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15 Apr 21. Southcom Can use More ISR Capacity, Security Cooperation. With transnational criminal organizations trafficking drugs, guns and people in South and Central America and China, Russia, Iran and Cuba meddling and peddling influence in the region, U.S. Southern Command has its hands full working to keep the neighborhood safe. Increased intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capacity and a greater ability to offer security cooperation opportunities to partner nations can help with that, Southcom’s commander said today.
“Modest investments in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, security cooperation and presence go a long way in the hemisphere and will help us and our partners counter these global threats,” said Navy Adm. Craig S. Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command, during a House Appropriations Committee hearing.
In addition to threats posed by transnational criminal organizations and the involvement of China, Russia, Iran and Cuba, environmental threats — such as hurricanes and the COVID-19 pandemic — have made keeping Southcom’s area of responsibility safe an even greater challenge, Faller told lawmakers.
“Now, more than ever, I feel a deep sense of urgency that our region is under assault from a vicious circle [of] threats,” said Faller. “And these are global threats, and they are right here, right now in our neighborhood.”
Faller told lawmakers that an increase in ISR capabilities for Southcom would be helpful to the command. Right now, he said, Southcom uses only about 1% of U.S. ISR capabilities.
“Our intel drives everything we do,” he said. “We turn it into knowledge; we share it where we can, particularly with our own U.S. government agencies. It helps us understand what’s on the field and how to best respond long term.”
Faller said, in the past, a special “ISR transfer fund” provided additional funding to support ISR activities in the department — including for Southcom — but that fund wasn’t present in the FY2021 budget.
“We’ve used that ISR transfer fund money to do work in that environment, and we’ve uncovered a considerable amount of useful information that we’ve been able to pass to the host nations for their action, our law enforcement partners, and, in some cases, it’s … used to be able to illuminate malign Chinese and Russian behavior,” he said.
The admiral said he would like to see additional support for ISR at Southcom in the upcoming budget.
“While we have not seen the full budget for FY22, I would anticipate that the top of my unfunded requirements list will be … the need for additional ISR, to include what we call non-traditional ISR,” he said, adding that this includes machine learning and artificial intelligence to look through the large amounts of commercially-available data on foreign adversaries.
A big part of what Southcom offers in its area of responsibility is security cooperation through the military-to-military relationships the U.S. forges with partner nations there.
“Security cooperation is key,” he said. “That’s what builds partner capacity. That’s how we become more interoperable with partners. The U.S. has the best equipment in the world, and partners want our equipment; and it’s a long-term relationship.”
Additional funding for enhanced security cooperation opportunities is something Southcom needs more of, he said.
“As the budget is unveiled, I believe that’ll be at the top of my unfunded priorities,” he said. “There’s more that could be invested in the capacity. We sit at about $120 million for 28 countries to help them build. It’s a good investment long-term for both the United States and our partners. It keeps them close; it’s a relationship.”
Faller also cited, specifically, the importance of defense attachés in U.S. embassies.
“Those are our frontlines in our embassy,” he said. “We should look at the manning of our embassies. It is very, very lightly manned for today’s competition. And then look at where we’re postured as a military and where is the United States postured? In this hemisphere, it’s the right thing to not have permanent bases, to have light locations where we can come in and out and work with our partners on their training and readiness.” (Source: US DoD)
15 Apr 21. Biden signals new US approach to war with Afghan withdrawal. President countermands decades of counterinsurgency doctrine advocated by Pentagon officials. When asked whether members of Joe Biden’s national security team disagreed with his decision to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan, the White House press secretary acknowledged there had been dissent. “[T]he president welcomed the advice, welcomed at times disagreement about what the appropriate path forward should be,” Jen Psaki said on Wednesday, adding that Biden had asked his national security team “not to sugarcoat it”. Psaki may have been underplaying their opposition. Over nearly two decades, influential military strategists in Washington and senior officers at the Pentagon have used Afghanistan to change the way the American armed forces fights its wars, and steadfastly resisted efforts to withdraw without signs Kabul could stand on its own. Discarding Cold War-era doctrines focused on set-piece manoeuvre warfare, top US commanders in Afghanistan like generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal turned the US army into a counterinsurgency force, which needed boots on the ground to pacify the local populace. Biden fought that troop-heavy strategy since his early days as vice-president more than a decade ago, where he lost out to the military brass in then-President Barack Obama’s Afghan war review.
