Threat Status: The ‘fish’s head is completely rotten’

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The American and Chinese flags wave at Genting Snow Park ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics on Feb. 2, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File)

The American and Chinese flags wave at Genting Snow Park ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics on Feb. 2, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File) more >

Welcome to Threat Status, a weekly roundup of the biggest news inside the Pentagon, on the border and around the world. Sign up to receive Threat Status each week from a national security reporting team headed by veteran Washington Times journalists Ben Wolfgang and Guy Taylor.

The war in Ukraine grinds on in its 10th month, although U.S. military intelligence predicts that the Russian army can sustain its current rate of attack only through early next year. Senior Pentagon officials say Moscow is turning increasingly to Iran and North Korea to replenish its “rapidly dwindling” stockpiles of rocket and artillery rounds, which have been crucial to the Russian military’s recent bombing campaign on Ukraine‘s energy infrastructure.

Military correspondent Ben Wolfgang reports on mounting stress inside the Kremlin, where President Vladimir Putin is taking fire from Russian defense insiders who increasingly blame their country’s inept leadership for the military failures in Ukraine. Popular Russian military blogger Igor Girkin says he’s hearing criticism from Russian troops who say they’re increasingly frustrated with Mr. Putin and the upper echelon of Russia’s armed forces. The “fish’s head is completely rotten,” Mr. Girkin posted on social media.

Moscow’s handwringing comes as Ukrainian forces shift the parameters of the war with brazen drone strikes on military bases deep inside Russia. But the strikes, guided by Ukrainian special forces in Russia, could escalate the fight and complicate U.S. support for Ukraine, with Biden administration officials stating outright that Washington is “not encouraging Ukraine to strike beyond its borders.”

The Biden administration’s foreign policy bandwidth has been consumed by nearly 50 African leaders in Washington this week for a major summit. While the White House says the gathering’s focus is on “revitalizing democracies and strengthening the free and open international order,” The Washington Times National Security Team Leader Guy Taylor writes of how China’s expanding military activities in Africa somehow got left off the agenda. 

Administration officials avoided even mentioning China ahead of the event, despite warnings from U.S. military officials about Beijing’s actions, including a May 2021 alert on Beijing’s behind-the-scenes moves to establish a major African naval port for Chinese subs and aircraft carriers to project power into the Atlantic. Mr. Taylor also highlights analysis on China’s role in coups and coup attempts that have put power-hungry military cliques in control of resource-rich African nations.

Concerns inside the Pentagon and Congress are deepening over China’s expanding military operations. National Security Correspondent Bill Gertz documents how U.S. Strategic Command recently notified Congress that China’s military has surpassed the U.S. in at least one of three areas — the number of nuclear warheads, strategic missiles or launchers. Specific details are classified, although Mr. Gertz reports the notification likely referred to China‘s rapidly expanding long-range missile forces.

Pentagon Correspondent Mike Glenn offers insight into Washington’s own weapons development initiatives, including joint efforts with Italy and Japan to build a next-generation fighter jet, as well as recent U.S. Army testing of electric-powered vehicles.

With China’s expanding capabilities undergirding threats to absorb Taiwan, meanwhile, the proposed House and Senate fiscal 2023 defense authorization bill contains language to sharply increase U.S. support for Taiwan, including $10 billion in new weapons, and provisions for joint U.S.-Taiwan military exercises.

Mr. Gertz separately digs into the ongoing mystery of COVID-19’s origins, interviewing a scientist who once worked at the U.S. non-government organization involved in risky virus research in China who is convinced the pandemic began as the result of a leak from a controversial Wuhan laboratory.

The Times’ Stephen Dinan dishes up another exclusive, reporting that some U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers have been told to cut down on arrests of even serious criminals to free up detention bed space so the government has somewhere to put illegal immigrants caught at the border. Mr. Dinan separately reports on a case in which federal authorities have brought charges against a Texas state employee who they say used an official government vehicle to smuggle illegal immigrants to Houston.

Washington Times columnist Clifford D. May, founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, argues that Chinese President Xi Jinping perceives the world as a Stalinist-Maoist “struggle” to determine whether the global democratic experiment is to survive or whether the Communist regime is to become the global hegemony.

Another of our regular columnists, retired CIA officer Daniel N. Hoffman, draws attention to current CIA Deputy Director of Operations Dave Marlowe’s unusual public remarks that Vladimir Putin’s objectives in Ukraine have, among other things, been to threaten NATO and hinder NATO unity, in a bid to show the world that Russia is powerful militarily, economically and diplomatically. Mr. Hoffman notes Mr. Marlowe’s conclusion that the KGB-agent-in-the-Kremlin has “squandered every single bit of that.”

Thanks for reading Threat Status. Don’t forget to sign up here and get it delivered to your inbox each week. And if you’ve got questions, Ben Wolfgang and Guy Taylor are here to answer them.

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