Indonesia, Thailand hone skills to counter violent extremists, weather

Indonesia, Thailand hone skills to counter violent extremists, weather

Tom Abke

Indonesia and Thailand are pledging to boost defense cooperation and conduct more joint training activities to combat the shared threats of violent extremism and natural disasters.

Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu met with Thai Armed Forces Supreme Commander Gen. Ponpipaat Benyasri on April 25, 2019, at the Indonesian Ministry of Defence in Jakarta. Their meeting focused on boosting cooperation and joint training activities in natural disaster management and counterterrorism.

“These two threats will continue to be the most potential and real threats that will be faced together,” Ryamizard said in a news release. “For this reason, the need for both countries is to always improve preparedness.”

Benyasri affirmed Ryamizard’s sentiments, the release added, emphasizing that Thailand wants the “intensity of relations” to increase, as well as the frequency of visits between Defense Ministry and military officials from both countries. (Pictured: Thai Armed Forces Supreme Commander Gen. Ponpipaat Benyasri, left, meets with Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu in Jakarta.)

Both officials discussed the need for an uptick in joint exercises involving their militaries for counterterrorism and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. Extremist violence and natural disasters have menaced both countries in recent years.

Indonesia has experienced about a dozen deadly attacks by violent extremists since 2012, according to local media. Multiple bombings in Surabaya in mid-May 2018 killed more than two-dozen people, including civilians, police and attackers. Thailand, too, has suffered from a number of extremist attacks in the same period, including the August 2015 bombing at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok that left 20 people dead and 125 injured.

Earthquakes, a tsunami and other weather events have killed over 6,000 in Thailand in the past two decades. Disasters plagued Indonesia even more, claiming 4,000 lives and displacing 3 million people in 2018 alone, according to Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency.

The call for stronger defense relations aims to bolster what Benyasri described as 69 years of cooperation “without the slightest problem.” The countries signed an “agreement on cooperation in the defense sector” in 2015, according to Indonesia’s Ministry of Defence (known as Kemhan), which aimed to enhance collaboration to meet shared security challenges. Indonesia and Thailand are founding members of the Our Eyes Initiative, an intelligence-sharing network initiated in 2018 to counteract the threats of extremism in the Indo-Pacific.

Both militaries participate in Cobra Gold, a multilateral military exercise involving many countries from across the Indo-Pacific and hosted by Thailand and the U.S. The 38th iteration was held in in February 2019 and involved the first joint cyber operation aimed at identifying and protecting critical data in the event of a cyber attack, The Jakarta Postnewspaper reported.

The air forces of Indonesia and Thailand have also held 18 joint exercises over the years. The most recent, Elang Thainesia XVIII, was held in 2017 in Indonesia and involved a combined 300 troops and seven F-16 fighter jets.

“On security, cooperation between the two countries has been expansive and vibrant,” the Thai Embassy in Jakarta said in a prepared statement. “Both sides have been working closely on a wide range of issues for the peace and stability in the region, such as intelligence exchange, suppression of transnational crimes, counter-radicalization as well as promotion of moderate Muslim and interfaith dialogue.”

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.