But on Wednesday, Biden made clear his views have never changed. Asked as he visited the graves of America’s recent war dead if it had been a hard decision to make, the US president said: “No it wasn’t. It was absolutely clear. Absolutely clear.” From the very beginning, you may recall, I never thought we were there to somehow unify . . . Afghanistan Joe Biden The US president’s certainty is not shared by those who disagreed with him a decade ago, some of whom are back in his own administration. Biden’s own CIA director Bill Burns told the Senate this week that a decision to pull out would hamper US intelligence efforts trained on the threat from Islamist groups in the region, including some who can trace their lineage back to the September 11, 2001 attacks masterminded on Afghan soil. “When the time comes for the US military to withdraw, the US government’s ability to collect and act on threats will diminish. That’s simply a fact,” Burns told the Senate intelligence committee. But even Biden’s critics — which include counterinsurgents such as Petraeus as well as some liberal internationalists advocating nation-building and interventionist rightwing hawks — acknowledge he has never wavered. Michael O’Hanlon, a senior adviser to the bipartisan Afghanistan Study Group which recommended extending the US presence earlier this year, said Biden was taking on retired generals such as McChrystal and Petraeus who had “star power” as well “the conventional wisdom of the establishment”. “It wasn’t so much generals versus civilians as one worldview versus another,” he said, adding Pentagon officials, uniformed military and civilian advisers had also been divided over the troop surge at the time. “From the very beginning, you may recall, I never thought we were there to somehow unify . . . Afghanistan,” Biden said during Wednesday’s cemetery visit. “It’s never been done. It’s never been done.”
The president’s decision to withdraw the remaining 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan by September 11 — the 20th anniversary of the attacks — achieves something both of his predecessors failed to achieve. By acceding to the military’s insistence to a “conditions-based withdrawal”, Obama and Donald Trump found themselves outflanked by the uniformed military, forced to keep troops on the ground until conditions changed to the generals’ liking. Biden made clear he viewed the conditions-based criteria as a way for America to continue “the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan”. Unlike Obama and Trump, who were comparatively new to Washington’s foreign policy debates when they took office, longtime observers say Biden escaped being steamrollered by Washington’s foreign policy establishment thanks to his long foreign policy pedigree, including as lead Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for 12 years. “President Biden has been to this rodeo before,” said Frederick Kagan, an early advocate for a counterinsurgency strategy at the conservative American Enterprise Institute who served as a civilian adviser to McChrystal in Afghanistan. Despite campaigning on a US withdrawal, Trump sent an additional 3,000 troops to Afghanistan in 2017 before bringing the numbers down to 2,500 by the end of his term in office. “I think Trump was turned around: I think it’s clear that he did want to order all the forces out and then ended up bowing to contrary advice,” added Kagan, who called Biden’s decision “catastrophic”. At the roots of Biden’s policy has been the strict limits to what he thought the US could and should achieve militarily. Instead of a nationwide counterinsurgency, he has long argued for tactics focused solely on ending any safe haven for terrorists and hunting down September 11 organiser Osama bin Laden. According to the diaries of Richard Holbrooke, the state department’s top Afghan hand in 2009-10, partially published in a 2019 biography by George Packer, Biden believed the US military had been given a remit that was beyond its competence, including social goals such as gender rights. Recommended Edward Luce The puzzle of Joe Biden’s ‘middle class foreign policy’ “When I mentioned the women’s issue [in Afghanistan], Biden erupted. Almost rising from his chair, he said, ‘I am not sending my boy back there to risk his life on behalf of women’s rights, it just won’t work, that’s not what they’re there for’.” Biden confirmed Holbrooke’s recollection in an interview last year with CBS, adding he bore “zero responsibility” for the fate of women in the country should the Taliban return to power as a result of US withdrawal. “He can take the hit,” said Joe Cirincione, a longtime antiwar campaigner who is now at the Quincy Institute, of the mounting political criticism of Biden’s decision. “He is confident enough in himself.” Cirincione also said policymakers should not underestimate the president’s personal experience, something Biden touched on in announcing his decision: “I’m the first president in 40 years who knows what it means to have a child serve in a war zone.” (Source: FT.com)
14 Apr 21. Biden admin moving ahead with UAE F-35, drone sales for now. The U.S. State Department is moving forward with the sale of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and MQ-9 drones to the United Arab Emirates, a decision which will now face a legal challenge from a nonprofit seeking to halt the weapons agreement.
