Subject: Time Asia: U.S. Creates Crack Indonesian Anti-Terror Unit [Task Force 88]

Time Asia Issue cover-dated November 24, 2003

Indonesia: Police Academy 1

At an unusual school in West Java, the U.S. is training and arming Indonesian cops to fight terrorism

By Jason Tedjasukmana

photo: Gunplay: An American instructor teaches the finer points of pistol shooting to Task Force 88 recruits. John Stanmeyer

MEGAMENDUNG, Java - By the end of the six-week course, the 24 students will have fired more than 30,000 bullets. Watching Captain Ardiansyah Daulay, a 28-year-old trainee who is pumping hundreds of practice rounds out of a shiny new 9-mm Glock, Jake Wohlman, the American regional-security officer overseeing the counterterrorism project, observes, "It's all about repetition. When they're finished, these guys will be the new élite."

That emerging élite is Task Force 88, an Indonesian crack police unit created by the U.S. State Department's Diplomatic Security Service as part of its program to develop local antiterrorism specialists in countries allied with Washington in the war on terror. More than $12 million has been spent by the U.S. to build a top-notch training school in Megamendung, some 50 kilometers south of Jakarta, where an academy belonging to the national police once stood. The four-hectare site features a "shoot house" for simulated hostage-taking situations, a breaching area to practice setting door charges, and a firing range. "We've never seen facilities like these," says Ardiansyah, who was recruited for Task Force 88 from the police Mobile Brigade, or Brimob as it's known in Indonesia. By the end of 2005, another $12 million will have gone toward forging a team of 400 Indonesian investigators, explosives experts and snipers, armed with high-end American weaponry, including assault vehicles, Colt M-4 assault rifles, Armalite AR-10 sniper rifles and Remington 870 shotguns. "They are training exactly as they would do in the U.S.," explains program manager Gary Laing, a West Point graduate who has served nine years in the U.S. military. "We teach them to save lives and use deadly force as a last resort."

Giving Indonesian cops more firepower is controversial because the police were once an integral part of the military, and parts of the force were notorious for being heavy-handed. Brimob, for example, has been accused by human-rights groups of committing abuses in recent years in provinces such as Aceh and Papua, where the authorities are battling separatist rebels. In an attempt to restore their responsibility for internal security, the police were hived off from the military three years ago, a move Washington supported. By providing advanced weapons and training, however, the U.S. is sparking concern that the police might use them for more questionable purposes. "If you give them this type of equipment, it is not a police force anymore," says Peter van Tuijl of the Partnership for Governance Reform, an international organization helping to reform Indonesia's police force. "It blurs the distinction between police and military." Santiago Villaveces of the Asia Foundation, an NGO working on democracy, law reform and civil-society issues in Indonesia, says, "This is militarizing the police when they should be demilitarizing."

With the U.S. Congress still restricting aid to Indonesia's military, Washington has little choice but to rely on the police in its drive to root out terrorism in the country. "It was bold to propose assisting a foreign police force, especially one that has had human-rights problems in the past, like Indonesia," admits U.S. ambassador Ralph Boyce. But, he says, "I believe security forces that have the benefit of training like this are going to behave better than ones that don't." Boyce adds that all Indonesian trainees are vetted to ensure none have been accused of rights violations, and that the Brimob recruits will not return to their former unit. Meanwhile, Task Force 88 has already chalked up some successes. Graduates of the first two classes were deployed to the scene of August's JW Marriott bombing in Jakarta and were instrumental in last month's arrests of two men wanted for the deadly attack.

Instructors at the training school, mostly former U.S. special forces, say the recruits are among the best they have ever trained anywhere. "These guys are very motivated, willing to learn and pick up things quickly," says Chris Armand, an ex-Marine. Once Task Force 88 is fully operational, similar programs are slated to begin in Colombia and Pakistan. For trainee Ardiansyah, the job is clear: "Disable the terrorists before they hurt more people."

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