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Asia Crucial Front in Long War on Terror

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 11, 2007 – South Asia and Southeast Asia are crucial fronts in the long war, and U.S. policies in the region are paying off, a top Defense Department expert on Asia said today.

U.S. national interests and “our national health” lie squarely in Asia, Marine Brig. Gen. John Toolan, the principal director for South and Southeast Asia for DoD, said here during a briefing at the Pentagon. This is true economically, but also from a security standpoint.

The U.S. military uses an “indirect approach” to combating terrorism in the region, Toolan said. A key to success is building the security capacity of allies in the region. Building this capacity crosses U.S. military and government lines, he said. DoD agencies; the State, Justice and Commerce departments; and the U.S. Agency for International Development are all players in building a country’s economic and security capacities.

Toolan said the indirect approach reduces the U.S. footprint in the region and encourages a more multilateral approach to security issues in the area.

“We've learned from experience that having large footprints is problematic,” Toolan said. “And so our effort is … using the experience and the talents that are available to the U.S., to then impart those capabilities upon our friends and allies in South and Southeast Asia and allow them to do the job.

“And by the indirect approach,” he added, “I also mean being able to use some of our key allies in Asia, and working with them and through them to then help build capacity and capability within South and Southeast Asia.”

The United States works closely with treaty allies in the region, including Japan, Korea, Thailand and Australia, to improve the capabilities of neighboring countries. This has worked in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and other nations.

“So this indirect approach is not only just training and emphasizing the capabilities of our friends in South and Southeast Asia, but also working indirectly through some of our key allies in Asia,” he said.

China and India are the two largest nations on Earth and two nations that are playing increasing parts on the world stage. He said no one can talk about South Asia and Southeast Asia without considering China. The United States is involved in engaging China and capitalizing on China’s desire for stability and security in Asia.

India is the largest democracy in the world, and the U.S. relationship with the nation continues to grow, Toolan said. A U.S.-Indian naval exercise is under way in the Indian Ocean.

“There is a natural relationship between India and the U.S,” Toolan said. “And so as we look at that wide-open sea in the area that's particularly around … what we call the terrorist triangle in and around the Sulawesi Sea, having India's … naval capability to help address the security in those oceans is of great importance.”

South and Southeast Asian nations see the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as drawing too much U.S. attention, Toolan said. Leaders in the region believe that the United States isn’t spending “the quality time that's necessary to build those interests and build those relationships” with the region.

The general referenced the concept often called “whack-a-mole” after the arcade game. “You take care of a problem in one part of the world, and a problem will pop up some place else,” he said. “What we have really established … is a concept of attacking the war on terrorism from a global perspective.”

This concept calls for a unified government plan, Toolan said. Promoting economic development, shaping the conditions for the rule of law, encouraging good governance are all part of promoting stability and security in the region. And these require expertise from all areas of the U.S. government, he said.

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