At stake is an arms package approved in the waning days of the Trump administration, which includes 50 F-35s,18 MQ–9B Reapers, as well as thousands of munitions and hundreds of missiles. The total sale comes with an estimated $23bn price tag.
In December, the New York Center for Foreign Policy Affairs, or NYCFPA, filled a legal claim that the Trump administration failed to provide a reasonable explanation for its decision to sell F-35 fighter jets and other weapons to the UAE, which would place it in breach of the Administrative Procedure Act.
In January, the Biden administration announced a blanket review of all recent arms sales cleared by the Trump administration. While it notably froze a pair of weapons deals for Saudi Arabia, the administration had never put in place a hard freeze on the UAE equipment.
A State Department spokesman said in a statement that “the Administration intends to move forward with these proposed defense sales to the UAE, even as we continue reviewing details and consulting with Emirati officials to ensure we have developed mutual understandings with respect to Emirati obligations before, during, and after delivery.”
In a Tuesday statement, the NYCFPA said that as a result of the Biden administration deciding not to halt the sales, it will file an amended complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
A December effort to derail the weapons sale in the Senate failed, largely along party lines. This week’s decision by the State Department was first reported by Reuters.
While the decision not to immediately cut off the UAE from arms sales may be a disappointment to advocacy groups concerned about the country’s use of air power in the Yemen conflict, it does not mean the Biden administration has made a final, locked-in determination on the UAE’s purchase.
At any point between now and delivery of the weapons systems — which, for the F-35s, may take until 2025 or 2026 — the administration can slam on the brakes, as it can with all weapons deals.
“Projected delivery dates on these sales, if eventually implemented, will be several years in the future. Thus, we anticipate a robust and sustained dialogue with the UAE to any defense transfers [in order to] meet our mutual strategic objectives to build a stronger, interoperable, and more capable security partnership,” the State Department spokesman said. “We will also continue to reinforce with the UAE and all recipients of U.S. defense articles and services that U.S.-origin defense equipment must be adequately secured and used in a manner that respects human rights and fully complies with the laws of armed conflict.” (Source: Defense News)
13 Apr 21. DOD Modernization Can’t Happen Alone, Defense Official Says. Technology development that’s competitive with that of adversaries is something the Defense Department can’t accomplish on its own. It must be done in partnership with academia, partner nations and the U.S. private sector technology industry, said the DOD official who’s performing the duties of the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering.
“Presenting a credible deterrent to potential adversaries requires us to develop and field emerging technologies,” Barbara McQuisto, told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee. “We must innovate at speed and scale. Success requires more than a go-it-alone approach. We must explore more flexible partnerships with the private sector and academia, with small businesses and [historically black colleges and universities]. We must reinvigorate our federal research capabilities, elevate science, promote technology and expand partnerships with our allies.”
One area where that effort is happening now, McQuisto said, is at the Defense Innovation Unit. The DIU was designed to more quickly bring technology being developed within the private sector into the DOD.
“With the activities to date, they have 189 companies now on contract,” McQuisto told senators. “75% are small business, 32% are first-time vendors and 10% have already transitioned into military use — and that’s the key, to be flexible and to work at speed, at commercial speed, in order to integrate the technology rapidly into the service.”
Also part of research and engineering is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which has been at the very edge of technology development of the Defense Department for more than 60 years, said Stefanie Tompkins, DARPA’s director.
Tompkins told senators DARPA has partnered with academia and the private sector to bring to fruition technologies, including stealth, precision-guided weapons, unmanned aerial vehicles, the internet, automated voice recognition, language translation and GPS receivers. DARPA’s role today is equally important, she said.
