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NHK: Some terrorists were recently arrested in Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines. What's your assessment of the threat of terrorism in Southeast Asia?
Adm. Blair: The terrorist rings that were broken up by Malaysia and by Singapore were dangerous rings. They were considering plans to attack not only American forces and U.S. embassies in those countries but also other commercial interests in the countries. The arrests have set those rings back considerably, and I think taken the initiative away from them. However, we have no assurances that there aren't other parts of the terrorist rings present or other rings, so it requires continued vigilance, continued sharing of intelligence and very aggressive work in order to ensure that we are making our people safe.
NHK: How are you working against the terrorist rings in Southeast Asia?
Adm. Blair: It takes different forms in different countries. I think the largest and most visible is in the Philippines right now where we are sending U.S. advisors to the southern Philippines where they will provide training, they will provide maintenance assistance, they will provide intelligence support, they will provide advisory functions to the armed forces of the Philippines as the armed forces of the Philippines attack the Abu Sayyaf Group.
In other places there are different forms of assistance. For instance, our major exercise in Thailand, the Cobra Gold exercise, will include counterterrorist training in the exercise. So those countries who participate in that exercise and the 10 or 12 countries that observe will increase their skills, their ability to work together. We will exchange information.
We also work in -- Many of the skills in the counternarcotics area are transferrable to the counterterrorism area. So in Thailand, for example, where we work against narcotic smugglers, training the Thai armed forces and the border police, those same skills can transfer to working against terrorism.
So it's a mixture of approaches for different countries.
NHK: You mentioned the Abu Sayyaf attack. After September 11th the war started, the war started in Afghanistan. Can we say that the war has moved to Southeast Asia?
Adm. Blair: It's always sort of too neat to divide things up into little phases and pieces. We were beginning our work in the Asia Pacific region even before operations were complete in Afghanistan, and I think it's important that there really be aggressive pressure across the globe on these organizations. So I think you'll see pressure in many places.
For instance you may have read in the paper that terrorists from Algeria were captured in Bosnia and sent to Guantanamo Bay. You may have read that in the Middle East area there were reportings of ships trying to look for escaping terrorists. Meanwhile we talked about Malaysia and Singapore making their arrests.
So it's a case of simultaneous pressure all across the world in order to defeat terrorism.
NHK: How long do you think -- The U.S. Army are going to stay in the Philippines until the Abu Sayyaf disappear?
Adm. Blair: Our objective is to assist the Philippines in their campaign, so really the length of our stay will be determined by providing training, providing the maintenance to the Philippines so that they can continue to carry out the battle.
I think this will take a matter of months. I don't think we'll be there for many years. We certainly will not be there in permanent bases. We will be in temporary bases working with our Philippine allies. So I think that will be the pattern and the time scale.
NHK: Your objective is to root out the al Qaida network. Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines. So is it possible the U.S. forces will leave the Philippines before Abu Sayyaf disappear?
Adm. Blair: I think the Philippines will take care of the main effort of the Abu Sayyaf Group before U.S. forces completely withdraw from that operation. I think it will be in a matter of months that the Abu Sayyaf Group will be defeated, and that will be while the U.S. is still conducting its joint training, its joint exercise with them.
NHK: How successful has the operation has been so far?
Adm. Blair: You need to look at a number of things. The number of hostages that the Abu Sayyaf Group has held has been as high as 30 or 40 several months ago, and the Philippine armed forces have been chasing them around the island of Basilan and around the other islands. The number of hostages has been reduced to three right now, two Americans and one Philippine woman, so that's progress.
There has not been in recent months the sorts of hostage taking that we saw during the early part of last year or in 2000 when hostages were taken from Malaysia, from Sipidan and then from Palawan. So the hostage taking has been reduced by the pressure of the armed forces of the Philippines, but there still remains a group of Abu Sayyaf rebels on the loose in Basilan and it's a case of rooting them out.
Then following that the Philippines, with some assistance from the United States, needs to bring economic development into the southern Philippines. The people of Basilan and Mindanao need to feel that their economic future can be bright and that will reduce their support or their tolerance for the Abu Sayyaf Group.
