US Cyber Command Gives-Up On Terror Organizations Like Islamic State & Shifts Focus To China

The US Cyber Command will be diverting its counterterror resources used against the Islamic State to the Indo-Pacific region, probably to thwart Chinese cyber threats.

According to the military portal C4ISRNET, the Joint Task Force (JTF) of the Cyber Command was specifically created in 2016 to fight the Islamic State online. However, in view of the rising cyber threats, which US agencies have linked to China, the JTF would now focus on the Indo-Pacific region.    

In a written statement submitted to the US Congress in March, General Paul M. Nakasone, Commander of United States Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM), said: 

“Counterterrorism operations in cyberspace are continuous, helping to protect the force and prosecute targets in Afghanistan and other regions on behalf of USCENTCOM [Central Command] and USSOCOM [Special Operations Command].” 

“We are also shifting JTF-Ares’ focus (though not all of its missions) from counterterrorism toward heightened support to great power competition, particularly in USINDOPACOM’s [Indo-Pacific Command’s] area of responsibility.” 

Although the primary objective of the JTF was to lead the joint cyber effort, the US Cyber Command’s digital offensive against the militant group has undergone various changes. In 2018, the charge was given to the leader of Marine Corps Forces Cyberspace Command which allowed JTF to expand its focus from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to counterterrorism efforts globally.

Calling China a “sophisticated cyber adversary”, Gen. Paul Nakasone stated Beijing’s effective cyber-surveillance and other operations and its efforts to “integrate cyber activities into its military and national strategy.”

Even though the Chinese cyber actors were publicly exposed and charged, China continues to stay focused on “shaping the global narrative and exploiting American networks and cyber systems.”

The shifting of JTF’s focus (barring a few missions) from “counterterrorism toward heightened support to great power competition particularly in USINDOPACOM (Indo-Pacific Command’s) area of responsibility” was also highlighted.

The statement assumes significance given that the US is planning to counter China’s growing dominance in the Indo-Pacific region by increasing its engagement in the information operation.

The written testament also mentioned the “focus on great power competition especially in support of USINDOPACOM through improving the efficiency and effectiveness of DoDIN operations and defensive cyberspace missions.”

The EurAsian Times recently reported how Christopher Maier, the Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for special operations/low-intensity conflicts, highlighted the rising Chinese cyber threats. 

He explained how Beijing’s “adversary use of disinformation, misinformation” is posing “one of the greatest challenges to the US.”

Song Zhongping, a former Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) instructor and Hong-Kong-based military affairs commentator, recently told South China Morning Post that the US is looking to know more about the PLA and that China should “strengthen the security of military installations and prevent infiltration.”

The cyber capabilities architecture known as the Joint Cyber Warfighting Architecture (JCWA) helps USCYBERCOM in executing its operations against the adversaries in “competition, crisis, and conflict in cyberspace.”

The optimum realization of JCWA’s capabilities for Cyberspace Operations Forces by integrating the data from offensive and defensive cyberspace operations will “help the commanders gauge risk, make timely decisions and act.”

Expressing USCYBERCOM’s commitment towards addressing the nation’s challenges from “sophisticated and evolving adversaries in cyberspace”, Gen. Nakasone wrote that “with the return of great power competition, USBCYBERCOM is realigning some teams to focus on key nations.”

Last month in his address to the joint session of Congress, US President Joe Biden mentioned telling Chinese President Xi Jinping that the United States will maintain a strong military presence in the Indo-Pacific “not to start conflict – but to prevent one”.

India’s Vulnerability

In April, India’s Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Vipin Rawat, had highlighted India’s vulnerability to Chinese cyber threats. He also said that the Indian Navy is better equipped to tackle such threats than the Army and the Air Force.

“We know that China is capable of launching cyber attacks on us and that it can disrupt a large number of our systems. What we are trying to do is to create a system which would ensure cyber defense,” he had said.

Last October, a power outage linked to Chinese cyber-attacks, caused a large disruption in Mumbai’s normal life. While this outage was restored within a few hours, it had hit the Bombay Stock Exchange, resulting in a huge economic loss for the country.