Subject: NYT: U.S. Rules Out Training Indon Army, but Will Aid Its Antiterror Police

The New York Times Friday, March 22, 2002

U.S. Rules Out Training Indonesia Army, but Will Aid Its Antiterror Police


WASHINGTON, March 21 ‚€” After deciding to send American soldiers to train antiterrorism forces in the Philippines, Yemen and Georgia, the Bush administration has decided it would be "counterproductive" to deploy troops in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, because of concerns about an anti-American backlash, senior administration officials said today.

Instead, White House and Pentagon officials have determined that the best way to pursue terrorists operating from Indonesia is to work through law enforcement agencies. To underscore that policy, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, quietly visited Indonesia last Friday to develop contacts with his counterparts there.

The decision to rely more on law enforcement efforts and less on military action is significant because American intelligence officials believe Indonesia to be a fertile breeding ground for Al Qaeda. They also believe that the country is the center of operations for a group that has planned attacks on American targets throughout Southeast Asia. Three Indonesians were arrested in the Philippines last week, officials said, and while interrogations are still under way, the men are thought to be linked to suspected terrorists now in detention in Malaysia and Singapore.

Policy toward Indonesia has been closely watched around the world and has been the subject of intense debate within the White House. The country presents a test case of how the administration handles the presence of terrorist cells in a nation opposed to American military intervention. While the Bush administration has identified a strong Qaeda-linked terrorist presence in Indonesia, the government of President Megawati Sukarnoputri has made it clear to Washington that American troops could destabilize her fragile hold on power.

"I can think of all the ways that it can be counterproductive, and I can't see how it would be necessary," Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, said in an interview today. Mr. Wolfowitz, who served for three years as ambassador to Indonesia and is considered among the administration's experts on the country, added: "There is a deep sense of national pride and independence on the part of the Indonesians. If we want their cooperation, and their cooperation is essential to our success, we can't look like we are interfering in their internal affairs."

Aside from the Philippines and Singapore, both of them longtime allies, another senior administration official said, "I don't think there is a chance of us having a deployment in Indonesia, or perhaps anywhere else in Southeast Asia." The official said that while the White House often talks about how nations are "with us or against us" in the fight against terrorism, "Indonesia is infinite shades of gray right now, and you need a more nuanced approach."

But Mr. Wolfowitz did say that the administration was working with Congress in hopes of loosening legislative restrictions on American military contacts with Indonesia, which were severely curtailed in 1999 after the Indonesian Army was accused of atrocities in the now-independent East Timor.

Military contacts might resume for relief operations, Mr. Wolfowitz said, and he did not exclude the possibility that the two militaries could, over time, train together for counterterrorism and counternarcotics operations ‚€” though he stressed that there was no such planning now under way.

"We really are moving very carefully," Mr. Wolfowitz said.

Indonesia has been coaxed along by Mr. Wolfowitz and others. For two months after the Sept. 11 attacks the country's central bank officials refused to help track or freeze terrorist finances, and the Jakarta government denied there was any terrorism problem in the country. But that attitude has changed. In recent months, Mr. Wolfowitz said, Indonesia has provided "significant cooperation," even handing over a Pakistani terror suspect seized on its territory. He is now in detention in Egypt.

Still, the F.B.I. director's visit was kept deliberately low key. He met with Indonesia's chief security minister and the national police chief, but the sessions took place far from Jakarta, where anti-American protests were common even before Sept. 11. The meetings occurred a week ago in Bali, a predominantly Hindu area of an overwhelmingly Muslim nation.

Mr. Wolfowitz distinguished Indonesia's situation sharply from the problems in the Philippines, where the Abu Sayyaf and other Muslim separatist groups occupy significant territory. Indonesia, he said, is more like "the United States, and most European countries," with suspected Qaeda cells present within the society ‚€” a situation that creates "much more of a law enforcement challenge."

At the same time, American intelligence about the Qaeda presence in Indonesia has been poor at best, American officials acknowledge. Two senior American officials have said that before Sept. 11, American intelligence was wholly unaware of one of the main Islamic radical groups in Indonesia, Jemaah Islamiyah, which they now suspect has Al Qaeda ties.

Mr. Wolfowitz said there was little indication that Qaeda members fleeing the American offensive in Afghanistan were heading toward Indonesia; instead, he said, they appear to be seeking safe passage to Iran, Pakistan, Yemen or the Caucasus republics.

On dealings with the Indonesian military, he said, "the trick is to find ways to move forward that encourage reform in the Indonesian military rather than turn a blind eye to some of the past problems."

But any significantly increased contacts with the Indonesian military will draw careful scrutiny ‚€” most likely opposition ‚€” from critics in Congress, led by Senator Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who is chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations.

"Some of their top military officers, including some still serving, planned, orchestrated and then covered up the attacks in East Timor," Senator Leahy said today of the Indonesians. "As long as they are running things, with nothing done to hold them accountable, it would be premature for us to launch joint operations."

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