern. If you look at the actions associated with the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, and the violations of what we believe — the dignity and respect and human rights — that we view those actions with concern.”
Also of concern for Indo-Pacom are China’s claims on the South China Sea — which Aquilino said interfere with the wellbeing and prosperity of all nations in the region.
“We view with concern [China’s] unlawful claim to the entire South China Sea — directly and negatively impacting all of the countries in the region, from their livelihood, whether it be with fishing or access to natural resources,” Aquilino said. “Those are the things that lead me to believe that our execution of integrated deterrence has to occur now, and with a sense of urgency.”
Ten nations border the South China Sea, and many more nations depend on it for trade with all of those countries, Aquilino said. The prosperity of all depends on continued free access to the waters there.
Roughly a third of liquid natural gas and a quarter of all global trade flows through the South China Sea, Aquilino said. Bordering nations also rely on the sea for resources as well, such as fishing.
“It’s critically important for all nations,” he said. “The unlawful claim to the entire South China Sea threatens all of that. When we talk about the South China Sea, understanding the importance is critical.”
The U.S., in part through Indo-Pacom, works with allies and partners in the region to reduce tensions there, he said.
“We spend a lot of time with our allies and partners to ensure that the international rules-based order is maintained and unlawful claims don’t go without challenge,” he said. “But the Chinese just recently unilaterally renamed 80 geographic features in the area, with an inherent claim that goes with. That’s just counter to what all of the nations in the region would expect, believe, and what they need to maintain their prosperity.”
The U.S. has been operating in the Pacific for more than 80 years now, said Aquilino, and will continue to do so, including in order to maintain the agreed-upon international rules-based orders that the U.S. and all pacific nations depend on to ensure prosperity.
“This attempt to restate what a revisionist history view of claims is just counter to everything that those nations with common values believe,” he said. “We will operate here to ensure that freedom of navigation for all is maintained, and that we will preserve the stability and peace in the [region’s] shared prosperity.” (Source: US DoD)
03 Aug 21. Killer robots need ‘no new rules’ about firing on humans, Russia tells UN. Moscow ‘out on its own’ as other nations seek to prevent autonomous weapons making their own decisions and ‘deciding who lives or dies.’ Lethal drone weapon systems require “no new regulations” over whether they can fire on humans, Russia has said, as the Red Cross warns so-called “killer robots” should not “decide who lives or dies”.
Speaking on Tuesday at a UN conference in Geneva on the ethics of lethal autonomous weapons, the Russian delegate said such systems “ought to comply with the principles of necessity and proportionality” in the same way as human soldiers.
The conference, running until August 13 in the Swiss capital and attended by diplomats from 50 countries, hopes to establish regulations to prevent “killer robots” making their own decisions.
There was a “current lack of convincing justification for imposing new restrictions or prohibitions” on such weapons, Russia’s delegate said.
“The high level of autonomy of these weapons allows [them] to operate within a dynamic conflict situation and in various environments while maintaining an appropriate level of selectivity and precision.
“As a result it ensures the compliance with [existing] rules of international humanitarian law.”
Risk of conflict escalation if machines make life-or-death decisions
The Russian position was not supported by other delegates. The US called for more regulations and for the conference to “endorse more practices” over the use of such weapons.
Dr Neil Davison, a scientific and policy adviser at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said autonomous systems were dangerous because “the user doesn’t actually choose what they’re fired at, when they fire or exactly where they fire, so there’s inherent risk to civilians in that.”
Speaking on the BBC Radio’s Today programme, he warned of the “risks of conflict escalation” by allowing machines a greater say in when to use lethal force.
“Humans must apply the rules of international humanitarian law in carrying out attacks so weapons that function in this way complicate that.
“Our view is that an algorithm shouldn’t decide who lives or dies.”
The value of AI
Autonomous weapon systems using Artificial Intelligence (AI) include drones able to operate in the air, on the land and above and below water.
Proponents say they limit the risk to human life by allowing fewer soldiers to be placed in harm’s way, whilst ethics campaigners fear humans will eventually be removed from the decision-making process of when to open fire.
Last year’s conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan showed how drones can have a decisive edge on the modern battlefield.
