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DoD Officials Discuss Asia-Pacific Region Challenges

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 27, 2003 – The United States is looking at changing the "footprint" of American forces around the world. But the Asia-Pacific region remains important and any changes the U.S. makes there does not herald disengagement, said DoD leaders during testimony before a House subcommittee June 26.

Peter Rodman, assistant defense secretary for international security affairs, and Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told the representatives of the House Asia-Pacific subcommittee that the United States is capitalizing on the experiences of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom as they implement changes.

"The war on terrorism has introduced a new factor in our national security policy," Rodman said. "The technological change in the nature of war, which we've seen in Iraq, leads the administration to think about new ways of improving our effectiveness and capability as an ally and friend in the region."

Rodman contrasted situations in Europe and the Pacific, saying the European security model is more established and mature. "But in the Asia-Pacific region, we see some more delicate conditions, more fluid geopolitical conditions, changing geopolitical realities," he said.

"We see China emerging. We see Japan and the Republic of Korea looking at their defense needs in new ways. North Korea, of course, is still a problem. We see the rise of Islamist extremism in Southeast Asia."

These developments re-emphasize the importance of the American security involvement in Asia. He called the United States presence in the region "a crucial determinant of peace."

Fargo spoke about operations in the region. He said his command is "keenly focused on the Korean peninsula, where, although I believe the likelihood of war is low, the stakes would be very high if war occurred, and even higher if North Korea continues to pursue a nuclear capability."

North Korea is the biggest missile proliferator in the world, and the danger is that the country would have no qualms about selling nuclear technology along with its missiles. Fargo said such a prospect would destabilize the situation in Northeast Asia.

"Our greatest fear, of course, is the nexus between terrorists and weapons of mass destruction," he said. "Armed with these weapons, 'undeterrable,' unaccountable enemies could inflict enormous damage without warning. It is this sobering conclusion that demonstrates the need for regional unity on a nuclear-free Korean peninsula and requires multilateral cooperation irreversibly and verifiably in North Korea's nuclear weapons program."

Fargo said the global war on terror definitely has a Pacific theater of operations. "Besides our direct efforts against al Qaeda, we've been focused on threats like the Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines and the Jamal Islamia, a foreign terrorist organization infecting Southeast Asia," he said. "Both of these terror groups are linked to al Qaeda."

Jamal Islamia was implicated in the Bali bombings in Indonesia and uses portions of that country for bases. "We're focused on the JI and are pleased with the cooperation of our friends in the region, including investigations by the government of Indonesia to apprehend and bring these terrorists to justice," Fargo said. "Well over 100 JI members have been arrested or detained to date."

Last year, Pacific Command helped the Philippine government in their efforts against the Abu Sayyaf Group. "That six- month effort provided a template to help the Republic of the Philippines develop a lasting counter-terrorist capability," Fargo said.

The Balikatan '02 exercise was a success. He said Philippine army operations killed leaders of the terror group and separated the terrorists from the people. Normal activity has returned to Basilan Island, once a stronghold of the group.

With activities spread over the largest geographical combatant command, DoD is examining changing the footprint of U.S. forces in the region. In Korea, U.S. personnel will draw back from the demilitarized zone for the first time since the armistice in 1953. The number of troops in the country will remain about the same, officials said, but the basing and possibly the mixture might change.

The same thing will take place globally, as DoD officials continue examining the lessons of recent operations and the impact technology has made on warfighting. "But one conclusion is clear from this review, which is that a forward military presence still remains necessary, not only militarily necessary but politically necessary, because we have allies and friends who look to us for our commitment, and forward presence has that political function," Rodman said.

But U.S. forward presence will modernize, he told the legislators. "It needs to take the fullest advantage of new technologies, new possibilities," he said. "It needs to be flexible. One reason it needs to be flexible is that we look at the theaters globally. We don't look at each theater in isolation."

Rodman said DoD looks at the world "as a theater (of operations) in which we want the flexibility to operate maybe one place, maybe move forces from one place to another."

DoD will also examine changing the capabilities. "We're looking at ways to diversify our overseas presence," he said. "We know that political conditions change. Having a multiplicity of options is smart strategy, politically as well as militarily."

At its core, the review has the goal of enhancing, improving, upgrading and modernizing the U.S. military presence and its ability to fight wars. "The net result is meant to be a strong commitment to our allies, a more effective ability to fulfill our commitments," he said.

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