The Independent

UK faces twin threat after Taliban win, warns general

- KIM SENGUPTA DEFENCE EDITOR

Britain is facing the twin spectres of atrocities carried out by jihadis, who have been emboldened by the triumph of the Taliban, and hostile states seeking to suppress freedom on a scale not seen since the 1930s, a senior military officer has warned. The Taliban takeover of Afghanista­n has given Islamist

groups around the world greater confidence, resulting in terrorist attacks being more likely, while giving a boost to political Islam, said General Sir Patrick Sanders.

At the same time, he continued, authoritar­ian regimes in countries like Russia and China are seeking to subvert and challenge the internatio­nal rules-based order using strategies that have the same effect as a modern day “blitzkrieg”. Gen Sanders, the chief of Strategic Command, said that the “outcome in Afghanista­n may not be the one we were seeking” but “we made a difference while we were there”. The need now, he said, was to adjust to what had happened and act accordingl­y.

Speaking at the DSEI (Defence and Security Equipment Internatio­nal) conference in London, Gen Sanders said it was imperative to focus on the threats Britain faces in an increasing­ly dangerous and uncertain time. “The threat isn’t diminishin­g. In fact, the security outlook is more perilous than it was 2 years ago,” he said. “We are now facing the twin spectre of emboldened jihadi terrorists and something not seen since the 1930s – a growing authoritar­ian zeitgeist that celebrates the suppressio­n of political and individual freedom as a better way to govern.

“This ideology is intersecti­ng with geopolitic­s, and driving great power competitio­n, as these autocratic regimes subvert and challenge the internatio­nal order and adopt bold risk-taking strategies.” Gen Sanders continued: “What links these authoritar­ian regimes – let’s name them: Russia and China – are two things.” First, he said, was a drive to achieve victory without fighting by using political warfare, and the second was a desire to expand warfare into the domains of space and the cyber world.

The adversarie­s, said Gen Sanders, are following “an approach to modernisat­ion that pursues the exploitati­on of disruptive informatio­n-age technologi­es, and allying that with winning operationa­l concepts that seek to have the same impact as blitzkrieg. It is nothing less than a race for advantage in the defining technologi­es of the future”, adding: “Under its ‘Made in China 2025’ strategy, China has openly and explicitly declared the ambition to dominate these technology frontiers.”

This includes artificial intelligen­ce, advanced computing, quantum technologi­es, robotics, autonomous systems and commercial space technologi­es, along with new generation­s of mobile telecommun­ications. “China’s PLA [People’s Liberation Army] has concluded that the centre of gravity in military operations has shifted from concentrat­ion of forces to informatio­n systems,” said Gen Sanders. “They look to dominate a system of systems confrontat­ion, creating new operating concepts: cross-domain, autonomous swarms and precision attacks to achieve persistent paralysis.”

The UK needs to take a more forward posture to counter this, said Gen Sanders. “Let’s step up the pressure. We need to be prepared to conduct ‘precision soft strike’. Sometimes this will be avowed, to deter; sometimes not,” he said. “We may wish to target adversaria­l media campaigns, as we have in the past, or

disrupt – even neutralise – military systems, such as a supply chain. These activities take potentiall­y years to plan, so we need to think ahead, [and] ensure that they are nested within enduring campaigns.”

Failure to counter the new technology offensive of adversarie­s would have consequenc­es, said Gen Sanders. “The risks are clear: it is a recurring pattern of great power behaviour that interests expand with power, that the appetite grows with the eating, and risk-taking increases the potential for escalation and miscalcula­tion, unless this behaviour is challenged and contained,” he said, adding: “We will find ourselves in a world where the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

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 ?? (AFP/Getty) ?? The Ta l iban takeover of Afghanista­n ‘has embo l dened Is l amist groups’
(AFP/Getty) The Ta l iban takeover of Afghanista­n ‘has embo l dened Is l amist groups’
 ?? (Getty) ?? Russian president Vladimir Putin and Chinese president Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in 2019
(Getty) Russian president Vladimir Putin and Chinese president Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in 2019
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