Over 40 per cent of Armenia’s tanks and armoured vehicles were destroyed by so-called suicide drones that were able to scan the ground to identify military kit before attacking.
Experts warn that achieving international consensus on a “legally binding obligation to retain meaningful human control over the use of force is difficult yet imperative to achieve”.
The ‘violation of human dignity’
Frank Sauer, a member of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, and research fellow at the Bundeswehr University in Munich, said “unintended conflict escalation at machine speed and the violation of human dignity outweigh any short-term military benefits”.
“Some states, most prominently Russia, have displayed no interest in producing new international law” to regulate autonomy in weapon systems, Mr Sauer said in a paper for the International Review of the Red Cross,
Producing any new law was difficult as it “requires new diplomatic language and because the military value of weapon autonomy is hard to forgo in the current arms control winter”.
“The strategic as well as ethical risks outweigh the military benefits of unshackled weapon autonomy,” he warned.
The ‘one ring to rule them all’ is AI
Speaking exclusively to the Telegraph in Estonia earlier this year, General Sir Patrick Sanders, the head of Britain’s Strategic Command, said developing AI systems was not a quest for killer robots.
The UK military’s cyber chief said Britain would be “mad” not to aim to be a world leader in AI, adding such systems would be central to emerging technologies such as quantum computing, biotechnology and the military’s use of cyberspace.
“Of all the new technologies, the one ring to rule them all is AI.
“There’s a lot of concern out there about killer robots and ethics. Actually the real use of AI is to support humans, to be under the command of humans.
“The idea of human-machine teaming implies you can team with a computer. There isn’t a team, the humans are in charge.” (Source: Daily Telegraph)
03 Aug 21. SANDF equipment spotted in Mozambique. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that up to 1 500 South African National Defence Force members would be deployed to Mozambique made no mention of the equipment that would accompany them. Now, images have emerged of the armoured vehicles, ships and other vehicles that are supporting the South African contingent.
Videos circulating on social media showed convoys of vehicles in Mozambique, including Casspir armoured personnel carriers, Mfezi armoured ambulances, Toyota Land Cruisers fitted with what appear to be anti-aircraft artillery, Samil trucks, tankers and bakkies. One convoy caught on video comprised over a dozen vehicles.
The vehicles, believed to be from 43 SA Brigade, were first seen moving through the border post of Ressano Garcia at Komatipoort on Saturday 31 July.
In addition to vehicles on land, naval vessels arrived in Pemba over the weekend. The SA Navy’s offshore patrol vessel SAS Makhanda was seen alongside Mozambican naval vessels, and will form part of the maritime contingent of the Southern African Development Community’s intervention brigade (SADC Mission in Mozambique). SA Navy patrol vessels are no stranger to Mozambican waters, having undertaken a number of patrols in the Mozambique Channel under Operation Copper.
In the air, South African Air Force C-130BZ Hercules transports have been flying between Air Force Base Waterkloof and Pemba. They were first seen delivering South African Special Forces and their Hornet vehicles in mid-July. At least one Cessna Caravan is based at Pemba – it may be fitted with the Koiler observation system for surveillance flights.
Major General Xolani Mankayi, formerly the commander of 43 SA Brigade, has been appointed the SADC intervention brigade’s force commander, with a Botswana general acting as his second-in-command.
Botswana on 26 July formally dispatched 300 troops to Mozambique as part of its contribution to the SADC force whilst South Africa has authorised the deployment of up to 1 495 South African National Defence Force members to Mozambique between 15 July and 15 October. Advance elements from South Africa and Botswana arrived in Mozambique in mid-July.
Botswana Defence Force (BDF) vehicles were seen moving through Gondola, Mozambique, on 31 July. One of the convoys captured on video revealed two dozen vehicles, including trucks and armoured vehicles being transported on low bed trucks – although hidden by camouflage nets, these are likely to be Mowag Piranha 8×8 armoured vehicles. The trucks included MAN TG 4x4s as well as water/fuel tankers, recovery vehicles etc.
Angola announced last week announced it had approved a contingent for Mozambique, for three months. The 30-strong contingent will depart on 6 August. Zimbabwe will send 304 soldiers to help train Mozambican security forces while non-SADC member Rwanda has sent 1 000 troops under a separate bilateral agreement.
