[ OUR OPINION ]
MUCH of the insurgence in Asian countries may have little to do with Osama bin Laden's Afghan-based terrorist organization, but the Bush administration wants to help friendly governments combat the rebels. However, caution is needed in the implementation of this emerging U.S. policy, exemplified by the decision to continue military assistance to the Philippines and to strengthen military ties with Indonesia.
Dont allow arms aid
to feed hatred of U.S.
The Pentagon wants to extend military assistance to the Philippines and strengthen military ties to Indonesia.
An agreement by the United States to help the Philippines quell a gang that had been holding two American missionaries hostage was scheduled to be completed at the end of this month. One of the Americans was killed and the other rescued a month ago. The gang has been nearly extinguished and its leader, Abu Sabaya, who boasted of ties to bin Laden, was killed in a U.S.-supported ambush.
However, other kidnap-for-ransom gangs with Muslim ideologies continue to exist in the Philippines, and the Pentagon is asking Congress to approve new missions to the islands. The request is consistent with the United States providing antiterrorism training in the Republic of Georgia and military aid to Yemen and Kazakhstan. The war on terrorism also helps justify the Bush administration's decision before Sept. 11 to re-establish military ties with Indonesia, despite its army's human rights violations.
In the Philippines, the American presence consists of about 160 Special Forces officers and 850 supporting troops who have been primarily training Philippine commando units safe from combat zones. The training has been accompanied by $40 million in military financing, services and equipment, including rifles, planes, mortars and communications devices. Continued U.S. assistance could be beneficial, but at a very low profile.
The danger of backfire is greater in Indonesia, where the Bush administration wants to finance a military unit to combat domestic terrorism and lift a ban against Indonesian soldiers attending American military schools. The intention is to teach the soldiers professionalism and respect for citizens. The risk is that the soldiers will gain U.S. expertise in such skills as assembling explosives and return home to perform the work of an army that continues to be known for its human rights abuses. That was what happened in Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s.
The challenge for the United States will be in providing military aid to Indonesia without the appearance of condoning human rights abuses and recruiting the army into what many Indonesians see as a war against Islam. A recent Gallup Poll showed that Muslims in Indonesia and elsewhere regard Americans as "ruthless, aggressive, conceited, arrogant, easily provoked, biased" and responsible themselves for the Sept. 11 attack. U.S. policy should not feed that hatred.
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