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DoD News Briefing with Brig. Gen. John Toolan from the Pentagon

Presenters: Principal Director for South and Southeast Asia and Pacific Security Affairs Brig. Gen. John Toolan
April 11, 2007 10:00 AM EDT
            COL. GARY KECK (director, DOD Press Office): Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the DOD Briefing Room again. As you all know, I'm Colonel Keck here in the press room. And we have with us today the privilege of having Brigadier General John Toolan, who is the principal deputy -- or principal director for South and Southeast Asia in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs. General Toolan is here today to provide us an update on counterterrorism efforts in South and Southeast Asia. He probably has a short opening statement, and then he can take your questions. 
 
            And with that, I'm going to turn it directly over to General Toolan. 
 
            Sir? 
 
            GEN. TOOLAN: Well, first of all, I'm really glad to have this opportunity to get some of the word out, specifically as being the principal director of South and Southeast Asia. I've had the opportunity now to spend a lot of time in that part of the world, and if I thought that there were two major themes of our efforts, the first theme is that our national interests and our national health lays squarely in Asia from not only economic perspectives, but from a security perspective. 
 
            But unfortunately, I think that the war in Iraq and Afghanistan has drawn so much attention that some of our allies and friends in Asia and Southeast Asia, and South Asia in particular, believe that we aren't spending the time, the quality time that's necessary to build those interests and build those relationships. So I'm going to talk a little bit about that and exactly how we are doing that. 
 
            And the second point is something that's really critically important. Some people talk about this concept of Whac-A-Mole. You know, you take care of a problem in one part of the world, and a problem will pop up some place else. Now what we have really established, particularly through the efforts of the COCOMs, but with the policy directives coming from OSD, is a concept of attacking the war on terrorism from a global perspective. And so what I'd like to do is highlight just a couple of the things that our commanders and our friends in the State Department and USAID and the whole quiver of tools that the U.S. government has at its disposal to address the issues of terrorism around the world. 
 
            I think if I had to title this opportunity to talk to the press and to get the word out, I would say that it's all about winning in Asia and the Pacific region. 
 
            And when I say "winning," I'm talking about winning the peace. South/Southeast Asia has emerged quietly, but yet it's a crucial front in the long war. We are looking at attacking the issues on terrorism in South/Southeast Asia, by building partnership capacity. In fact, as part of the QDR, one of the key elements that came out of that was the whole issue of building partnership capacity. And each region has a responsibility to work, using the various funds that are at the disposal of the combatant commanders, as well as State Department, to look at what is needed, and then help them build that capacity. 
 
            We have used the term the "indirect approach" as being the method by which we build partnership capacity. We believe certainly that a unilateral approach on the part of the U.S. is not the right answer. We've learned from experience that having large footprints is problematic. And so our effort is to, using the lessons learned, using the experience and the talents that are available to the U.S., to then impart those capabilities upon our friends and allies in South and Southeast Asia and allow them to do the job. And by the indirect approach I also mean being able to use some of our key allies in Asia, and working with them and through them to then help build capacity and capability within South and Southeast Asia. For example, we in Asia have five primary allies -- you know, Japan, Korea, Australia, Thailand -- and these allies that we have have some tremendous capability, and working with them we then indirectly improve the capabilities of our other allies in Southeast Asia such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, et cetera, Sri Lanka. So this indirect approach is not only just training and emphasizing the capabilities of our friends in South and Southeast Asia, but also working indirectly through some of our key allies in Asia.   
 
            And we're also using some of the regional fora that's available. The ASEAN Regional Forum is becoming a key interlocutor with some of our Southeast Asian allies to work through on a regional perspective and help build capacity, help join hands. And I'll talk a little bit about that in a few minutes. 
 
            We think that this indirect approach will eventually, over a long-term effort, address some of the root causes of terrorism. We know that terrorism really is in many ways a result of the quality of life and the level of security that people have within their own national boundaries. And we believe that using USAID and State Department diplomacy, et cetera, that we can address these root causes and then, most importantly, help reduce the recruiting of terrorists and insurgents throughout South and Southeast Asia. 
 
