|Subject: U.S. Navy SEALs in Indonesia
U.S. Navy SEALs in Indonesia Anti-Terrorism Drill
JAKARTA, May 9 (Reuters): U.S. Navy Seals and Indonesian forces are practicing anti-terrorism drills, including boarding ships and battling pirates, in a palm-fringed string of resort islands near Jakarta, officials said on Monday. The programme, aimed at improving the ability of the two nations' forces to work closely, was part of a broader effort by Washington to boost regional security, a U.S. official said.
"We are not using any lethal assets. It involves only non-lethal assets," said Max Kwak, a spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Jakarta.
"The war on terror is also part of it," he added, but declined to say where the drills were being held or how many U.S. troops were involved.
Piracy is a big concern for Asian and Western security forces who warn that terrorists could exploit lawlessness in the region, particularly in the key Malacca Strait shipping lane, to launch a crippling attack on global trade.
Fears among some states bordering the strait that the United States was seeking a policing role were a factor behind the launch last year of coordinated patrols by Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
"This event is an exercise, not a joint operation at sea between the Indonesian military and the U.S. Pacific Command," said Lt. Col. Edi Fernandi, a spokesman for the Indonesian navy's western fleet.
Kwak said the Subject Matter Expert Exchange programme, under which this month's drills fall, was reinstated last year, after its suspension in the wake of the violence by Indonesia-backed militias following East Timor's 1999 vote for independence.
Military ties between Indonesia and the United States have begun to strengthen in recent months.
However, a senior U.S. official said over the weekend full relations would not be restored until Jakarta accounted for past violence in East Timor and brought to justice those behind the 2002 murder of two American school teachers in remote Papua.
Fernandi said the current exercises began with classroom sessions on May 2 and would finish on May 13.
He said they were being held in the Kepulauan Seribu archipelago just north of Jakarta. Although the name literally means one thousand islands, there are only about 130, many home to tourist resorts.
"On Saturday, we started exercises on Laki Island involving 34 soldiers from the Indonesian navy, seven from the U.S. Navy SEALs, five from the Indonesian army and five from the Indonesian air force," Fernandi said.
"The exercises include anti-piracy and searching a ship in dealing with sea terrorism."
AFP, May 9, 2005
Malaysia and US renew defence pact, discuss Malacca Strait security
The United States offered to help ensure security in the pirate-plagued Malacca Strait as it renewed a defence pact with Malaysia, Defence Minister Najib Razak said.
US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick made the offer after witnessing the renewal of the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA), a 10-year military logistics cooperation pact.
"Zoellick was very pleased with the level of cooperation given by Malaysia in the field of tackling terrorism, especially in our Counter Terrorism Centre, our domestic efforts to eliminate terrorism and our role in the region to reduce terrorism and conflicts," Najib said.
Zoellick had also touched on the sensistive issue of security in the Malacca Strait, where pirate attacks have raised fears terrorists could hijack an oil tanker and use it as an enormous bomb.
Najib said Zoellick had offered help which would not undermine the sovereignty of the three states bordering the busy shipping lane -- Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.
Malaysia has in the past rejected suggestions that the US or other foreign navies be allowed to help patrol the strait.
"It (the United States) wants to help out without affecting the sovereignty of the states, and the US recognises that they do not want to undermine the principles of sovereignty in this area," Najib was quoted as saying by the official Bernama news agency.
"In what way and what areas they want to help is for the US to consider," he said.
The Malacca Strait is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, funnelling about a quarter of the world's trade, or 50,000 vessels a year.
Najib also said Malaysia had agreed to participate in the US port security intiative which aims to tighten security on all cargo heading for the United States. This programme would not involve an American presence in the region.
Malaysia has said in the past that the presence of US forces in the Malacca Strait would heighten the risk of terrorism rather than reduce it.
AFP, May 9, 2005
Myanmar blames ethnic guerrillas, pro-democracy camp for deadly blasts
Military-ruled Myanmar draped a tight security blanket over the sites of three bombings in the capital after the junta blamed the unprecedented attacks on ethnic guerrillas and pro-democracy activists.