NHK: What kind of equipment and weapons have you provided to the Philippines? And in the future what kind of equipment and weapons are you going to provide?
Adm. Blair: The equipment portion of the assistance to the Philippines is partly focused on additional equipment, a few helicopters and a patrol craft or two. But the main emphasis is on the maintenance of the equipment that the Philippines already possesses to help build a supply chain, to help build a maintenance system so that the operational readiness rates of the equipment that they have can increase, making more equipment available. And particularly in the transportation area. Trucks, helicopters, C-130 aircraft, patrol craft. That's the area that the Philippines tell us they would like the assistance.
NHK: It is reported that the armed forces of the Philippines are very eager to get the attack helicopter like a Cobra or Apache from U.S. forces. What do you think? Is this possible?
Adm. Blair: Helicopters are always useful in an area like Basilan which has a very underdeveloped road network and a lot of contours and all. I think the main emphasis will be on transport helicopters in order to be able to insert people into the areas where they can capture the Abu Sayyaf Group more quickly. Attack helicopters would be something for the future, but it's the mobility forces that I think, the mobility to put their forces in place the Philippines mainly need in that area right now.
NHK: It is also reported that 160 special forces are deployed to Basilan. What role do the U.S. forces play in the campaign against Abu Sayyaf?
Adm. Blair: The number of advisors the United States has will be greater and lesser depending on the mission. It's not a fixed number. But if you picture a battalion of Philippines troops has maybe 600 soldiers in it, and for this group, for each of these battalions there will be a small group of maybe 10 or 12 American soldiers. They will report an assesment to the Philippine commander and they will say here are the skills we have, here are the training abilities that we have, what would you like us to do? Should we work on tactical planning? Shall we work on the skills of reconnaissance? Should we work on skills and squad organization? So they will bring that sort of training skill which will be used by the battalion commander for what he thinks is most important.
In addition they will bring along with them secure radios so that information can flow from the Philippine headquarters to the commanders. They will also bring intelligence which will come from both the United States and from the Philippines, will be put together as a huge picture and then can be passed on secure communications to the commanders.
So it's this combination of training ability, advice, information, secure communications that will be provided to the battalion levels in the field quickly.
Them over time we'll work out a plan for a training scheme that will benefit the entire task force that's down in the Philippines.
So it's a very classical training and advisory role that the United States will be doing. This is what President Arroyo requested when she talked with President Bush and this is what we are providing.
NHK: So do the soldiers actually go to the front, though? I mean to support the Philippine forces?
Adm. Blair: The soldiers will be with the Philippine soldiers when they go out to do their job. The reason for this is so that they can understand what the tactical situation is that the Philippine soldiers face.
It's difficult to provide good training if you don't know what the tactical challenges are.
But they will be going in an observation and advisory role. They will not be going to lead attacks or to conduct the war themselves. They will be going in the advisory role.
Of course if they become involved in some sort of a conflict they will defend themselves and they will work with their Philippine comrades, but it will be incidental to their responsibilities as advisors.
NHK: You call this exercise Balikitan and I've heard that 2,000 U.S. Marine Corps out of Okinawa are already going to Philippines in May and that's called Balikitan. But they are going to Luzon, not to Basilan.
So I am quite confused. Their mission is not to root out the Abu Sayyaf?
Adm. Blair: Right. We will be doing more than one activity with the Philippines in the next year. The operations that we described in Basilan are directed against the Abu Sayyaf Group. Then we will have a separate Balikitan exercise in April which will be training on other skills, peacekeeping skills, logistics skills, the sort of general purpose military skills that are required.
We have had a Balikitan exercise for the past two or three years in Luzon connected with our training in Thailand under Cobra Gold, and that will be separate from the antiterrorism exercising and training that we're doing down in the southern part of the Philippines.
There may be some cross-over of transport aircraft and perhaps some helicopters, but they're really two separate activities.
NHK: So let me ask you about Basilan Island. Who are they in this Basilan Island? Are they Army special forces? Or are you considering dispatching Marine Corps or Air Force or Navy?
