JAKARTA, Indonesia — The United States is lifting a ban of more than a decade on military contact with an elite Indonesian special forces unit implicated in past killings of civilians and other abuses, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced Thursday, after meeting here with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia.
The decision to lift the ban and to take steps toward training the unit, called Kopassus, was reached after intensive internal debate among the Pentagon, the White House and the State Department over whether it had truly left its brutal history behind.
“Training” usually means contractors and this case is no exception as it has already been happening in Indonesia:
Detachment 88 was established after the 2002 Bali bombings carried out by militant network Jemaah Islamiah, which firmly placed Indonesia as a frontline state in the U.S.-led “war on terror.”
But the Western funding of an anti-terrorism unit in the world’s most populous Muslim nation can be sensitive. There have been reports of U.S. intelligence officers in Jakarta helping tap cell phones and reading SMS text messages of Indonesian civilians.
A U.S. embassy spokesman in Jakarta declined to comment, but a U.S. government document showed the unit had received technical support, training and equipment under the State Department’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance (ATA) program since 2003.
Jeremy Scahill has a post on the situation with Iraq
The State Department is asking Congress to approve funds to more than double the number of private security contractors in Iraq with a State Department official testifying in June at a hearing of the Wartime Contracting Commission that the Department wants “between 6,000 and 7,000 security contractors.” The Department also has asked the Pentagon for twenty-four Blackhawk helicopters, fifty Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles and other military equipment. “After the departure of U.S. Forces [from Iraq], we will continue to have a critical need for logistical and life support of a magnitude and scale of complexity that is unprecedented in the history of the Department of State,” wrote Patrick Kennedy, under secretary of state for management, in an April letter to the Pentagon. “And to keep our people secure, Diplomatic Security requires certain items of equipment that are only available from the military.”
What is unfolding is the face of President Obama’s scaled-down, rebranded mini-occupation of Iraq. Under the terms of the Status of Forces agreement, all US forces are supposed to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. Using private forces is a backdoor way of continuing a substantial US presence under the cover of “diplomatic security.” The kind of paramilitary force that Obama and Clinton are trying to build in Iraq is, in large part, a byproduct of the monstrous colonial fortress the United States calls its embassy in Baghdad and other facilities the US will maintain throughout Iraq after the “withdrawal.” The State Department plans to operate five “Enduring Presence Posts” at current US military bases in Basrah, Diyala, Erbil, Kirkuk and Ninewa. The State Department has indicated that more sites may be created in the future, which would increase the demand for private forces. The US embassy in Baghdad is the size of Vatican City, comprised of twenty-one buildings on a 104-acres of land on the Tigris River.
Status of Forces Agreements (SOFAs) are treaties that have been used to keep military bases in countries for decades. When the one with Iraq was signed, a brawl broke out in Parliament:
A session of Iraq’s Parliament collapsed in chaos on Wednesday, as a discussion among lawmakers about a three-year security agreement with the Americans boiled over into shouting and physical confrontation.
The session was dedicated to a second public reading of the agreement, which governs the presence of American troops in Iraq through 2011 and which the Parliament is scheduled to vote on Monday. Even before the session began, legislators were apprehensive.