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Gates to Strengthen Military Ties with Indonesia

Photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jerry Morrison
Photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jerry Morrison

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived in Indonesia today to meet with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to further strengthen defense ties between the United States and Indonesia.

Gates told Yudhoyono the United States’ first order of business was to establish a process of re-engagement with Kopassus, the special forces branch of Indonesia’s army. He said the process would be taken within the limits of U.S. law and place human rights and accountability at the forefront of the mission.

“I was pleased to be able to tell the president that as a result of Indonesian military reforms over the past decade, the ongoing professionalization of the [Indonesian armed forces], and recent actions taken by the ministry of defense to address human rights issues,” Gates told reporters after his meeting with Yudhoyono, “the United States will begin a gradual, limited program of security cooperation activities with the Indonesian army special forces.”

The intention to re-engage with Kopassus is part of an ongoing U.S. military effort. According to a statement, Congress cut off military training assistance to Indonesia in 1992. The restriction was partially lifted in 1995, but military assistance programs were suspended again after violence and destruction in East Timor following an Aug. 30, 1999, referendum favoring independence from Indonesia. Though normal military relations between the United States and Indonesia have resumed, the issue of providing training for Kopassus remained unresolved until earlier this week.

“I think everybody can recognize that the transformation that Indonesia has made as a country and that the military has made has been remarkable over the past decade-plus since the fall of [President] Suharto,” Gates said. “The military itself has greatly improved its human rights record, and all of that has enabled us to re-engage more.”

The re-engagement will allow the United States to implement education and professionalization training, human rights training, medical engagements or other forms of cooperation.

Re-engagement with Kopassus makes sense, the official said. As its members deploy overseas for peacekeeping operations, they could be called upon to act in extreme emergencies such as hostage rescues. And because many of the Indonesian military’s top leaders come from the unit, re-engagement allows establishment of relationships that will endure when current Kopassus members rise to top positions.

“We think this is an important part to ensuring that we can solidify and really gain better traction on reform and professionalization that we all – U.S. and Indonesian – seek from [the Indonesian armed forces],” he said. “And to ignore an important unit … really actually hurts the process of ensuring that these reform efforts get instituted throughout the armed forces of Indonesia.”

Gates is meeting with Indonesian officials to discuss movements in the areas of maritime security, humanitarian and disaster relief operations, peacekeeping missions and defense reform and professionalization.

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