South Africa’s deployment to Mozambique will cost R984m, according to a presidential letter dated 23 July. According to the letter, the South African military contingent is in Mozambique in fulfilment of an international obligation toward the Southern African Development Community in order to support Mozambique to combat acts of terrorism and violent extremism in Cabo Delgado province.
Jasmine Opperman, an analyst at the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), told eNCA that the three-month deployment of the SANDF will not even be close enough to make a difference. “To make a difference in Cabo Delgado, three months is not enough. We are looking at…a two to three year presence to create stability to enable development, to enable humanitarian support… a three months deployment will only favour the insurgents, who will benefit their propaganda voice via the Islamic State and will simply be exposing our soldiers to a rushed engagement on the battlefield.”
Defence expert Helmoed Heitman echoed similar sentiments, telling Cape Talk that “three months is not enough… It takes a lot of time. There’s no quick fix.” He said South Africa should have deployed forces to Mozambique last year already as “it’s not in our interest for any country in the neighbourhood to fall apart… In our own interest, we would like Mozambique to be stable and prosperous.” (Source: DefenceWeb)
02 Aug 21. Indonesia increases amount of foreign defence loans approved for 2021. The Indonesian Ministry of Finance (MoF) has granted approval for the country’s armed forces (Tentara Nasional Indonesia: TNI) and defence ministry to obtain up to USD5.8bn in foreign loans for the 2021 financial year. Permissions to source for foreign loans have been approved for a total of 31 procurement, upgrades, and maintenance programmes across all three services of the TNI, according to documents and circulars that have been provided to Janes by Indonesian government sources. The approvals have been granted after consultations with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Ministry of National Development Planning (Kementerian Perencanaan Pembangunan Nasional: BAPPENAS). The amount approved for 2021 represents an increase of almost 550% when compared to the USD894m in foreign defence loans approved for six programmes 2019. In further comparison, the Indonesian MoF approved USD2.4bn and USD4.4bn in foreign credit for 2016 and 2017 respectively. There were no foreign defence loans approved in 2018 and 2020. Among programmes that can now funded with proceeds from foreign loans include the R-73 (AA-11 ‘Archer’) infrared homing dogfight missile, for which a total of USD15.7m has been approved, and the Vympel R-27 (AA-10 ‘Alamo’) air-to-air missile, which can be funded for up to USD36m in foreign defence credits. In addition, the MoD has also obtained approval to source up to USD750m in loans for ground-controlled interception radar systems and up to USD540m for medium-range missiles, launchers, and its associated systems. (Source: Jane’s)
02 Aug 21. USA “confident drone attack on Gulf tanker conducted by Iran.”
“Upon review of the available information, we are confident that Iran conducted this attack, which killed two innocent people, using one-way explosive UAVs,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement of 1 August 2021, following an attack on an Israeli-managed petroleum product tanker off the coast of Oman on Thursday that killed a Briton and a Romanian.
“There is no justification for this attack, which follows a pattern of attacks and other belligerent behaviour,” said the Antony Biden. “These actions threaten freedom of navigation through this crucial waterway, international shipping and commerce, and the lives of those on the vessels involved. We are working with our partners to consider our next steps and consulting with governments inside the region and beyond on an appropriate response, which will be forthcoming. “
Iran has denied it carried out the attack. Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh “slammed baseless allegations by the Zionist regime against Iran regrading attack on tanker.”
According to Associated Press, the strike Thursday night on the oil tanker Mercer Street marks the first-known fatal attack after years of assaults on commercial shipping in the region linked to tensions with Iran over its tattered nuclear deal. While no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, Israeli officials alleged Tehran launched the drone strike.
According to the United States Institute for Peace Since 2004, Iran has provided drones, components or designs to proxies in at least four locations: Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, and Gaza. Tehran’s drone exports vary in mission, range, and capabilities. “The shortest range can fly only 15 km, or nine miles, while the longest can fly 1,700 km, or 1,000 miles. Some drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), allow Iran’s allies to spy on enemies, while others are used to conduct low-cost kamikaze attacks from a distance.”
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