            As a result of the QDR, I think you know that one of the key elements that came out of that is that we must have a program that counters the ideological support for terrorism. And so -- and when we talk about root causes, I mean, that is actually what is the nexus behind our efforts, is to get at those -- ideological support to terrorism. 
 
            So how are we going to do this, promote stability and security? I mean, one, obviously, is promoting economic development, to help shape the conditions for good governance and rule of law, and then, finally, to organize, train and equip local security forces, which we have found certainly is an essential ingredient in the efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. And we also understand, as I mentioned earlier, through this indirect approach, being able to provide that capability to all those nations in Southeast Asia that are dealing with or potentially could deal with terrorism.   
 
            The key in many ways is to provide institutional change. We have right -- currently, right now, in Southeast Asia two major -- or in Asia two major efforts on defense reform initiatives. One is going on in Mongolia, and the other one has currently been ongoing in the Philippines for about two years.   
 
            The Philippine Defense Reform Initiative is a major effort to look at everything in the defense department at -- within the Philippines. Specifically, we are taking a look at their budgeting process, as well as taking a look at their professional development. From professional development, we're talking about not only education but we're also talking about ethics, et cetera -- ethics in combat environments, et cetera. 
 
            The institutional reform is a process that we initiate through our Defense Resource Management System here at OSD. We send out experts to the country -- the country opens up its defense department, allows us to take a good, hard look at their budgeting process, their acquisition process, their policies and directives -- and then help them sort of reformulate them so that they have a very workable defense organization that has good objectives and a good a vision, and then we let them take off.   
 
            And in the Philippines we're seeing that right now. Specifically, as many of you know, in the Philippines, over the past three months, they have captured three of the key Abu Sayyaf leadership. And they're pushing them further and further away from their home bases in areas like Jolo and Tawi-Tawi, and they're pushing them even further out into the neighboring countries, in and around Malaysia and the Sabah and in Indonesia, which is a very positive thing because, as I spoke earlier, as we look to the regional forum, things like maritime security is allowing the Indonesians and the Malaysians to work and cooperate with the Philippines to identify potential safe havens for these terrorists and keep the pressure on. 
 
            I think with that, I'll probably end and leave an opportunity for you to ask some questions. 
 
            COL. KECK: Yes, Pam. 
 
            Q     Could you talk about the threat in Asia and how it relates to what we know about al Qaeda or the Middle East? When we talk about the global war on terrorism, it tends to create the notion of kind of a single terrorist threat that's all linked. What's your understanding of who these groups are, what their linkages are, how many there are and what impact they have in other parts of the world? 
 
            GEN. TOOLAN: Well, you know, I think many people would look at terrorism and immediately they would associate the terrorist activities with the Islamist extremist views that have been percolating all over the world.  There are some significant perceptions that need to be overcome in Asia.   
 
            For example, many of you may know the story of the Burnhams. And when the Burnhams talked about their capture, they said -- and of course, they were very well-educated on, you know, theocracy and religion -- and they said, you know, these terrorists didn't even understand the Koran. They had no concept of the Islamic religion. So it wasn't necessarily Islamic extremists that were taking the lead in the terrorist activities in the Philippines.   
 
            But what's happening in perceptions, particularly in the Philippines, is that some of the disingenuous Islamists are looking at the activities in the Philippines and they're saying, well, this is Catholics bashing on Muslims. It's a similar issue when you look at the insurgency in Thailand.   And, you know, it's not a good governing body taking a serious interest in security and stability of their country and trying to prevent the insurgency from growing in Malaysia; it's Buddhists versus Muslims.   
 
            And these are perceptions that need to be overcome because it's not the case.  
 
            It's the case of, in many ways, thugs and criminals and drug runners and people who just are in a position to wield a little power for a short period of time, and they are trying to create the kind of chaos that they then profit from. And these are governments going after that. Unfortunately, in that network that you're addressing, the problem is, is that there is that al Qaeda larger organization that will capitalize on the chaos and the confusion and the criminality that's going on in those countries. And that's the challenge and that's the problem. 
 