At least 11 people died when the devices, hidden in bags and set off by timer, exploded Saturday afternoon at two upscale shopping malls and a convention center, the junta said. Witnesses reported dozens dead.
Armed security forces were deployed around the sites. Windows and doors of the Dagon and Junction Eight shopping complexes were boarded up and the surrounding areas cordoned off, with nearby shops closed.
An explosion also damaged the Yangon Trade Center, where a Thai trade fair was taking place, according to the official New Light of Myanmar, which described the bombings as "despicable acts perpetrated in collusion by the terrorists undermining the state and community peace and tranquility."
One bomb was left among seats in front of a stage at the Yangon Trade Centre, another at the bag check counter at a grocery store at Junction Eight, and a third near the ground floor escalator at the Dagon shopping center, the paper said.
An official at the home affairs ministry said a fourth bomb was placed near a generator at Dagon.
City residents were shocked by the attacks.
"This is terrible. It has never happened before, this deliberate aim to kill innocent people," one Yangon businessman told AFP.
In the aftermath, nervous authorities scrapped a planned mass rally for fear of a repeat attack.
Several thousand people were converging on the ancient city of Bagan for a rally led by the Union Solidarity and Development Association, a prominent government social organization, to denounce a recent declaration of independence by a group of exiled Shan ethnic leaders.
"The mass rally was aborted after yesterday's bombings in Yangon," a source close to the government told AFP.
Tensions also remained high in Yangon, where shopping complexes were closed Sunday while security teams and bomb disposal experts combed the city amid concerns another bomb had yet to blow up.
State television showed images of mangled metal ceilings and twisted aluminum rafters at the three sites.
State radio and officials in two Yangon hospitals said 11 people had been killed. Yangon General Hospital said Sunday 162 people were hospitalized but in good condition. Hospital authorities did not elaborate, but said they expected the official death toll to climb.
Witnesses at the three sites reported dozens killed and saw mangled and burned bodies, some missing heads and limbs.
"It felt like an earthquake," said one man who was in the basement of Junction Eight during the blast.
Authorities have blamed an alliance of ethnic rebel armies and a pro-democracy exile group for the bombings.
Three of the groups, representing Shan, Karen and Karenni ethnic groups, quickly issued denials.
The blasts, and the junta's finger pointing, provoked animated reaction.
"Why would they target innocent people?" one man said. "They would be targeting military installations instead."
Experts said the three ethnic armies, fighting for autonomy for their regions, have never worked together, nor have the pro-democracy dissidents in exile ever joined with the rebels.
Myanmar watchers could provide no consensus on who was behind the blasts, but agreed the military's claims were not credible.
Myanmar has been at various stages of civil war for decades, with government troops battling several ethnic guerrilla armies, but the capital has not seen an attack on this scale in living memory.
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Sunday dispatched a military plane to Yangon which brought home 128 of the more than 200 Thais at the trade fair. The remainder were to return on commercial flights.
The blasts came as Asian and European foreign ministers meeting in Japan urged Myanmar to speed up democratic reforms, but the ministers stopped short of making more specific demands such as the release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest.
Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate, has spent most of the past 15 years in detention after her National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory in 1990 elections but was never allowed to take power.
The NLD condemned the bombings.
The Washington Post May 9, 2005 -front page-
U.S. Officers In Iraq Put Priority on Extremists
Hussein Loyalists Not Seen as Greatest Threat
By Bradley Graham Washington Post Staff Writer
BAGHDAD, May 8 -- Senior U.S. commanders say their view of the Iraqi insurgency has begun to shift, with higher priority being given to combating foreign fighters and Iraqi jihadists.
This shift comes in response to the recent upsurge in suicide attacks and other developments that indicate a more prominent role in the insurgency by these radical groups, the commanders say.
Previously, U.S. authorities have depicted the insurgency as being dominated largely by what the Pentagon has dubbed "former regime elements" -- a combination of onetime Baath Party loyalists and Iraqi military and security service officers intent on restoring Sunni rule. But since the Jan. 30 elections, this segment of the insurgency has appeared to pull back from the fight, at least for a while, reassessing strategies and exploring a possible political deal with the new government, senior U.S. officers here say.
