Nations need to work together in warding off the terrorist threat and ASEAN states should be united in facing security challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu told BenarNews in a wide-ranging interview here.
The Indonesian defense chief was on a three-day visit to Washington this week, where he met with his American counterpart, James Mattis, at the Pentagon to reaffirm bilateral military cooperation, U.S. officials said. The two men discussed how to work with regional partners in combating transnational security threats including piracy, trafficking, and illegal fishing, the U.S. Defense Department said.
“Terrorism isn’t just a threat to one country, but a threat to humankind, so it is every country’s enemy. Where there’s a concentration of terrorists, we have to face them together,” Ryamizard told Benar on Wednesday at the residence of Indonesian Ambassador Budi Bowoleksono in Washington.
“We are dealing with third-generation terrorists,” Ryamizard said. “The first generation was al-Qaida, the second generation [was] Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Now that they are being destroyed there, they are returning to Asia, including Indonesia and the Philippines.”
During the 20-minute interview, he also responded to questions on how his country – the largest and most populous one in Southeast Asia – was dealing with regionwide tensions with China and territorial disputes in the South China Sea, as well as other issues.
Ryamizard revealed that Jakarta would purchase five U.S.-made Hercules military cargo planes, and that Mattis had notified him about the recent killing of a top Indonesian Islamic State operative, Bahrun Naim.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
BenarNews: Did anything new in the bilateral relationship come out of your meeting with General Mattis?
Ryamizard Ryacudu: I have met General Mattis five times since he took office, in Indonesia, in Hawaii and then in Singapore twice, and here.
So we have become so close. There are no new things, apart from building on what we have discussed in previous meetings and concretizing the plans.
BN: Will you be purchasing any new military hardware from the United States?
RR: Yes. We just bought Apache helicopters. In the future, we will buy five more Hercules aircraft.
We already have 28 Hercules aircraft, but most of them are too old and need to be updated. There are still many [aircraft] dating back to the Sukarno era in the 1960s, which are still in good condition and well maintained, but they are too old and need to be replaced.
BN: What is Indonesia’s role in the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific region?
RR: Indonesia’s role hasn’t changed, I think. With the Indo-Pacific, the emphasis is on our surroundings.
Me and my colleagues in ASEAN have often met and believe that we have to be ready for all possibilities. [We are] ready to maintain regional security, with or without help.
ASEAN is home to 600 million people. Our armed forces have 2.6 million personnel combined. With this strength, I have told my colleagues, we have the capacity as long as we are united in facing [security issues].
As for assistance from other countries, the U.S. or any other, thank God we will accept it, even more so when dealing with common enemies, the terrorists.
BN: Indonesia has so far been described as a non-party in the South China Sea dispute, but last year Indonesia renamed a part of the South China Sea as the North Natuna Sea. Does this mean Indonesia will take a more active role on the issue of the South China Sea?
RR: When I was new to the job, four years ago, I saw there were tensions.
Everyone was wary, worried about inflaming and provoking tensions.
[The year] 2015 was the same. I said “it doesn’t have to be that way.” I came to the Chinese delegates at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore and told them: “You are always being seen as an enemy.”
I appealed for openness, including through joint patrols. They agreed. First with Indonesia, and later with everyone else.
When that happens, there’s openness. And with openness, tensions will subside.
BN: Will trilateral patrols in the Sulu Sea continue? What is the outcome?
RR: As for the Sulu Sea, I took the initiative for trilateral cooperation to eradicate piracy, which has dogged ships carrying commodities. Coal [shipments] to the Philippines have been affected.
The trilateral patrols have been conducted for two years and today there’s no more [piracy]. And I hope there will be no more in the future.
It will continue. Air [patrols] … also and in the future, patrols on land.
BN: Where will land patrols be conducted, in Kalimantan or the southern Philippines?
RR: Kalimantan is our training ground. To the southern Philippines later. We are ready to face them anywhere.
BN: Is there a plan for new bilateral cooperation on fighting terrorism in Southeast Asia? Are there specific U.S. concerns about counter-terrorism efforts in the region?
RR: Terrorism isn’t just a threat to one country, but a threat to humankind, so it is every country’s enemy. Where there’s a concentration of terrorists, we have to face them together.
Yesterday, we dealt with Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. In Asia, they are concentrated in Indonesia and the Philippines.
We have to deal with this otherwise we’ll be in trouble later. If we take no action, more people will be recruited and they will become stronger and better armed.
BN: What about intelligence cooperation on counter-terrorism?
RR: Yes, intelligence is of the utmost importance. The U.S. and other big nations have strong intelligence. We have to know their [terrorist] strength. If we don’t know their strength, there will be many victims. That must not happen.
BN: With the introduction of a new anti-terrorism law that gives a bigger mandate to the military in fighting terrorism, has it been implemented?
RR: Terrorists are enemies of all, so it’s impossible to rely on only the police to fight them. Everyone must get involved. Soldiers and police must work together.
Since the new terrorism law was passed, the TNI [Indonesian armed forces] has been involved immediately.
BN: What is your assessment on the threat of domestic terrorism after a series of suicide bombings in Surabaya in May?
RR: We are dealing with third-generation terrorists.
The first generation was al-Qaida, the second generation [was] Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Now that they are being destroyed there, they are returning to Asia, including Indonesia and the Philippines.
There are 3,500 from foreign countries who are helping them, and now they are returning. They come back with battlefield experience. We have to deal with them professionally.
We’re facing terrorists who don't make sense. Why? Look, a mother killed herself with her two daughters, that doesn't make sense. A mother practically kills herself carrying her child, nursing them, nurturing them with love.
Even a mosquito can’t land on her child. Look at tigers. Does a tiger bite its child, kill its child? No. But these people? The human brain can’t grasp it. We’re facing a group of terrorists that make no sense. This is our common enemy.
We work with psychologists. Everyone is involved. We discuss things. They [terrorists] have been too indoctrinated. Nowadays, an increasing number of children and girls are being recruited.
BN: A transcript of your speech released by the Indonesian Defense Ministry says you thanked Mattis for a letter informing him that Bahrun Naim and Abu Ghaida had been killed by a U.S. military operation.
RR: Secretary Mattis sent a letter to me two weeks ago, reporting about the two [IS] leaders. It is part of intelligence cooperation.