            Q     How do they capitalize on it? 
 
            GEN. TOOLAN: By -- one, there is funding, there is transnational shipping of supplies and munitions. And those things are being addressed, as I spoke earlier about some of our maritime security initiatives, from a regional perspective.   
 
            So -- sir. 
 
            Q     Sir, just two questions really. How does China play into your calculations in Southeast Asia? And second, I understand there's an exercise going on with the United States Navy and India. How close are the relationships between the United States and India, and how does that influence the operations in Southeast Asia? 
 
            GEN. TOOLAN: I'll speak -- big questions, big countries. Certainly you can't talk about anything that we do in Southeast Asia without considering China because China is, as well, very interested in the stability and security of Asia as the United States. And I believe that the U.S.'s position is to maintain and continue to work with China to increase the level of stability and security in Asia. 
 
            With that said, the U.S. is continually engaged with China on activities that we are involved in in Southeast Asia. For example, even closer to home, some of the activities that are going on in Mongolia, as we try to build a peacekeeping -- a large enough peacekeeping force worldwide to address what we know in the next coming three, four years will be exorbitant numbers of peacekeepers that will be required throughout the world -- I think the U.N. estimated 80,000 peacekeepers would be required by 2010. 
 
            So we're on a major effort to try and certify and grow and train and build peacekeepers. Our efforts in Mongolia raised the eyebrows of the Chinese, as what are we doing? But in discussion with the Chinese about exactly what the initiative was, an initiative is Global Peacekeeping Operations Initiative, which currently is being well- funded by the United States -- and Mongolia is a key recipient of that -- is to build peacekeepers. And when once that was understood, China said okay. It makes sense. 
 
            And I just want to address the India question. I mean, India is certainly a partner with the United States. Slowly but surely, that relationship is continuing to grow and build. The efforts -- and you have to understand that also -- I'm sure you do -- that India is the largest democracy in the world, and that there is a natural relationship between India and the U.S. And so as we look at that wide-open sea in the area that's particularly around the -- what we call the terrorist triangle in and around the Sulawesi Sea -- I mean, having India's capability -- some naval capability to help address the security in those oceans is of great importance. 
 
            Q     Thank you. 
 
            You talked in general about the importance of the region and what you say -- the fight against terror there. I'm wondering, do you -- you know, is there any additional money for this, for training and exercises, not only at the Pentagon but at AID and State or -- you know, are you suggesting that there should be more money? If you could talk about programs, money and need for any joint exercises out there. Thanks. 
 
            GEN. TOOLAN: As I just mentioned, GPOI, which is the Global Peacekeeping Operation Initiative, that budget is fairly substantial. It's about -- I think it's about $2 million a year. It doesn't sound like a lot, but when we're talking about training peacekeepers, that does a pretty good job. 
 
            Additionally, last year, the Defense Department was authorized what we call 1206 funding, which is additional money that was set aside specifically for helping to build capacity regarding counterterrorism. And it runs the gamut of not only tactical capabilities -- you know, night vision, training, et cetera -- but it also talks about civil military operations and engineering efforts to rebuild the roads. 
 
            That 1206 funding additionally is going towards -- a large of piece of it -- I'm going to say $40 million; 12 million (dollars), for example, just went to Malaysia to help them build a maritime surveillance capability in the Sulawesi Sea. We -- in the next year, we will have tied four of those countries in Southeast Asia together with significant surveillance capability that we will be able to know what's transiting those waterways, which we are well aware of is being used for a variety of different illegal things, from munitions to drugs to personnel, people, et cetera. 
 
            So the 1206 funding has been a major effort.   
 
            And then of course finally in foreign assistance, there has been a draw on foreign assistance from State Department. However, recently, State Department has reorganized their funding processes. And we're right now in the middle, actually, of fine-tuning exactly what we will be providing to each country.   
 
