Discover more from The View from the Front. By Stan R. Mitchell.
Afghanistan, China, and autonomous weapons
I’ve been clearly focused on Afghanistan of late, but not a lot has happened there since my post on Tuesday (Afghan capital in Herat holds, after major Taliban push).
I will make only one point about Afghanistan. Pakistan came out and said the following on Wednesday: Pakistan won't accept a ‘forceful takeover’ of Kabul by the Taliban.
Pakistan’s National Security Adviser stated: “We have made it absolutely clear that we are with the international community on where this goes. But the world also needs to be clear that the US invest in a political settlement.”
This is potentially good news for Afghanistan. Or, perhaps it’s just more double-speak, since Pakistan is by far one of the biggest ‘secret’ supporters of the Taliban. (No link provided for this point because you can literally find dozens of articles on this topic with a simple Google search.)
Moving on from Afghanistan, here are a few different topics worth highlighting.
David Ignatius, a long-time, foreign affairs expert for the Washington Post, summarized the situation in America’s other war (Iraq) as thus:
President Biden seems to be finding the sweet spot in Iraq: a small, continuing U.S. force that can train the Iraqi military, provide it with intelligence, and buffer it against powerful neighbors — with buy-in from most Iraqi political factions. It’s a low-cost, sustainable way to maintain, at least for a time, U.S. power along a strategic fault line.
He had fewer nice things to say about Biden’s Afghanistan strategy, and I can’t really disagree with his summary.
The Iraq story makes clear that there’s a better way to resolve “endless” wars than the pell-mell evacuation in Afghanistan. The essential ingredients are a strong partner, an army that’s willing and able to fight, a regional strategy in which neighbors help build stability rather than undermine it, and a residual U.S. military presence. None of these factors seem to be present in Afghanistan under President Ashraf Ghani. All are evident in Kadhimi’s Iraq.
Moving away from Iraq to Israel, the small country of Israel is issuing even more dire threats to Iran. As stated in Politico:
Israel is ready to take military action against Iran, Defense Minister Benny Gantz told the Israeli news outlet Ynet on Thursday. That threat comes after days of escalating tensions in the Gulf of Oman — where Tehran launched a deadly drone strike against an Israeli-managed commercial ship last week and suspected Iranian-backed forces mounted a possible hijacking of an asphalt tanker Tuesday.
“Iran is a global and regional problem and an Israeli challenge,” Gantz said, accusing Tehran of “building up its forces in Lebanon and Gaza, deploying militias in Syria and Iraq, and maintaining its supporters in Yemen.” He added: “We need to continue to develop our abilities to cope with multiple fronts, for this is the future.”
All of this follows, of course, Iran trying to kidnap an American journalist. In America. Insane, I know.
I feel like the Iranians keep trying to test President Joe Biden. And I might be wrong, but I don’t think they’re going to like the response, when it comes. (America has already bombed Iranian-backed militia targets in Iraq and Syria under Joe Biden.)
In China news, the United States has agreed to sell Taiwan 40 massive, self-propelled howitzers. The deal involves the M109A6 "Paladin,” which can fire and move before return fire arrives. The announced package includes precision munitions, which means the giant 155 mm cannons will be hitting targets at thirteen miles away.
Most people aren’t aware of the size of Taiwan. The island is 13,826 sq miles, which is larger than Vermont (at 9,249 square miles). But unlike Vermont’s population of 624,000 people, Taiwan has almost 24 million inhabitants. It also has mountain ranges and large plains, making it quite a formidable place to invade.
China has been working to improve its navy. And this week, news broke that China has been working to convert civilian ferries to use, should an invasion ever be executed. Up to 63 civilian vessels could be converted.
China’s greater threat to Taiwan is its missile threat. More than 3,000 ballistic and cruise missiles could devastate the island, which lies 110 miles from China.
I still don’t believe an attack will ever happen. Our economies are all too inter-related. But China has certainly been building up its power, and while the West has been creating more and more allies to counter the massive country of one billion people (China encounters a new reality), it seems an armed form of deterrence will probably hold long term. Especially with how China’s neighbors have already felt the country’s intimidation tactics and heavy hands.
Moving on to other matters, it was a little startling to hear the Secretary of Defense mention autonomous weapons in the speech below. I’ve heard of camera-mounted machine guns on robots and turrets, controlled by humans. But to think about autonomous weapons,” with presumably some integrated artificial intelligence helping them make decisions…. I’ve got to say. That was a little mind-blowing.
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Stan R. Mitchell
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