Adm. Blair: We have a joint task force in that area. It consists of Army special forces officers, there are also Navy special forces officers and sailors, there also are Marine Corps advisors, and we also have Air Force advisors. So all four services have representatives in our joint task force. They will be working with their counterparts in the Philippines. For instance our Air Force officers will be working with air force officers in the Philippines on subjects like maintenance of helicopters and helicopter planning and so on.
But because the largest portion of forces involved on the Philippine side are Army forces, most of our advisors will be Army special forces advisors.
NHK: What's that exercise in Basilan called? That exercise called Balikitan?
Adm. Blair: That exercise has different names. We have the name that we call it in the United States and the Philippines call it Balikitan. It's the same event, it's just called by different things by the two different armed forces. That often happens.
NHK: The U.S. government is negotiating with the Philippine government to have a military logistics support agreement?
Adm. Blair: Uh huh.
NHK: To exchange ammunition and food and that kind of thing? Could you talk about that?
Adm. Blair: With many countries we have logistics agreements. We have one with Japan, for example. The concept is pretty simple. If you have a logistic support agreement then if the United States wants to provide some equipment to Japan we guarantee that we will make it at the same price that we would pay for it ourselves, and that the bill will be sent to the government of Japan and the bill will be settled as a separate action.
Let's say we sell the government of Japan oil. The government of Japan sells us transportation services. The bills go to the comptrollers, they compare the two bills, and they either offset each other or they're settled. It's a very convenient way of operating.
If you don't have one of those agreements then each time that I sell you something, I have to get a bill, I have to make a payment, we have to negotiate it and square it up and it takes time. It's not efficient. But with the countries that we operate with a great deal we have one of these agreements that makes our transactions quick, we guarantee the best price both directions.
So we are in the process of having one of these agreements with the Philippines and in fact we would like to update our agreement with Japan. And it's purely a matter of military efficiency so that we can operate together efficiently and quickly.
NHK: How would you update the agreement with Japan?
Adm. Blair: We would like to have some provisions to make it more efficient, to make it smoother and cover more different categories of mutual assistance.
NHK: Well besides Japan, I mean do you have agreements in Southeast Asia?
Adm. Blair: We have approximately nine in Asia with Australia, with Singapore, with Malaysia. We are presently negotiating one with India. So they are fairly common. They're a sign of a mature military relationship.
NHK: If you can do that, we agree, then is it helpful to defeat Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines?
Adm. Blair: Very helpful, very helpful. It means that we spend less time on administration and more time on the mission.
NHK: You said that you think armed forces of Philippines will defeat the Abu Sayyaf in maybe, in months.
Adm. Blair: Yes.
NHK: What do you think, do you see any difficulty with fighting Abu Sayyaf?
Adm. Blair: Oh, it's not an easy task. It's very difficult terrain. The Abu Sayyaf have been there a long time. They know the local ground. Although their numbers have diminished and their hostages have diminished they have proved very elusive. They've been under pressure for seven months now and have not been totally defeated. So it's not an easy task but I think the combination of intensified Philippine effort, the sorts of assistance that the United States can bring to the things I mentioned, intelligence and further training and maintenance support, I think this will be decisive in going over the top to defeat them.
Then as I mentioned, the economic assistance can come in in order to encourage the people to support the government and to prevent reoccurrence of the Abu Sayyaf Group.
NHK: You mentioned about Cobra Gold. You started with Team Challenge. Will you continue Team Challenge and what is this year's Team Challenge like?
Adm. Blair: Cobra Gold is a part of Team Challenge. Team Challenge is the umbrella that tries to bring together activities from around the region to support the concept of working together on new missions. So the Balikitan exercise in Luzon that we mentioned would be part of the Team Challenge concept. The scenario in Balikitan will be connected with the scenario in Cobra Gold. In the future we hope to have other exercises also tied into Cobra Gold.
The Team Challenge concept is to look at missions of the future, international peace operations, humanitarian assistance, counterterrorism operations, counternarcotics operations, evacuation of citizens from areas of harm, and we are looking to have many nations develop the procedures, the vehicle to operate together, bring their forces to operate together, and develop really an Asian ability to do these sorts of operations well.
