Sunday, June 24, 2007

Indonesia Shows the Way

Dollar for dollar, the best value in the Global War on Terrorism must be the few millions that Washington has given to Indonesia to help fund its special anti-terrorism police group known as Detachment 88.

For the price of a couple of cruise missiles, Indonesian authorities, with Detachment 88 in the van, have gone a long way to rolling up Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) the regional ally of al-Queda.

JI operatives were instrumental in four major terror bombings in Indonesia beginning with the first Bali bombings in October, 2002. They also planned attacks on the Marriott Hotel, the Australian Embassy in Jakarta and a second attack in Bali.

Detachment 88 first proved its value when in late 2005 it cornered and killed the Malaysian-born master bomber Azahari bin Husin. Starting in March this year it initiated raids that culminated in two more big scores in June.

In central Java it arrested Abu Dejana, implicated in the nightclub bombing in Bali. He is reputed to be (accounts vary) to be the commander of JI’s military wing. Simultaneously, it arrested a man named Zarkasih in Jogjakarta, described as the “emir” of the terror organization.

“Clearly, the loss of two first-generation, al-Qaeda-trained operatives is a major blow,” said Sidney Jones, a Jakarta-based expert on terrorism in Southeast Asia. “We couldn’t have done it without proper detective work,” added one foreign police officer involved in training Detachment 88.

Detachment 88 was formed after the first Bali bombings (the numeral 88 is said to stand for the number of Australians killed in the attack). The funds to help run it come from the US Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program. It is advised by the CIA, FBI and Australian Federal Police.

I can’t find the exact figure given to fund Detachment 88 (about $10 million sticks in my mind), but the total budget for the program, which includes aid to groups in Afghanistan, Colombia and other countries, is less than $100 million.

“There have been significant gains in reducing the size of JI, and Detachment 88 has been the tip of the spear,” says Ken Conboy, another anti-terrorism expert based in Jakarta.

Documents seized during the raids show that Jamaah Islamiyah has lowered its sights considerably. Where once it envisioned a caliphate encompassing all of Indonesia, Malaysia, southern Philippines and even parts of Australia, it now concentrates almost exclusively on the island of Java.

Zarhasih was virtually unknown outside of police circles when he was apprehended and unmasked as the leader of JI. “By his own admission he was selected for the top job because so many of his colleagues had been captured,” said Conboy. “If an unknown becomes JI’s default emir, that speaks volumes about the attrition in the ranks,” he added.

Indonesia’s success in the war on terror is all the more remarkable in that it has no equivalent of the Internal Security Act, which Singapore and Malaysia have and use to imprison suspected terrorists (not to mention other political opponents) indefinitely without charges or trials.

Indonesia’s 2003 counter terrorism law allows for the detention of suspects for only up to one week before they either have to be charged or released. A new law that would permit detention without trial for up to six months is stalled in parliament.

Yet Congress persists on looking on Indonesia as a human rights violator, mainly the regular army, stemming from the violence that engulfed East Timor in the wake of the 1999 independence referendum. Some in Washington insist that officers implicated in the violence have not been properly punished.

To its credit, the administration of President George W Bush has stuck by Indonesia.

The amount of assistance that the US provides to Indonesia’s armed forces is minuscule to begin with, but the constant efforts to cut it or attach “conditions” sends a wrong message to a valuable ally that is conducting a successful battle against a common enemy.

The recent high-profile arrests (not to mention numerous others with lower profiles) shows that a modest amount of financial support and training can have a genuine impact and how misguided are those who scorn mere police work over conventional military action in the war on terror.


Blogger Ahistoricality said...

"sends the wrong message"?

That we're concerned about massive human rights violations is a bad message? Not concerned enough to actually do anything about it, but concerned. Seems like the best message we're going to get out of this administration: anything more than lip service would be rank hypocrisy anyway.

June 24, 2007 at 1:47 AM  

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