Pentagon chief wants the US to focus on China and Russia

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Saturday he still plans to modify the US military approach to compete with China and Russia, even when security threats build up in the Middle East.

Esper outlined his strategic objectives and priorities in a speech he delivered at the Reagan National Defense Forum, an annual event that brings together government officials, the defense industry and the armed forces.

Esper, who assumed the post of head of the Pentagon at the end of July, said he will maintain the national defense priorities set by his predecessor, Jim Mattis, who was present at the speech delivered at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

On the eve, Esper said he realizes it will be difficult to withdraw resources from the Middle East to increase the focus on China and Russia.

He said he has been studying the requirements of strength and resources in each area of ​​the planet to determine how to rebalance those resources.

“My ambition is and still is to review how we withdraw resources – these troops and equipment and other things” – from some regions, and whether we return them to the United States or change them to the Asia-Pacific region,” he said.

Since Mattis resigned a year ago in protest at President Donald Trump’s efforts to withdraw military forces from Syria, the Middle East has become even more unstable. At least 14,000 more soldiers have been sent to the Persian Gulf area since May due to concerns about Iran’s actions.

Syria has become a more complex problem for Washington, after Turkish forces entered northern areas of the country where American soldiers had allied with Syrian Kurdish fighters to fight the vestiges of the Islamic State extremist group. Similarly, Iraq faces civil protests and violent repression by security forces.

A few days ago, the secretary rejected reports that he planned to send up to 14,000 additional soldiers to the Middle East, but acknowledged to reporters Friday that he is concerned about instability in Iraq and Iran.

In his speech on Saturday, Esper only made a brief reference to Iran, mentioning Tehran’s “efforts” to “destabilize” the region.

Rather, he spoke about modifying the US military approach to direct it toward China and Russia, “today’s revisionist powers.” He accused Moscow and Beijing of seeking “veto power” over the economic and security decisions of smaller nations.

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