            But we still are funding, in and throughout Southeast Asia, IMET, which is a way of really building that professional military education that I was talking about. For example, you know that in Indonesia, only in 2005, a year-and-a-half ago, we really re-engaged with Indonesia. Since '97, they've basically not had anybody go to our schools. Well, we've refunded that, and now they're coming to our schools through the IMET program. And it's a great opportunity to really sit and talk with them about values and ethics, et cetera.   
 
            Q     Yeah, but you watch this more closely than anyone. I mean, are there any programs that need more money, more emphasis?   
 
            GEN. TOOLAN: Yes. I think that there's always a need for more money, and I would start with the IMET programs. And throughout my travels, one of the first things that I am bombarded with is, can we get more quotas to your schools? Because they know that that's where they're going to get a good quality education.   
 
            And in addition, it also provides a method of -- a way of sort of standardizing procedures and understanding in that region if they're educated centrally. So that is certainly an area that we could use more.   
 
            Q     How much is being spent? How much more do you think should be spent on that?   
 
            GEN. TOOLAN: For example, I would say, what are we spending in Thailand?   
 
            OFF MIKE: This year, we're not spending any, because --  
 
            GEN. TOOLAN: Okay, thank you.   
 
            $26 million was provided to Thailand last year. I think that we could easily double that, and they'd still be able to fill the school seats that were available. So --  
 
            Q     Why is no money being spent?   
 
            GEN. TOOLAN: In September, 19th in fact, there was a coup in Thailand. And based on legislation that Congress wrote in, if there's a coup and it's looked upon as being undemocratic, then all funding would be cancelled until --  
 
            Q     The root of the problem, though, that we had with Indonesia.   
 
            In other words, by not having their officers at our schools, we missed a generation; we missed being able to influence a generation of Indonesian officers. And isn't it -- shouldn't there be another way to maybe express our displeasure with these regimes? 
 
            GEN. TOOLAN: That was a generation of officers, 10 years, or actually, I guess -- 10 years, and we're just getting those Indonesians back into our school houses. And I think it was a significant loss. The -- but obviously, the other side of the coin is is that when we talk about human rights, if there's any nation that stands at the top as far as protecting human rights, it's our nation, it's our country. And our Congress watches that closely, and that's their way of managing that problem. 
 
            We hope and we believe that, for example, in Thailand the current government is going to be able to get elections restarted and we will be able to restart funding shortly. 
 
            Q     Someone from this building, I think it was on Capitol Hill recently held up the Philippines as sort of a model for how the U.S., I think, should be deploying in the war on terror. Is that true? Is there a model? Is that the place? And are you talking -- is that because of the footprint or the activities you were talking about, like the partnerships? Can you shed any light on that? 
 
            GEN. TOOLAN: Actually, I think it was Admiral Fallon during his testimony when he was being considered for the CENTCOM job, is he used the Philippines as an example of that indirect approach that I was just talking about; where now since 2002, actually, the United States has been involved in efforts to help train the Philippine forces, armed forces.   
 
            And since 2002 to today, the Abu Sayyaf, which was really an Islamic-related terrorist group but more along the lines of what I spoke about earlier, is more criminal related than truly Islamist, they are on the run. Areas like Mindanao, which was a safe haven for Abu Sayyaf, I just a couple months ago went anywhere I wanted to go. I think the ambassador to the Philippines, Ambassador Kenney, goes down there all the time. Four years ago, that didn't happen. And slowly but surely, more and more of those areas. 
 
            But more importantly is that the economic development in Mindanao and Jolo -- and we're working our way further south -- is just tremendous. People are employed. People are happy. They're working. So the economic aspect. And that, I think, was the point, is that there are no kinetic solutions to this problem. It's all non-kinetic.  
 
            And if you look at what the Philippine armed forces is doing, first of all, years past, the Philippine armed forces may have been regarded as a little bit heavy-handed. If you see what they're doing now, they understand civil military operations and they are effectively working on it.   
 
            So it's a positive step. And that's, I think, the reason why the Philippines was used as an example. 
 
