Indonesians Welcoming U.S. Forces 'With Open Arms'
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash., Jan. 14, 2005 Defense officials on Jan. 13 disputed contentions that Indonesia does not welcome U.S. assistance in dealing with the aftermath of the Dec. 26 tsunami that devastated the country's Aceh province.
"The Indonesians have welcomed us with open arms," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said aboard his plane en route to the region on a fact-finding trip through areas affected by the disaster.
Wolfowitz was U.S. ambassador to Indonesia from 1986 to 1989 and has maintained ties to the region.
He explained that lingering diplomatic tensions stemming from Australian, U.N. and U.S. intervention in East Timor in 1999 have been put aside while the countries work together to provide humanitarian aid to Aceh, on the northern portion of the island of Sumatra.
"All of the kinds of concerns about sovereignty and mistrust of foreign militaries and questions about the problems with our military-to-military relations have been put aside in the wake of this disaster to a degree that frankly, old Indonesian hands are surprised," he said, referring to himself and others who have worked closely with the Indonesian government in the past.
Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kala said Jan. 12 that he hopes foreign troops will be out of Indonesia within three months. A senior defense policy official traveling with Wolfowitz said the comments stem from the Indonesians' belief that they will be able to handle the situation themselves within that timeframe, not from a desire to see all American troops out.
Wolfowitz supported that belief. "It's our expectation, our hope that we wouldn't be needed militarily past that point," he said.
He noted any country, including the United States, would be sensitive about having foreign troops on their sovereign soil. "And I can tell you that it is extremely sensitive in Indonesia," he said.
Indonesia's aversion to foreign militaries within its borders stems from the country's long occupation by Dutch troops from the late 1800s until it gained its independence in 1950.
On Jan. 12, a senior U.S. defense official who is an expert on Asia-Pacific affairs disputed press reports that Indonesia was requiring U.S. Marines to go ashore without their weapons.
The official said Marines working ashore are carrying weapons. "The Indonesians have not precluded our carrying weapons," he said at the Pentagon. "That's a bad report."
This official said he sees U.S. military involvement going on for a matter of weeks, not months. "I'll say weeks at this point," he said. "But beyond that we're constantly in an assessment-reassessment loop."