Indonesia, U.S. to train together to fight extremists

Indonesia, U.S. to train together to fight extremists

Tom Abke

Indonesia and the United States will work together to fight violent extremism when they participate in joint training in 2020 that involves a special counterterrorism unit of the Indonesian Army called Kopassus.

The training will be added to the existing Army-to-Army exercise by normalizing the Army special forces relationship between the countries, according to a joint statement following bilateral discussions in Jakarta in May 2019. Protecting human rights and emergency medical responses to violent incidents will be emphasized in the training.

At a news conference following the talks, Kopassus Commander Maj. Gen. I Nyoman Cantiasa said the exercise would include combat medical training for sergeants under his command, enabling them to perform emergency battlefield surgery. These skills could keep wounded Soldiers alive for up to three days, he added, long enough for them to be evacuated to a military hospital.

The exercise likely will last four to six weeks and involve 150 participants, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Dave Eastburn told Reuters. Safeguarding human rights is a likely focus, Eastburn added, along with crisis response and hostage rescue.

Unit 81 of Kopassus will participate in the exercise, he said. Kopassus Unit 81 specializes in counterterrorism and coordinates with counterterrorism units of the Indonesian Navy, Air Force and police, according to Indonesia’s Ministry of Defence.

Indonesia has experienced 12 deadly attacks by extremists since 2012, including multiple bombings in the city of Surabaya in mid-May 2018, which killed dozens of civilians and police. Kopassus worked closely with Special Anti-Terror Detachment 88 of the Indonesian National Police in 2018, according to an official statement by National Police spokesman Inspector Gen. Setyo Wasisto, adding that Kopassus participated in the arrests of several suspected terrorists.

The upcoming exercise marks the fulfilment of a 2010 announcement by Washington that cooperation between the U.S. Armed Forces and Kopassus would occur once Kopassus implemented human rights reforms. Kopassus faced criticism for its actions under the 32-year rule of former Indonesian President Suharto, and special forces cooperation with the U.S. had been on hold since 1998.

The resumption of training follows a memorandum of understanding between Washington and Jakarta on strengthening counterterrorism cooperation, signed on September 14, 2018, in Jakarta. The memorandum pledged to enhance “U.S.-Indonesia cooperation on counterterrorism by improving the exchange of information and best practices, and by building capacity through collaborative training and education,” the U.S. Department of State announced.

Kopassus was formed in 1952 as the special forces group of the Indonesian Army. Its units are trained and equipped for a range of capabilities, including direct action, unconventional warfare, counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, intelligence gathering and special reconnaissance.

Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu, pictured, described KOPASSUS as the “pride of the people” while addressing 445 of its Soldiers at their headquarters in Jakarta in April 2019.

“There is no enemy that can stop the Kopassus Soldier,” he said.