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Military Builds on Strategy to Address Threats, Dunford Says

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The United States military is building on the National Defense Strategy to address the complex threats and problems in the world today, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said at a Council on Foreign Relations event.

New York Times correspondent David Sanger asked Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford about the security situation with Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and with extremist organizations. He bored in on Afghanistan and the fight against ISIS.

Soldiers secure a landing spot.
Secure Landing
Army paratroopers secure a landing zone for a CH-47 Chinook helicopter in Kandahar, Afghanistan, July 20, 2019. The soldiers provided protection for a meeting between U.S. and Afghan officials.
Photo By: Army Maj. Thomas Cieslak
VIRIN: 190720-A-KJ310-843C

Sanger asked Dunford to compare the world when he took office four years ago to how it is today. The chairman gave a tour of the challenges confronting the United States, with an emphasis on China and Russia. This is the return of great power competition, with Russia being the chief revisionist state, he said. Russian President Vladimir Putin wants his nation to be taken seriously and to be relevant on the world stage, the chairman said, and he sees the Russian military is the vehicle for much of this. 

Before Dunford took office, Russia invaded Georgia, annexed Crimea from Ukraine and fomented trouble in Eastern Ukraine. Since 2015, he said, Russia has gone into Syria, has conducted a nerve-agent operation in England, and has attempted to interfere with democracy in Europe and the United States. "They've fielded capabilities that are not compliant with the [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces] Treaty, and President Putin has trumpeted the capabilities of weapon systems designed to put the American homeland at risk," he added.

Two men speak on stage.
Dunford Discussion
New York Times correspondent David Sanger poses a question to Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, Sept. 5, 2019.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro
VIRIN: 190905-D-PB383-007

In China, despite promises from Chinese leaders to not militarize the South China Sea, they have done just that, Dunford said. Artificial islands in the region now bristle with weaponry. China has invested heavily in its military capabilities and reorganized their military trying to mirror the joint capabilities of the United States, Dunford said.

Both Russia and China have studied the U.S. way of war dating back to operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and both nations have invested in capabilities to counter American advantages, he said.

During the chairman's time in office, North Korea has developed missile systems and tested an atomic device. 
"I think you would have to say that Iran is more aggressive today in projecting malign influence than they were in 2015," the general said.

One area with positive change is that the operations against ISIS have succeeded, Dunford said. In 2015, ISIS had proclaimed its so-called caliphate and controlled vast stretches of Syria and Iraq. "While the fight against violent transregional extremism is far from over, we've made significant progress against ISIS," he said.

After the attacks on Sept 11, 2001, the United States concentrated on the conflicts against violent extremism. Near-peer competition was not part of the strategic calculus at the time. China and Russia began building and fielding weapons systems that eroded America's advantages. The United States maintains its competitive advantage today, "but the art for us is to deal with the challenges we have today … and at the same time, shift sufficient resources to ensure that we sustain the competitive advantage … well into the future," the chairman said.

Three service members in camouflage uniforms have a conversation.
Resolute Support Mission
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, center, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Army Gen. Austin S. Miller, left, commander, Resolute Support Mission, speak to U.S. and NATO service members during a tour of the Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul, July 24, 2019.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro, DOD
VIRIN: 190724-D-PB383-024

Sanger quizzed the general on the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and where it is heading. The general noted that the United States went into Afghanistan to stop al-Qaida from launching attacks on the homeland from a safe haven. "We have prevented another attack," Dunford said. "We've disrupted plots against the United States and degraded al-Qaida."

As he provides military advice to civilian leaders, the chairman said, "it is very clear to me what our interests are in South Asia, and against which we should measure the level of commitment that we have in Afghanistan and the region."

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford speaks into a microphone  while sitting at a table.
Belvoir Remarks
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks during a press conference following the 2017 Chiefs of Defense Conference at Fort Belvoir, Va., Oct. 24, 2017.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro, DOD
VIRIN: 171024-D-PB383-029

Dunford said he looked at the mission and what is needed politically, fiscally and militarily with Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, and Army Gen. Austin Miller, the commander of forces in Afghanistan. The question becomes what the appropriate counterterrorism platform would be in Afghanistan that would allow the United States to maintain the partnership with the nation and allow U.S. and Afghan forces to pursue their mutual objective of disrupting violent extremism in the region.

The number of U.S. troops needed is around 8,600 and was informed by the mission and the strategy in the nation, Dunford said.

The talks in Qatar now between the United States and the Taliban are aimed at beginning an inter-Afghan conversation, Dunford said. Any agreement made will be conditions-based, the chairman said, and trusting the Taliban is not part of the equation.

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