Acting on the assumption that foreign fighters and Iraqi extremists may now pose the greater and more immediate threat to security in Iraq, U.S. commanders have given orders in recent days to reposition some U.S. ground forces and intelligence assets in northwestern Iraq to further fortify the border with Syria and block suspected infiltration routes. They are also stepping up efforts to go after leading bomb-makers and key organizers of the suicide attacks.
In interviews, several commanders and intelligence officers cautioned that their shift was still tentative and based more on fragmentary information and intuition than on solid, specific evidence. They said assessments differed among U.S. intelligence specialists.
But supporting the impression that a harder-core insurgent element has become more important, the officers say, is the fact that suicide missions have become more frequent and more ruthless -- many have been positioned and timed to kill civilians as well as Iraqi security forces. U.S. and Iraqi authorities say suicide drivers are invariably foreign fighters. Officers here said they knew of no documented case in which a suicide attacker turned out to have been an Iraqi.
A recent U.S. intelligence estimate also shows an increase last month in the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq, according to several officers familiar with it.
"There seems to be an increasing foreign element to the insurgency," said Army Gen. George Casey, the senior U.S. commander in Iraq.
With Baathist-led Sunni groups appearing to sit on the sidelines for now, some senior officers say the insurgency seems to have shrunk as its tactics have become more vicious.
"The base of the insurgency is getting very narrow, but it is still a fairly competent terrorist base," one commanding officer said on condition of anonymity. More than 300 people have been killed since the formation of Iraq's new government 10 days ago.
The generals allow for the possibility that the apparent change in the nature of the insurgency may be only temporary. They noted, for instance, that a failure to draw the Sunnis into the new political process could again drive the Baathists into more violent opposition.
"They may have just taken a pause," said Army Brig. Gen. John DeFreitas III, the top military intelligence officer in Iraq. "I'm not sure they've quit the insurgency. They can certainly come back."
Even with the reported rise in foreign fighters, several senior officers said, the number estimated to be coming into the country each month is still relatively small -- in the neighborhood of several score. In numerical terms, they said, the insurgency remains essentially homegrown. Iraqi members of extremist Islamic factions, such as the Ansar al Sunna Army, continue to account for many insurgent attacks.
But in terms of overall effect, the foreign fighters who serve as suicide bombers and cause high casualties are having a disproportionate impact, the officers said. The most prominent foreign fighter -- Jordanian-born Abu Musab Zarqawi -- has become Iraq's best-known insurgent, leading a network that has asserted responsibility for some of the bloodier attacks.
Like Zarqawi, a number of foreign fighters are said to be forming tactical partnerships with Iraqi extremist groups to carry out attacks. Though foreigners may drive the suicide cars, Iraqis are frequently behind the scenes operating the networks that provide safe houses, assemble the explosives and arrange other support.
The number of car bombings jumped from 64 in February to 135 in April, according to U.S. military statistics. The proportion of such attacks involving a suicide driver also soared, from about 25 percent to just over 50 percent.
"The car bomb has become the weapon of choice for these guys, it's their precision weapon," another general here said.
Overall, the rate of attacks has climbed from about 30 to 40 a day in February and March to an average of about 70 a day now, by the U.S. military's count.
The main infiltration route into Iraq for foreign fighters continues to be through Syria, the officers here said. Citing terrorist Web sites that advertise for recruits in such countries as Sudan, Libya and Saudi Arabia, the officers said the fighters tended to be flown to Damascus, the Syrian capital, where they were met by facilitators and moved across the border into Iraq.
The spate of car bombings has prompted U.S. commanders to put renewed emphasis on interdicting infiltrators near the border and uncovering bomb-making networks inside Iraq. But commanders are still debating how much to refocus U.S. military operations on the more radical elements of the insurgency.
"Do you focus the preponderance of effort on the former regime elements, or do you shift the targeting effort to another part of the insurgency? That's what people are grappling with right now," said DeFreitas, the intelligence officer.
