Friday, March 02, 2012

American Special Forces deployed in South Asia to combat counter terrorism threats

SALEEM SAMAD

AMERICAN SPECIAL forces have been deployed for the five South Asian countries to enhance counter terrorism capabilities with the nations in the region, intermittently visited by threats of Jihadists, a top Pentagon commander disclosed on Thursday.

To the surprise of politicians, media and western critiques, the United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) Admiral Robert Willard revealed at a Congressional hearing that currently special forces assist teams - Pacific assist teams is the term - laid down in Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, as well as India.

Willard told lawmakers in response to a question by Congressman Joe Wilson as to what effort is being made to counter threat from Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and co-operation on counter-terrorism issues.

At the hearing, USPACOM Commander introduced LeT as a dangerous militant outfit. "Responsible for many attacks in India, including the horrific attacks into Mumbai, LeT is headquartered in Pakistan, affiliated with al-Qaeda and other Violent Extremist Organizations (VEOs), and contributes to terrorist operations in Afghanistan and aspires to operate against Asia, Europe and North America," Willard said.

"We are working very closely with India with regard to their counter-terrorism capabilities and in particular on the maritime domain but also government to government, not necessarily department of defence (DoD) but other agencies assisting them in terms of their internal counter-terror and counterinsurgency challenges," said Willard.

The Pentagon official said Pacific Command's Indian Engagement Initiative that resourced and hosted Mumbai counter terrorist specialists for training exercises and exchanges throughout the US, together with capacity-building activities with South Asian partners are mainly focused on containing LeT and contributing to CT self-sufficiency of the sub-region's militaries.

India promptly denied deployment of U.S. Special Forces and quickly the American Embassy in New Delhi clarified that the troops were not stationed in India, as the media reports. The embassy and India's ministry of defence said a unit from the US 25th infantry division was in India to hold an exercise with Indian forces and its strategic neighbours.

In mid February the visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert O. Blake in the capital Dhaka said that with Bangladesh and the U.S. has developed strong cooperation on counter-terrorism and security issues.

Bangladesh, he said, has emerged as a particularly effective partner in the fight against terror, cooperating with India as well as the US to counter VEO activity by actors such as LeT.

Further, Bangladesh's military is advancing its capabilities and contributes broadly to the United Nations peacekeeping operations, he added.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow, is Bangladesh based award winning investigative reporter. He specializes on Islamic militancy, forced migration, good governance, press freedom and elective democracy. He was detained and tortured in 2002 and later expelled from Bangladesh in 2004 for whistle-blowing on the safe sanctuary offered to the Jihadists who fled during Anglo-US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Ending his life in exile in Canada he has recently returned home after six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com