PENTAGON: Even as the latest Mideast war sucks in more US attention and resources — as well as wannabe jihadis from around the world — the outgoing chief of Pacific Command emphasized the much-derided “rebalance to the Asia-Pacific” is still going strong. Despite sequestration budget cuts the US is still strong enough to handle both theaters at once — and it must continue to be, Adm. Samuel Locklear told reporters here today.
“Our ability to remain forward and to do the things that we need to do in the Pacific will not be affected in any significant way,” Locklear said, “[though] it could be around the edges,” for example by the diversion of a particular reconnaissance aircraft or skilled individual.
“Even with a threat like ISIL, we cannot walk away from our responsibilities in the Asia-Pacific and, as the president just mentioned in his speech at the UN, we won’t,” he said. “The US joint force, even in a time of sequestration which we’ve been struggling through, is still a global force and it’s still capable of pursing US interests and the rebalance.”
Pacific Command is contributing to the global campaign against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, Locklear said, by consulting with regional partners rather than redeploying US forces. Those Pacific partners report, “there’s probably been about a thousand potential, aspiring fighters that have moved from this region” to Syria and Iraq, he said. “That number could get larger.”
“I believe most of them have been recruited via social media,” Locklear added. “Social media appears to be the place where ISIL [aka ISIS] and al-Qaeda have been particularly effective at reaching out and finding these particular people.” Yes, the Asia-Pacific is a long way from the Mideast — though India, with its massive Muslim population, is closer — but social media flows worldwide at Internet speed and global travel keeps getting easier, the admiral said.
At least for now, however, US forces are not flowing from PACOM to the Mideast or, for that matter, Africa, where 3,000 Army troops are deploying to help contain Ebola.