            Q     Since you recently came back from there, can you identify what you would say is the most immediate threat in that region? Anything really "hair on fire," whether it's a particular group? 
 
            GEN. TOOLAN: I think that we're not there yet regarding regional cooperation. We are very close on bilateral operations; you know, U.S. working with Indonesia, U.S. working with Thailand, Australians working with Indonesians; you know, Japanese are engaged down there. But what we haven't been able to do is bring it completely together in a multilateral picture, and that is our vision in the next couple of years.   
 
            And as I mentioned earlier, I talked about that terrorist triangle in and around the Sulu-Sulawesi Sea. 
 
            I mean, it's been a wide open expanse that is -- we call ungoverned space. We are trying to find a way to govern it, and the only way it can be done is through the efforts of the countries that border the Sulu and Sulawesi Sea. So indirectly, we're helping and assisting in providing maritime technology, surveillance capabilities, et cetera. If we can get a handle on that, we will stop the trafficking -- or they will stop the trafficking, with our assistance, and that's key. 
 
            COL. KECK: Maybe one or two more. 
 
            Q     General, could you defend your opening statement where you said that U.S. national security is linked to this area? I think we understand the economic engine that's over there, but where's the security link? 
 
            GEN. TOOLAN: I think as we look at the Asian region, if we don't stay involved, if we don't stay engaged, nature abhors a vacuum, and it will be filled by someone else. And certainly we know that the markets in that part -- in Asia are critical to our economic health in the United States. So we want to maintain those relationships, continue to build upon them, and help break down some of the negative perceptions about the U.S. and the impression that we sometimes do things unilaterally.  
 
            I don't know if I made that one clear enough, but -- (chuckles). 
 
            Q     Who fills that space if the United States doesn't? 
 
            GEN. TOOLAN: You know, you take your pick. But certainly, you know, China's blossoming. I mean, they need markets and they need resources. And just like any nation, in their own national interest they're going to try and find ways to bring those resources to that country and allow it to continue to grow at 10 percent a year. 
 
            Q     So China's a competitor in that regard rather than a cooperative element? 
 
            GEN. TOOLAN: I see China as being a competitor. And I think India has got certain -- I mean, India's got a "look East" policy as well.  
 
            And so everybody is competing for resources. Everybody's competing for markets. I think Adam Smith was very correct in saying that, you know, there's an invisible hand out there, that everybody's competing in order to grow. And that's what I'd see. 
 
            Q     Competition. 
 
            COL. KECK: Going to be one more.   
 
            Q     Do you -- I don't know how long you've been traveling back and forth to this region, but have you seen the United States increase -- you talk about the negative perception of the United States. Do you feel that people see the United States in a worse light now than they did maybe four, five, six years ago? 
 
            GEN. TOOLAN: As I mentioned earlier, I think that there is a perception that the United States is distracted by Iraq and Afghanistan. And you know, my mandate and certainly my office's objective is to, one, make sure that we are out there, we are looking at their issues, we're addressing their issues -- that's why the funding is important -- and to make sure that we're continuing to provide what they need and what they want.   
 
            But there is that perception that we're distracted, and so our efforts are to give as much as possible through this indirect approach, as I mentioned, so that they'll continue to want to work with us. 
 
            And I didn't mention much also about South Asia, but I just recently was in Sri Lanka. Actually, the day I arrived, it was -- 10 minutes before, the airport was bombed by those LTTE Cessna aircraft. 
 
            And you know, the first thing that the secretary of defense said to me afterwards was, "Can you help us? Can you help us with our air defense?" Absolutely. I mean, we certainly will do that, and we're in the business of helping you help yourself. 
 
            So as long as we continue to work with these countries in South and Southeast Asia to help them maintain security, I think we'll all benefit, in the long run. 
 
            COL. KECK: Thank you much. I appreciate it. 
 
            GEN. TOOLAN: All right.   
 
            Q     Thanks. 
 
            GEN. TOOLAN: Thanks.
 
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