Right now this year we still have three countries who are participants -- the United States, Singapore and Thailand. Thailand is the host, of course. Also we have very strong observer teams from about a dozen countries, and we hope that countries will progress from observer teams to participants in future years.
Japan this year will be sending a very strong observation team. It's important for Japan. Japan is sending troops to East Timor, construction troops, engineer troops, next month. And the more that Japan can understand how these international operations work and work with the other countries the better.
NHK: Let me ask you briefly about Indonesia. It is reported that some terrorists linked to al Qaida are in Indonesia. How are you working with Indonesia?
Adm. Blair: In Indonesia our military relations are still at a fairly low level following the events of East Timor in 1999, but there are some important military connections. On the intelligence side we share intelligence with Indonesia about terrorist groups and other aspects of what's going on there.
We had a small Navy exercise with the Indonesian navy based on a humanitarian scenario and we will have that again this year. The Indonesians participate in international conferences. For instance a representative of the Indonesian Chief of Defense came to Honolulu for our Chief of Defense conference in November. So we're in touch with the Indonesian armed forces but we don't have a full relationship with them and we won't until further development of professional Indonesian armed forces accountability, observing human rights standards, international standards.
But we do have many things in common with Indonesia that we would like to work on together. We would like to work on countering terrorism together. We would like to work on combatting piracy together. Indonesia needs assistance in patrolling its borders. A lot of illegal immigrants and illegal activity around its borders.
So we are working with Indonesia on specific items while we await the return of full military relations.
NHK: But when do you think you can reach full military cooperation?
Adm. Blair: That really depends on events in Indonesia. I believe that the leadership of the Indonesian armed forces are working to make their armed forces more professional. They are working to account for the past uses by some members of the TNI in past events, and as they succeed in making these reforms then we will be able to resume a full relationship with them.
NHK: Do you think not having full military cooperation with Indonesia is hindering your ability to root out al Qaida in Asia?
Adm. Blair: Indonesia not working with us is not in Indonesia's interests either, so they need to take the initiative to do the things that they have told us they want to do in order to resume those relations. So, the ball is in their court, they know it, they're working on it, and we hope that in time they will, we will be able to resume that relationship.
NHK: Let me ask you about Ehime Maru. It has been almost a year since the accident occurred and the family members going to Hawaii to have a one year ceremony.
Adm. Blair: Uh huh.
NHK: How do you think the accident have affected our relationship?
Adm. Blair: I think that after a year with all of the sincere effort that's been shown by the United States Navy in the recovery of the ship with great effort, especially after the 11th of September, I think the families of those who were lost and the Japanese people understand the sincerity and the regret of those of us in the United States who were responsible, and I think that we can move forward in a positive way.
We can never make up for the loss of the deaths of those who did lose their lives, but I think we've done, and demonstrated that we did everything we can in order to deal with the situation once it occurred and take care of the families and bring them back.
So I think that we have erased the doubts about our sincerity and commitment that may have existed and we're ready to move on to the future of the alliance.
NHK: Are you going to meet the families in Hawaii?
Adm. Blair: I will not be meeting the families, but there will be a ceremony in which a monument will be established in Hawaii in a place that looks out in the direction where the accident took place. There will be representatives from my command, there will be Americans, particularly Hawaiian Americans of Japanese ancestry and the families. There will be a very solemn ceremony at that time. The U.S. Navy will participate in that ceremony.
NHK: To prevent this kind of similar accident, what do you think you have to do -- USS Greeneville have accident twice in the region. What do you think the U.S. Navy must do to prevent this kind of accident again?
Adm. Blair: I think we have redoubled the safety procedures and the emphasis on those procedures. The incidents which the Greeneville was involved in since were not on the scale of the Ehime Maru, they were relatively minor incidents. However, just every day you work to make your procedures better, to be more careful, to make more checks so that things don't happen. That's part of what we do in the Navy all the time.
NHK: Thank you very much.
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