With the recent rise in attacks, U.S. commanders acknowledge that some of the momentum gained from January's election has been lost. But they say they still hope to make enough progress containing the insurgency and building up Iraqi security forces this year to allow for a significant reduction in U.S. troops early next year. A formal assessment of the progress toward that end is scheduled for next month.
AFP, May 9, 2005
Two US Marines killed in eastern Afghanistan as rebels wage bloody offensive
Two US Marines were killed in a clash with insurgents in eastern Afghanistan, the US military said as suspected Taliban rebels wage an increasingly bloody spring offensive.
The casualties occurred Sunday after a group of Marines clashed with about 25 insurgents northwest of Jalalabad, a US military statement said.
"The Marines had intelligence that insurgents were in the region and sought out the insurgent location. The Marines located the insurgents and an engagement ensued," the statement said.
It gave no further details but militants from the ousted Taliban regime have increased their attacks on US and Afghan troops in recent weeks.
The latest American casualties brought to 25 the number of US soldiers killed in Afghanistan this year, including 15 who died in a helicopter crash on April 6 in southern Ghazni province.
Violence has spiralled in southern and southeastern Afghanistan since the country's harshest winter in a decade came to an end and allowed poorly equipped Taliban militants to mount new, near-daily attacks.
The Islamic hardline regime is still fighting to rid the country of the US-led troops who helped oust them three and a half years ago in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks which killed about 3,000 people in the United States, and for which Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility.
But it is the Taliban who appear to have come off worst recently.
Fierce clashes over three days last week between suspected Taliban rebels and US and Afghan forces left at least 70 people dead, officials said.
Nine Afghan soldiers died in an ambush on Wednesday in Kandahar province and more than 20 militants were killed in an ensuing gunbattle, the US military said.
Four Afghan soldiers and one US soldier were wounded in the firefight, US-led coalition spokeswoman Lieutenant Cindy Moore told AFP.
A brutal clash in neighbouring Zabul province on Tuesday left 40 Taliban and one Afghan police officer dead, the US military said. It was one of the harshest battles since the Taliban were toppled in late 2001.
A spokeswoman for the US-led coalition said the clash left six US servicemen and five Afghan police wounded.
More than 18,000 US-led troops are in Afghanistan hunting militants along with the fledgling national army.
President Hamid Karzai has offered an olive branch to all but a hardcore of 150 militants accused of crimes against humanity, while the Taliban's former foreign minister last week urged them to join peace talks.
Fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and former prime minister and warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar are not excluded from an amnesty offer, Afghanistan's reconciliation commission said Monday.
The New York Times May 9, 2005
Iraqi Rebels Said to Have Pool of Bomb-Rigged Cars
By ERIC SCHMITT
WASHINGTON, May 8 - Insurgents in Iraq are drawing on dozens of stockpiled, bomb-rigged cars and groups of foreign fighters smuggled into the country in recent weeks to carry out most of the suicide attacks that have killed about 300 people in the last 10 days, senior American officers and intelligence officials say.
Insurgents exploded 135 car bombs in April, up from 69 in March and more than in any other month in the two-year American occupation.
For the first time last month, more than 50 percent of the car-bombings were suicide attacks, some remotely detonated. The officers and officials have not drawn a single conclusion from this, but one top American general said it suggested that Iraqis were being coerced or duped into driving those missions.
Senior American officers predict that the insurgents, including Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant whose network has claimed responsibility for the deadliest suicide bombings, will not be able to sustain the level of attacks much longer. And the attacks have not yet dented recruiting for the American-trained Iraqi security forces.
But these officers acknowledged that the increase in suicide bombings over the last two weeks, while possibly a last-ditch effort, had won the militants important propaganda victories by gaining worldwide news media coverage. The benefits, they said, would include bolstering insurgent morale that flagged after the Jan. 30 elections, and depicting the newly formed Iraqi government as incapable of protecting its citizenry.
"When he cranks up the propaganda campaign, it means we've probably hurt him," Brig. Gen. John DeFreitas III, the senior military intelligence officer in Iraq, said of Mr. Zarqawi in a telephone interview. "It's a tool in his arsenal, and he has used it effectively."
