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US Pacific Command Chief Warns Against Terrorism - 2002-02-27

The chief of the U.S. Pacific Command told Congress Wednesday terrorists in the Asia-Pacific region continue to plot against America and other countries.

Appearing before a House International Relations subcommittee Wednesday, Navy Admiral Dennis Blair warned that terrorists continue to pose a threat to U.S. interests and allies in the region. "There are organizations, loose cells, located in southeast Asia and south Asia, which, if not card-carrying members of al-Qaida, share its goals in addition to some local goals and cooperate with al-Qaida and are willing and in some cases were actually planning attacks against American forces and embassies and host nation institutions and people," he said. "These groups seem to be international in southeast Asia, and their members and some of their citizens travel around go back and forth among Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore."

Admiral Blair says the United States is working with its allies in the region to root out these terrorist cells.

He called on Congress to continue funding for anti-terrorism efforts in the region. This year's funding totals $17 million.

In recent months, the United States has focused increasing attention on the Philippines in its fight against terrorism. The U.S. military is training Filipino troops and sharing intelligence to help crack down on the Abu Sayyaf rebel group, which has links to the al-Qaida terrorist network. Admiral Blair. "The goal is to eliminate the Abu Sayyaf group and then to build up the economic situation in the southern Philippines so it does not have fertile soil to reappear," he said. "The timeline we have is months, not years."

Admiral Blair also said he would like to see more U.S. military cooperation with Indonesia, where the United States believes al-Qaida may have established a presence.

But that will be difficult. A U.S. law passed in the wake of human rights abuses by the Indonesian army in East Timor prevents military aid to Indonesia. Efforts to overturn the law failed in December, but the Pentagon did win the right to provide anti-terrorist training to the Indonesian military this year.

Admiral Blair embraced the idea of training Indonesian military officers in the United States through the newly established Regional Defense Fellowship program. He argued such training would not violate the law banning military aid to Indonesia. "Our regional defense fellowships will have certain principles for implementation: number one, it will only be officers who do not have any suspicion or involvement in past human rights abuses," said Admiral Dennis Blair. "The training will be non-lethal education, it will not be training on how to land ambush or how to conduct a particular tactical operation. It will be education on what armed forces do and how they do them. It will have a large component on our common cause that we have against terrorism."

Admiral Blair praised the fellowship program saying it can offer an immediate and positive impact in encouraging reform and regional cooperation.