Indonesia army wary about US military aid offer

Its generals say Washington is using the proposed lifting of the embargo as a bargaining chip to make Indonesia do what the US wants in its anti-terror war.

Indonesia said it would not follow the Philippines in allowing US troops into the country, even as it held out the prospect for resuming military ties with the United States.

Defence Minister Matori Abdul Djali, who met US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for talks in Washington, told reporters on Monday that Indonesia was confident its police and military force could handle terrorist threats.

His comments came as Mr Rumsfeld assured Jakarta that he would call on Congress to ease restrictions on aid to the Indonesian armed forces (TNI).

But generals here welcomed the offer cautiously.

They said the thinking in the TNI was that Washington was offering to lift the embargo as a ‘bargaining chip to get Indonesia to do whatever it wants in the fight against terrorism’.

A three-star army general told The Straits Times: ‘We have to draw the line somewhere.

‘I think the US has got the message that we will never allow them to send troops into Indonesia because there will be a backlash. We will never allow them to violate our sovereignty.’

But Jakarta continues to see considerable value in rebuilding military ties with the US.

For a start, a resumption of formal defence links would bring in money for the military. This is evident from the steps being taken by Washington now.

The State Department has requested US$16 million (S$29 million) for Indonesia in this year’s supplemental appropriations request before Congress.

About US$8 million is for a rapid reaction peacekeeping force to deal with trouble in Indonesia’s remote provinces.

Another US$8 million is for national police training in counter-terrorism.

An additional US$17.9 million is for a regional counter-terrorism fellowship programme, which could include Indonesian military officers if Congress gives the go ahead.

However, Indonesian calls for a resumption of ties appear to be emanating more from the air force and navy than the army.

Before 1999, for example, Indonesia depended on Washington for much of its weapons procurement.

The air force, in particular, has complained that the suspension of ties left many of its F-16 jets grounded by the lack of spare parts.

It says the operational readiness of its planes – combat and transport – leaves much to be desired, with several of them grounded for lack of spares.

In the case of the Indonesian army, there appears to be less enthusiasm to get ties back on an even keel.

Senior officers interviewed by The Straits Times said that the army had barely been affected by the cut in military ties with the US.

Noted a two-star army general: ‘Of course it is better for us if the Americans get rid of the embargo. But we are still surviving with whatever restrictions they have imposed.

‘After three years, is there any evidence that the TNI has collapsed without US aid? The embargo can continue for another 10 more years but it will still be business as usual for us.’

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