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Flexibility, Interoperability Key to Pacific Operations

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

SYDNEY, Australia, Aug. 11, 1998 – U.S. military forces in the Pacific must be flexible to meet both natural and political crises in the Asia Pacific region, Defense Secretary William Cohen said on Australian television July 30.

Cohen joined Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on the Australian Broadcasting Co. "Lateline" news talk show. During a live interview, the two clarified U.S. interests in and for the region.

Albright briefly recounted details of her en route visit to tsunami-damaged Papua New Guinea, where she pledged U.S. assistance in the island's recovery. Cohen said the natural disaster points out the need for flexibility in how the United States -- in particular, U.S. military forces -- approaches problems.

"[The United States has] to have a military that is completely flexible and able to deal with humanitarian missions as well as the traditional, conventional mission, such as protecting against aggression on the part of Saddam Hussein [or] preparing for any type of aggression on the Korean peninsula," Cohen said.

The defense secretary didn't elaborate on how the United States is aiding or will aid Papua New Guinea. But U.S. military relief efforts traditionally have involved the gamut of humanitarian assistance, including communications and medical aid and emergency restoration of basic infrastructure systems. Units in Hawaii and elsewhere train specifically to respond to natural disasters throughout the Pacific Theater as "operations other than war."

Both secretaries also addressed the importance of Australia to regional stability and security. Cohen said he's particularly concerned that the Australian military keeps up with the United States technologically.

"We want to make sure we can continue to work together in a very collaborative fashion," he said, referring to a U.S. "revolution in military affairs" that is developing and deploying new, information-based technologies.

Cohen cited the need for Australia to join the United States in upgrading its force with new weapons such as the F-22 or Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, as well as information systems. But Australia also needs to make doctrinal changes "so that our forces know how to employ this new technology in the most effective fashion. That's something we are going to work on very closely," he said.

"You can't have one country have all of the technology and the means of implementing it and have another partner be stuck with legacy technology and old policies," Cohen said. "So we are going to work together to build upon the strong relationship we have, one of the most important we have in the entire Asia Pacific region."

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