By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
April 10, 2008 - The top U.S. military officer in the Pacific pledged today to continue working to build on the United States' solid military-to-military relationship with Indonesia through exercises, military exchanges and information sharing. Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, met with Indonesian Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono, Defense Chief Gen. Djoko Santoso and other officials during his second visit here since taking PaCom's helm in March 2007.
The visit "highlights the importance we attach to the relationship we enjoy between the United States Pacific Command and Indonesia," Keating told reporters following today's sessions.
Throughout the meetings, Keating said, he emphasized the importance the United States attaches to Indonesia in its theater security cooperation plan.
"Indonesia plays a prominent role in the goals we have for our entire region," he said. "We have had great discussions with the leaders of Indonesia and look forward to continued warm relations with our partner here in Indonesia for decades and decades to come."
Keating noted the key role of Indonesian defense forces -- known as "TNI," for Tentara Nasional Indonesia -- in maritime security. TNI's operational area includes the strategic Malacca Strait, which is considered one of the world's most important waterways.
Keating urged greater multilateral cooperation to support this effort, with all countries with a vested interest in the region's maritime security cooperating and sharing both information and best practices. These include not just the United States and Indonesia, but also Malaysia, the Philippines, India and other neighbors.
"It is of very high strategic, operational and tactical importance to us that all of us do everything that we can to enhance maritime security in ... the area in which Indonesia is located," he said.
Toward that end, Indonesia is working with the Philippines and Malaysia to improve intelligence sharing to safeguard vessels' passage through the Malacca Strait. In addition, it is joining with Singapore, Malaysia and, most recently, Thailand to improve maritime domain awareness and law enforcement capabilities vital to the strait.
Keating said he thanked Sudarsono today for Indonesia's contribution to United Nations peacekeeping missions in Lebanon and Darfur, Sudan. "This is a significant commitment by Indonesia's military, and we applaud that effort," he told reporters.
Pointing to the growth in exchanges between the U.S. and Indonesian militaries, from mid-grade enlisted members to senior officers, Keating said he'd like to see even more. Less than 10 years ago, fewer than a dozen people took part in these exchanges. This year, that number has jumped to more than 125.
"So it is a significantly expanded range of opportunities for us, and it is not just quantity we are emphasizing," he said. "It is quality and technological advance where we will share our best practices with the TNI."
Keating introduced Air Force Command Chief Master Sgt. Jim Roy, his senior enlisted advisor, who is working with the Indonesians to promote exchanges for enlisted members and noncommissioned officers.
Roy said the exchanges promote leadership as well as technical skills, benefiting both countries' militaries. "We are very excited about those opportunities," he said. "There are some to come this year and many more to come in the years ahead."
The military-to-military relationship between the United States and Indonesia continues to develop, reaching its highest level since 1999. This relationship not only helps Indonesia build capacity, but also promotes interagency and international cooperation and information sharing, which PaCom officials called key to confronting regional challenges.
Keating said it's in PaCom's and the entire U.S. military's interest "to develop, maintain and even improve the military-to-military relations we have enjoyed for many years."
"And I promise you, we will do everything we can to enhance them in the future," he said.
Keating's visit reinforced the message Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates brought here in late February, when the secretary called Indonesia "an important regional leader with global reach."
"Our relationship with Indonesia has made great strides in the past few years, and I have every expectation that it will continue to do so in the near and far future," Gates said during a speech at the Indonesian Council on World Affairs.
The secretary's discussions here centered on ways the United States can work more closely with the Indonesian military, helping it continue its reformation effort and improve its air and maritime capabilities.
Asked by reporters today about Indonesia's intent to buy F-16 aircraft from the United States in 2010, Keating confirmed general Defense Department endorsement. "We at Pacific Command are all for that," he said.