INDONESIA: U.S. to Normalize Relations With Special Forces Unit

INDONESIA: U.S. to Normalize Relations With Special Forces Unit

Patrick Shanahan, then acting U.S. defense secretary, met his Indonesian counterpart in May 2019 as the United States looked to improve ties with an Indonesian special forces unit that has been limited due to human rights abuses in the 1990s. 

During a 2018 trip to Jakarta by Shanahan’s predecessor, Jim Mattis,  Indonesia said it was hoping Mattis could help ease U.S. limitations on contacts. The U.S. announced in 2010 that it had lifted its outright ban on U.S. military contacts with the Indonesian special forces unit, known as Kopassus, which drew criticism for activities in Timor-Leste as it prepared for independence. (Pictured: Kopassus forces participate in an anti-terror drill before the Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, in August 2018.) Since then, legal restrictions prevented U.S. contacts with Kopassus from advancing beyond preliminary levels, U.S. officials say. 

Indonesia and five other Southeast Asian nations launched the “Our Eyes” intelligence pact in 2018 aimed at combating Islamist militants and improving cooperation on security threats. Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, has in recent years struggled to contain a resurgence in homegrown radicalism inspired in part by the Middle Eastern militant group Islamic State. 

The two sides said in a joint statement after the meeting between Shanahan and his Indonesian counterpart, Ryamizard Ryacudu, that the United States was looking to normalize relations with Kopassus and hold a joint exercise in 2020. “Both ministries affirm support for the expansion in our army-to-army exercise next year, and by normalizing the Army special forces relationship beginning in 2020 with a Joint Combined Exercise Training with Kopassus,” the statement said. 

Lt. Col. Dave Eastburn, a Pentagon spokesman, said planning for the training was still in the initial stages but would likely be for four to six weeks and include about 150 participants. “While planning is just starting, the initial concept includes topics such as crisis response, hostage rescue and safeguarding human rights, among others,” Eastburn said.  Reuters