U.S. Support Increases to East Timor "Operation Warden"
By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service
DARWIN, Australia, Sept. 29, 1999 The United States will expand its support to the international forces assembled to restore order in East Timor.
Defense Secretary William Cohen announced increased U.S. participation in Operation Warden during a joint press conference here Sept. 29 with Australian Defense Minister John Moore. Australia is leading International Forces East Timor, with the United States and other regional countries in supporting roles.
The additional U.S. participation includes Marine Corps heavy- lift helicopters, an Army communications team and more operations planners, Cohen said, reiterating, "We are in a support role." No other involvement in the East Timor operation is currently planned, according to senior DoD spokesman Ken Bacon, who is traveling with the secretary.
The four CH-53E Sea Stallions will be maintained by and will operate from the USS Belleau Wood, a carrier-like amphibious assault ship normally based at Sasebo, Japan. Cohen said the ship is currently loading in Okinawa and will arrive in the area of East Timor in a matter of days. The ship's complement will include 900 Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.
A special communications team of about 130 people from Fort Huachuca, Ariz., will soon deploy to Darwin and Dili, the capital of East Timor, Cohen said. By setting up and running a sophisticated high-capacity voice and data communications network, the team will help improve the peacekeepers' effectiveness by expanding its U.S.-provided command and control architecture, he said.
"This planning, intelligence, command and control and heavy lift helicopter support are major force multipliers that will greatly enhance the capability of the international force," Cohen said. The United States so far has assigned 260 service members directly to the peacekeeping force to provide airborne reconnaissance, secure telecommunications, logistics, heavy-lift transportation and the like. The U.S. contingent also includes a coordination center to integrate military and humanitarian operations.
To date, only nine Americans have deployed for duty in Dili, East Timor's capital. That's a tiny fraction of the more than 3,500 multinational forces on the ground there now. U.S. support, particularly the additions, is "very valuable," Australia's Moore said.
Cohen said all countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have a responsibility to participate. He said such participation is critical to regional stability and security.
The international force's immediate objective is to assure the departure of Indonesian militias that have harassed and killed East Timorese and forced many from their homes and into hiding. Cohen said some progress in achieving that goal has been made.
"We are already seeing encouraging progress as the Australian commanded peacekeeping troops enter and the Indonesian militias leave," he said. "Order is being re-established, humanitarian aid is starting to flow, and refugees will soon begin to return to rebuild their homes and their lives."
Cohen visited with American, Australian and New Zealand troops here before departing for Jakarta, where was scheduled to meet Sept. 30 with Indonesian President B.J. Habibie, Defense Minister Gen. Wiranto and others.
"Tomorrow in Jakarta, I will stress that the government of Indonesia has an obligation to allow refugees in West Timor to return safely to East Timor without interference or harm from the militia," Cohen said. He added he also would discuss the upcoming presidential elections and the importance of Indonesia to fulfill the will of its people for a democratically elected government.
"Stability, democracy and prosperity in Indonesia are as important to the United States as they are to Australia, and a democratic, stable, unified and prosperous Indonesia is important to Asia as a whole," he said.
Military-to-military commitments between the United States and Indonesia halted when factions of the Indonesian military disrupted a referendum vote that called for East Timor independence. A senior DoD official in Cohen's party said Indonesia must meet five conditions before military contacts with the United States would resume.
Indonesia must recognize the referendum and support East Timor independence, the official said. Also, the Jakarta government must handle internal political strife with open dialog and processes that don't violate people's rights; move toward civilian rule of the military; hold the military accountable for atrocities it committed against Indonesian citizens and East Timorese; and establish a democratic government.
"We believe that Indonesia will succeed in taking its place as the world's third largest democracy, with a government that reflects the will of the people and democratic values," Cohen said.