During a day-long visit to Jakarta, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates met Indonesia’s leaders, with whom he discussed military support and regional terrorism. After over a decade of severed military ties that came to an end in 2005, Indonesia and the US are keen to build up their military co-operation.
US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates will visit five countries during an 8-day trip to Asia
Jakarta's military fleet is aging and needs overhauling. It needs modern fighter planes, helicopters and other equipment. The US has offered its assistance to Indonesia in its efforts to modernize its military.
“Our discussions centred on ways the United States can work with Indonesia as it continues to strengthen the pillars of a modern stable constitutional democracy,” Gates told reporters after the talks.
“One of those pillars is the military. In particular, we discussed how the United States can contribute to ongoing efforts to reform the Indonesian military and develop its capabilities especially in the airlift and maritime domains. Whether by training or by providing equipment, the United States stands ready to assist in whatever way we can.”
The Indonesian government also discussed the desire to purchase F-16 fighter jets -- defence ministry officials said they had met with a positive response from the US.
End of strained ties
Washington cut off all military ties with Jakarta in 1992 after the Indonesian army devastated East Timor when it broke away from Indonesia. During a 13-year standoff, American firms were prohibited from any defence sales to Indonesia.
However, the restrictions were lifted in late 2005 and the US has shown an interest in cementing the ties further.
As Gates explained in Jakarta, Washington acknowledges Indonesia’s strategic importance in Southeast Asia and its political weight as the world's most populous Muslim state:
“There are numbers of challenges here in the region in terms of terrorism, piracy, various other kinds of criminal activity where Indonesia can play a leading role in maritime surveillance,” Gates said. “Indonesia is a regional power with global reach and that's a good thing."
Indonesia faces a threat from Islamist militant groups -- in particular Jemaah Islamiah. The terror network has been blamed for a series of bombings in Indonesia, which include the 2002 Bali bombings.
Gates praised Indonesia’s efforts to deal with the militants effectively and also urged other countries in the region to come together to fight militancy.
The US defence secretary is due to visit five countries, including India and Turkey, during an eight-day trip.