Less than two weeks after the government of Ibrahim al-Jaafari won a parliamentary vote of approval, a snapshot of the insurgency reveals an adaptive enemy with the ability to regroup, recalibrate tactics after the setback of the elections and bide its time to strike at a politically opportune moment.
In interviews with a dozen senior military officers now in Iraq or with experience there, as well as other American officials, varying assessments emerged, underscoring the military's opaque understanding of exactly how the disparate strands of the insurgency operate and coordinate with one another.
One senior officer said the recent violence was a predictable "attempt by the enemy to show that they are still a factor, still relevant and still capable." The bombings, the officer said, "grabbed the headlines, drowned out the good news of a newly formed government, attacked the credibility and legitimacy of the new government."
Another officer, a general with extensive command experience in Iraq, acknowledged that he was not sure yet what the rash of suicide car-bombings meant: "More foreign fighters? More religious extremists? An indicator of insurgent desperation? Iraqis as suicide attackers?"
Attacks against allied forces, which dropped to about 40 a day in March and early April, now stand at 55 a day, well below the 130 a day in the prelude to the January elections, but roughly the same as last fall. Attacks against power stations, pipelines and other infrastructure have declined sharply in the last three weeks as insurgents shifted their attacks to Iraqi security forces, American officers said.
The assault last month against the Abu Ghraib prison that wounded 44 Americans and 13 Iraqi prisoners, as well as smaller strikes almost daily since then against the prison that became the epicenter of the detainee-abuse scandal, have been ineffective militarily, but successful as a means of propaganda, General DeFreitas said. "Abu Ghraib is a huge symbol for the insurgents," he said.
To help counter that, American and Iraqi officials have taken pains to announce progress in capturing insurgents. On Sunday, American military officials said soldiers had captured the planner of the Abu Ghraib attack and another wave of bombings on April 29 that killed 40 Iraqis. The man was identified as Amar Adnan Muhammad Hamzah al-Zubaydi, or Abu al-Abbas, a top aide to Mr. Zarqawi.
American officials say the insurgency is still a mix of former Baath Party loyalists, Iraqi military and security service officers, Sunni Arab militants and terrorists like Mr. Zarqawi. They claim progress against the insurgents, killing or capturing at least 20 of Mr. Zarqawi's top lieutenants, driving militants into rural areas less patrolled by the Americans and getting more tips from Iraqis on the location of guerrillas.
Foreign fighters, only a small part of the insurgency, still commit most of the suicide bombings, military officials say. Young jihadists from Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Iran continue to infiltrate Iraq's porous borders despite newly formed Iraqi border patrol units, and teams of specialists sent from the United States Department of Homeland Security to assist them.
"Fighters, arms and other supplies continue to enter Iraq from virtually all of its neighbors despite increased border security," Earl E. Sheck, the Defense Intelligence Agency's director of analysis and production, said at a hearing in Congress last week.
But some intelligence analysts say they believe that Iraqi Sunni extremists are now joining the ranks of suicide bombers in what would be a troubling new trend.
Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, the operations director for the military's Joint Staff, questioned last week whether the remote detonation of suicide bombs could mean that the drivers might be "being forced into that condition by virtue of the fact that someone has got their family, you know, 20 miles away?" A senior military officer in Iraq said it was more likely that bombing plotters were remotely detonating the explosives when their chosen driver balked at the last minute.
Senior military officials said they had been concerned for weeks about intelligence reports that insurgents were stockpiling bomb-rigged cars to be used when the new government formed. Iraqi police commandos seized about 10 vehicles rigged with explosives in the last 10 days.
There is no shortage of explosives in Iraq. Just last week, soldiers and marines destroyed a huge underground cache near Al Amiriyah in western Iraq that contained more than 800 rocket-propelled grenade rounds, 100,000 rounds of machine gun ammunition, and several thousand pounds of explosives.
Top commanders said they expected spikes and lulls in the violence through at least early next year. "It takes everything they've got to muster attacks," Maj. Gen. Stephen T. Johnson, the top Marine commander in Iraq, said in a telephone interview. "Unless the insurgents get involved in the political process, I think we'll continue to see this."