- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 18, 2014

Indonesia’s top military commander said in an interview that the world’s most populous Muslim nation sees the Islamic State movement in Syria and Iraq as a grave threat to the world and that Jakarta wants to increase coordination with Washington to counter the radical group’s rise in Southeast Asia.

Indonesian National Defense Forces Commander Gen. Moeldoko told The Washington Times that he has personally asked U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin E. Dempsey to allow top Indonesian military officials to participate as observers in an anti-Islamic State “task force” in Washington.

“The creating of the task force is within the U.S. government, but we would like to join in order to sharpen the intelligence analysis capabilities of our own officers in tracking the [Islamic State] threat,” the general said this week. He declined to provide details about the task force beyond saying that Gen. Dempsey “gave a positive signal that he will think about it and consider it.”

Gen. Moeldoko, who goes by one name and spoke through a translator, made the comments hours after visiting the Pentagon Tuesday — the latest in a series of meetings with U.S. commanders designed to show Indonesia’s desire to expand military ties with the United States.

The Islamic State, also known by the acronym ISIS, has featured prominently in the meetings, especially since officials in Jakarta have claimed during recent months to have information on nearly 100 Indonesians who have traveled to the Middle East to join the extremist movement.

Gen. Moeldoko said this week that the threat now presents an opportunity for the U.S.-Indonesian military relationship to expand, erasing any lingering mistrust dating to when Washington cut all official military ties with Jakarta amid concern over human rights abuses committed by Indonesian forces in the late 1990s. Relations were restored in 2000, and Gen. Moeldoko said he takes personal pride in progress made by the Indonesian military to confront its past human rights abuses.

But when it comes to relations with the Pentagon, the focus over the past decade has been on disaster relief coordination in Asia. Indonesia has appeared relatively neutral toward Washington’s wider strategic initiatives, such as efforts to inspire China’s smaller neighbors to resist Beijing’s growing military dominance in the region.

It’s not clear how the sudden emergence of the ISIS threat could affect the calculus in Washington and Jakarta, the general said.

Indonesia and the United States share the same interests regarding regional security and also recently the ISIS problem,” Gen. Moeldoko said, adding that the two nations have a “good military-to-military relationship that I would like to enhance and make even stronger.”

The general suggested that Jakarta may even be willing to partner more closely on such issues as countering China, but he chose his words carefully and went to lengths to avoid taking sides between Washington and Beijing.

“Both are responsible for provoking each other,” he said, adding that the Obama administration’s strategic “rebalancing” within the Asia-Pacific comes with the risk of creating “instability in the region.”

Asked whether Indonesia could emerge as a peacemaker between the two sides, Gen. Moeldoko responded with: “Of course.”

Role for ASEAN

He added that a goal for himself and military leaders from smaller nations in the region is to band together through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) — which does not include China — to act as “the biggest military force in the region.”

“The key is communication between all the stakeholders,” he said.

The same could be true in countering the Islamic State threat in Southeast Asia, where several nations with Muslim populations, including Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines, are struggling to counter the group’s influence — particularly its Internet-savvy recruiting propaganda.

U.S. officials have said that more than 1,000 people from the region have traveled to the Middle East to join ISIS. Indonesian authorities have been particularly wary since July, with the appearance of a video produced in Indonesia’s Bahasa language that featured a black-clad militant who called on Indonesian Muslims to join the Islamic State cause. The government responded by banning the group and cracking down on ISIS-related Internet material.

Concerns remain high that foreign fighters may seek to return home and spread the group’s extremist ideology or launch al Qaeda-style terrorist attacks like those that gripped Indonesia during the years after 9/11.

A smattering of al Qaeda training camps existed in the nation during the early 2000s — a threat that peaked in 2002 with the horrific bombing of a nightclub frequented by Westerners on Bali. The suspected mastermind of that attack — Riduan Isamuddin, better known as “Hambali” — was arrested in 2003 and placed at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

Jakarta’s bare-knuckle counterterrorism efforts over the past decade have largely marginalized the threat, and Gen. Moeldoko said he is confident that Indonesian Muslims are resistant to extremist propaganda now being pushed by the Islamic State. “Indonesia is the largest Muslim population in the world, but Indonesian Muslims are moderate and we do not accept the kind of extremists like ISIS,” he said.

“I am a Muslim myself and I can tell you that ISIS is not Islam,” the general said, adding that a core strategy of the Indonesian military involves coordinating with Islamic leaders and scholars in the nation to publicly condemn the Islamic State.

Although he said the strategy is working, Gen. Moeldoko stressed that the Indonesian military is prepared to crack down hard if the Islamic State becomes truly active in the nation.

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