PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii, June 7, 2017 —
The Australia-U.S. Ministerial Consultations in Sydney this week were not just a formality, but an effort to sync the relationship and strengthen it for the future, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Defense Minister Marise Ann Payne were the principles at the meeting held in the Government House on Sydney Harbor. Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford and Navy Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command, also attended.
Dunford told reporters traveling with him that the discussions were comprehensive and covered the range of interests the two nations share. “We talked North Korea, we talked South China Sea, we talked about the insurgency in the Philippines, we talked about the maritime domain in the Sulu Sea and so forth,” Dunford said.
They also used the time to discuss issues moving forward. Australia is keenly aware of the issue of foreign fighters possibly coming back from the fight in Iraq and Syria. To the north is Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world. Malaysia, the Philippines and other nations in the region also have significant Muslim populations where foreign fighters might find fertile ground for their perverted philosophy.
“Secretary Mattis in that discussion took the opportunity to talk about the annihilation strategy and not letting the foreign fighters get back, but then we know that the foreign fighters some will come back and others will ‘virtually’ come back,” Dunford said.
The threat represented by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is a transregional one. Three things make these terror groups interconnected and transregional: the flow of foreign fighters, the flow of resources and their message, the general said.
“I call that the connective tissue and you have to cut that connective tissue,” he said.
Operation Gallant Phoenix
This requires a broad information and intelligence-sharing network across all the countries that share this problem. There are 66 members of the coalition to defeat ISIS and the intelligence and information effort is centered on Operation Gallant Phoenix, hosted in Jordan with Australia as a partner.
Around 25 nations are participating or have indicated they will participate in the operation, and the coalition wants that to expand. “It allows nations to collaborate and share information and be able to get it back to law enforcement to deal with the foreign fighter challenges,” Dunford said.
The critical piece is to make sure that what is going on in Syria and Iraq is known to all, the chairman said.
Australia is also a close U.S. partner in Afghanistan and Iraq. The American side shared its thinking on operations in both areas with their Australian counterparts.
The two allies discussed common programs such as the F-35 Lighting II joint strike fighter project. “We spoke to ensure we have a cooperative approach to capability development and making sure that from the beginning … we’re fielding a capability in a combined way,” Dunford said.
Finally, they received an update on the force posture initiatives with Australia. These include the Marine rotational force in Darwin, enhanced aviation capabilities -- which includes the F-22 Raptor squadron deploying in February -- and where the alliance might go in the future.