Keating Visit to Brunei Reaffirms U.S. Commitment to Pacific Region
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei Darussalam, April 9, 2008 The top U.S. officer in the Pacific today called Brunei’s efforts to expand its military capabilities and regional engagement a big step toward frustrating terrorist ambitions and fostering stability.
Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander, U.S. Pacific Command, reviews the honor guard of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces during a welcome ceremony today at the Ministry of Defense in Brunei. Keating met with numberous senior defense and foregin affairs officials during his first trip to Brunei. Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Elisia V. Gonzales
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating today paid his first visit here as commander of U.S. Pacific Command, telling the country’s leaders their increased regional military engagement promises greater long-term security.
Keating met with the sultan of Brunei, Crown Prince Haji al-Muhtadee Billah; Defense Chief Maj. Gen. Halbi Yussof; and other senior government and military officials during a whirlwind day of sessions. As he traveled between visits, construction at the new defense ministry to open later this year and at Muara Naval Base provided tangible evidence of efforts to build Brunei’s military forces’ capabilities.
The country’s Defense White Paper 2007 document, which lays out a framework for that process spanning the next three to five years, reflects those changes. The plan seeks to create a stronger, more agile force, while boosting joint and multilateral cooperation.
Keating praised the plan, Brunei’s equivalent of the U.S. Defense Department’s Quadrennial Defense Review, as a visionary tool for the future.
“It’s an impressive piece of work,” he told defense leaders who briefed him about the plan, and cited its realistic near-, mid- and long-term goals to confront challenges facing the region.
Of these threats, including transnational crime, piracy and smuggling, Keating pointed to violent extremism as the most pressing. He emphasized the need for more sharing of information and intelligence among the United States, Brunei and its neighbors to make it more difficult for violent extremists to move around the region, transfer money, or garner financial or moral support.
Keating noted that the region has felt the sting of terrorism, most notably during deadly bombing attacks in Bali, Indonesia, in which hundreds of people were killed or injured. Improved cooperation that reduces violent extremists’ ability to operate here can help prevent a repeat, he said.
The admiral promised U.S. help, if needed, for Brunei to achieve goals outlined in the White Paper, noting the effort would benefit both Brunei and the entire region.
Throughout his visit, Keating pointed to the importance of enhanced military-to-military engagement -- military exchanges, port visits and training exercises, for example -- in promoting the two countries’ security relationship.
U.S. and Bruneian forces will join together in August for the annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training, or CARAT, exercise. Another exercise, SEACAT, or South East Asia Combined Afloat Training, will follow later that month.
This year’s CARAT exercise will expand beyond its traditional maritime security scope to include humanitarian assistance and disaster-response planning and cooperation. The devastating December 2004 tsunami that slammed the region, and more recently, severe flooding in Brunei in February, underscored the key role military forces can play during these crises.
Keating called CARAT instrumental to the theater security cooperation plan, improving the U.S. and Bruneian militaries’ ability to operate together and learn from each other, while promoting understanding.
Personal interactions -- not just like today’s meetings of top government and military leaders, but also among servicemembers participating in military-to-military engagements -- reinforce the common values the citizens of the two countries share, Keating said. Ultimately, he added, they all want similar things.
“They want peace; they want stability; they want a better life for their kids and their grandkids,” he said. Visits like today’s help advance those common goals, he said.
“We have a better understanding of our common interests. We have a better understanding of our common goals. We have a better understanding of the capabilities and capacity we each have,” the admiral said. “And we will work more closely as a result of this visit, I’m convinced.”
Keating said he welcomes the opportunity to reaffirm to Brunei’s leaders the continued U.S. commitment. The U.S. military has been in the Pacific for decades, “and we’re not going anywhere,” he said he reassured the Bruneians. “We represent 350,000 men and women in uniform in United States Pacific Command, and we want Brunei to understand we are committed to the same overarching desire for peace and stability that they are,” he said.
As Brunei bolsters its partnership with the United States, it’s also increasing its engagement with its neighbors.
Brunei recently sent observers to Khaan Quest 2007, a PaCom-Mongolia peacekeeping exercise, and dispatched a platoon of peacekeepers to Bangladesh as part of the Shanti-Doot Global Peace Operations Initiative. Brunei also works closely with Singapore, which runs a jungle warfare school here for both countries’ land forces.
Keating applauded these efforts and said PaCom will continue to look for opportunities to increase its engagement with Brunei as it supports more multilateral initiatives.
These efforts foster the trust, confidence and understanding required for them to work cooperatively -- whether toward stability and security, providing humanitarian assistance, or fighting and winning a conflict, if confronted with one, he said.
“None of us can be everywhere, all the time,” Keating said. “We have to be able to work together to support our common interests and the goal of peace and security in the region.”