“At DARPA, we think not just about scientific and engineering innovation, though, but also about the ‘innovation ecosystem.’ That ecosystem includes many overlapping and adjacent communities from academia, industry and government,” she said.
At DARPA, she said, program managers come from outside DARPA, do time within the organization on specific projects, and then return to other places in government, academia or the private sector. In the process of doing that, they enrich both DARPA and the organization from which they came.
A recent example of the value of DARPA, Tompkins said, is with the fight against COVID-19. When she was serving at DARPA about five years ago, she said she often discussed ongoing investments and work DARPA had been involved in regarding messenger RNA vaccines. Messenger RNA, or mRNA, induces the body to produce some harmless spike protein, enough to prime the immune system to react if it later encounters the real virus.
“mRNA vaccines are pretty much a household word today, but at the time, they were much, much more obscure,” she said.
The DARPA investments in mRNA vaccines at the time were based on insight from forward-thinking program managers who saw value in mRNA vaccines for both military use and for public health applications, she said.
“The research that DARPA first initiated more than a decade ago is now playing a leading and catalytic role in today’s fight against COVID-19,” she said.
Today, Tompkins said, DARPA is involved in vaccines and diagnostics, defensive and offensive hypersonic technologies, artificial intelligence, quantum systems, microelectronics solutions and more.
“DARPA has forged new paths and continues to deliver on our mission,” she said. (Source: US DoD)
11 Apr 21. Austin Says U.S. Commitment to Israel Remains ‘Ironclad.’ The United States’ commitment to Israel’s existence and security began moments after Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.
Then-President Harry S. Truman recognized the nation immediately, and the United States has become a strong strategic partner through U.S. administrations of different parties and through many conflicts.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III reiterated American support and commitment during his talks with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz today in Tel Aviv.
The two men covered a wide range of issues, and Austin said he was pleased with the discussions. “I wanted to convey the Biden-Harris administration’s strong commitment to Israel and the Israeli people,” he said following the talks. “As a major strategic partner for the United States, our bilateral relationship with Israel, in particular, is central to regional stability and security in the Middle East. And during our meeting, I reaffirmed to Minister Gantz our commitment to Israel is enduring, and it is ironclad. And I pledge to continue close consultations in order to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge and to strengthen Israel’s security.”
Austin noted that the United States marked Holocaust Remembrance last week. “Minister Gantz, you, as a son of a Holocaust survivor, know better than most the horror and heartache your family endured,” Austin said. “We remember the 6 million Jews and the millions of others who perished during the Holocaust; may their memory be a blessing, and let it be a solemn reminder of our duty to be ever vigilant against mass atrocities.”
It is also sobering that Austin’s visit coincides with Israel’s Remembrance Day, which is similar to America’s Memorial Day.
Austin and Gantz agreed the two nations must work closely together to enhance U.S.-Israeli defense cooperation. For example, the two countries already cooperate on ballistic missile defense and Israel flies the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The two men want to move toward discussing advanced, shared security interests and priorities.
But the Middle East is still a dangerous neighborhood. “I … appreciated hearing Minister Gantz’s perspectives about the challenges in this region,” Austin said. “We addressed a broad range of defense issues, to include Israel’s long-term planning for defense acquisitions and regional security challenges and U.S. support for efforts to normalize relations between Israel and Arab and Muslim-majority nations.”
In his remarks, Gantz specifically pointed to the threat from Iran. He said Israel “regards the United States as a full partner across all operational threats, not the least, Iran.” The fundamentalist leaders in Tehran pose a strategic threat to international security to the entire Middle East and to the state of Israel, the Israeli leader said.
“We will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will secure the vital interests of the world, of the United States; prevent dangerous unrest in our region; and protect the state of Israel,” he said.
Gantz said the ties between the U.S. and Israeli militaries are so close because the nations share the same values and beliefs in basic human decency. “I find great comfort in the assurance of our people’s unbreakable bonds and in the knowledge that both in the United States and in Israel, forces of good act to promote unity, solidarity and diversity,” Gantz said. (Source: US DoD)
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