- The Washington Times - Monday, October 28, 2002

The terror attacks that hit Southeast Asia resounded in the United States, as White House officials took wary notice of an al Qaeda network regaining its foothold. While the terrorists that struck in the Philippines and Indonesia were operating in distinct political and religious backdrops, there is one factor these countries have in common: a lack of resources to battle terrorism.
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has demonstrated an unwavering resolve to counter terrorism. Earlier this year, Mrs. Arroyo invited U.S. troops to give the Philippine military counter-terrorism training and she has consistently called for international cooperation for combating terrorism. The Philippine people, who are predominantly Christian, welcomed the U.S. troop presence, but Mrs. Arroyo's popularity is beginning to slip due to the violence.
In Indonesia, where Muslims are a majority, many individuals look askance at the prospect of a U.S. military presence. The U.S. military is restricted by law to giving the Indonesian military only humanitarian or disaster aid and training, as a result of human-rights violations committed in East Timor. Meanwhile, Indonesian President Megawati Soekarnoputri has been reticent to acknowledge the terrorist infiltration of Indonesia. In August, while Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Southeast Asia, she objected to any measure that would facilitate U.S. troops' arrival in the region.
After the attacks in Bali, many observers were quick to point to Mrs. Megawati's weak will in combating terrorism as a key facilitator of the violence. Although this was surely significant, the reality is that sparse budgets are also an important factor. This isn't lost on administration officials. At a meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation grouping in Mexico on Friday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said member nations would take steps to secure the flow of trade, finance and communication and said rich nations would help poor ones implement the measures.
The United States has given the Philippine government $130 million in counter-terror funds. There have been tangible results. The Abu Sayyaf group, which is believed to be behind the attacks in the Philippines, has been brought down from a force of up to 600 to about 200, said Zachary Abuza, whose report on al Qaeda terrorism in Southeast Asia has been studied by intelligence officials around the world. Another terrorist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), has a force of up to 15,000 people and has much closer ties to al Qaeda. The MILF is also linked with the Jemaah Islamiya (JI), which is believed to have launched the attacks in Bali.
In August, this page raised caution over the penetration of terrorists into Southeast Asia. It specifically signaled that the crackdown in January against a JI cell in Singapore left four tons of ammonium nitrate unaccounted for. The same explosive was used in Bali. Keenly aware of the potentially global threat posed by terrorists in Southeast Asia, the United States should continue its efforts to train foreign troops and give countries trade avenues to bolster economic growth. It should remain wary, though, of doling out aid to countries that exhibit a weak will to counter terror.

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