Pacific Chief Vows to Make Region 'Terrorist-Unfriendly'
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 22, 2002 U.S. Navy Adm. Dennis C. Blair wants to ensure the Asian Pacific region is "a very unfriendly place for terrorists who may be looking for new homes."
The commander in chief of U.S. Pacific Command said he's intensified the command's counter-terrorism offensive. He talked about the command's effort in an address at the National Defense University here Thursday. When President Bush launched the war against terrorism, Blair said, U.S. forces in the Pacific did not take off "from a cold start."
"Based on our previous efforts against terrorism, drugs and other transnational threats," he said, "we realized quickly that the key to victory is a sustained, unprecedented, relentless, cooperative effort among all the countries in the region against the common threat."
Command officials created a new counter-terrorism division, upped intelligence efforts and began building interagency and international links. They deployed personnel to U.S. embassies in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and India to better integrate operations with interagency country teams.
The Joint Intelligence Center, Pacific rapidly enhanced its support to the counter-terrorism mission. Analysis of the threat in the region has significantly improved, Blair said, "with increased collection, analysis, reporting, and sharing of information."
Since September 11th, Blair said he has visited the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Singapore, Japan and Korea. He's met with the U.S. ambassador to each country and with key senior government and military leaders to discuss U.S. intentions and practical ways to link up.
Blair said the response was "overwhelmingly positive" and there have been results. He said it was welcome news to hear of the terrorist arrests in Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines. The terrorists had ties to Afghanistan and were working on plans to attack American ships and embassies and other targets in Asia.
"These arrests were due not simply to good intelligence and law enforcement work by the countries involved, but also to exchanges of intelligence, and coordination of actions by the governments concerned," Blair said. "The success lay in the expanded and rapid cooperation among these nations to identify and engage a mutual threat."
The United States is currently providing military and other support to Philippines efforts against the Abu Sayyaf Group, a criminal terrorist organization with links to Al Qaeda. This group has taken many hostages, and brutally murdered and mutilated defenseless noncombatants," Blair said.
The United States is assisting the Philippines with exercises, training, equipment, intelligence, maintenance support and temporary advisors. Security concerns will be closely coupled with an effort to improve the economic situation, he noted.
"As President Arroyo has emphasized, defeating terrorism in the Philippines requires both a war on terrorism and a war on poverty, and the Philippine plan addresses both fronts. The U.S. military support is just one piece of a more comprehensive effort.
No one should underestimate the complexity of the worldwide terrorist campaign, the commander said.
"The terrorists hold the advantages of small size, international mobility, unmonitored funding, secrecy and flexibility," he said. "They can take advantage of the freedoms of our governments and citizens, areas of the region where government control is weak, and international boundaries.
"Again," he concluded, "the key to their defeat is relentless pressure against terrorists and their support, conducted with an unprecedented degree of international cooperation."