Indonesia deepens cooperation with the US in the fight against terror

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Recent terrorist attacks in Indonesia reminded the nation that the threat from terrorism is still alive. The US and Hong Kong are assisting Indonesia in the battle with its brand of violent terrorism.


On the sidelines of the 87th Interpol General Assembly on 18-21 November 2018 in Dubai, the US and Indonesia reached an agreement to strengthen cooperation in counter-terrorism efforts. The new ties focus on cybersecurity and further strengthening Indonesia’s already established counter-terrorism strategy.

In addition, Indonesia’s National Police have also held a bilateral meeting with Hong Kong to reinforce efforts designed to curb the spread of terrorism that once again haunts the region.

The 2018 terror attacks in Indonesia were a new breed of terrorism

In May 2018, Indonesia was ravaged by a wave of deadly suicide bombings and attacks that left a total of 53 people dead, including civilians, policemen and the attackers.  The incident marked the deadliest terrorist attack to hit the country in over a decade.

The ISIS-inspired attacks also took Indonesian terrorism to a new barbaric level that the country has never seen before. Two of the suicide bombings were carried out by families with children.

The attacks thrust the country’s counter-terrorism strategy under a spotlight. The incident caught the nation off-guard, including Indonesia’s elite anti-terrorism force, Detachment 88 (Densus 88).

Since its establishment in 2003, Densus 88 has made over 2,000 arrests and disrupted 80 terrorist plots.  In the wake of May’s terror attacks, Densus 88 carried out raids which led to the identification of a larger terrorist network.

The anti-terror law was a knee-jerk reaction to the attacks

In response to the violent incidents, the Indonesian parliament passed an “anti-terror” law which gave the police sweeping new powers in dealing with terrorism. The anti-terror law expanded the scope of counter-terrorism efforts, bringing them under the direct control of the military.

Human Rights activists quickly voiced their concerns over the law. Their concerns stemmed from the bill’s vague wording and loose definition of a terrorist group. Without further clarification, the bill could be used to crack down on any organization or group perceived as a threat.

While the anti-terror law is controversial, there are essential points in the law that are effective in fighting the spread of terrorism.

The bill includes a ban on citizens to travel abroad to join terrorist groups. It also gives the authorities the power to strip the nationality of convicted terrorists, allowing further control over the movement of dangerous individuals.

Moreover, the law makes it illegal to take part in terrorist training at home or abroad, as well as communicating with terrorist organizations. Such measures could stop Indonesians from travelling abroad to join terrorist groups and help prevent the repatriation of new and trained terrorists.

The US and Indonesia have a history of working together on counter-terrorism initiatives

The US and Indonesia started working together in the field of counter-terrorism in the aftermath of the Bali bombing in 2002 when the US extended financial assistance to Indonesia through its ATA (Anti-Terrorism Assistance) program.  The U.S provided $50million in counterterrorism aid to Indonesia to establish its counter-terrorism unit and administer training programs.

Earlier this year, US Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis visited Jakarta and held a meeting with his Indonesian counterpart. The meeting was centred around the expansion of the Pentagon’s “Our eyes” initiative which would boost anti-terror cooperation between the US and several other ASEAN nations.

On 14 September 2018, Indonesia’s National Counter Terrorism Agency (BNPT) signed a memorandum of outstanding (MoU) with the United States to strengthen ties in counter-terrorism between the two nations.

The agreement reached on November 19th in Dubai between Indonesia, the US and Hong Kong is an extension of the already established counter-terrorism ties. It places a greater emphasis on cybersecurity in the fight against terrorism. The pact will focus on improving Indonesia’s terrorism prevention strategies through training programs and education of personnel.

Increased information exchange between the US and Indonesia also featured in the talks in Dubai. This could play a key role in combatting terrorism in the region. It will help Indonesia gather information on people coming in and out of the country, sources of terrorist funding, as well as information about other potential risks.

Not only will this access to data allow for the prevention of future attack, but it could also act as a deterrent. Furthermore, cooperation in education and training programs between countries will improve the skills and capacity of the Indonesian national police personnel, the benefits of which will be felt across Indonesian law enforcement, not just its anti-terror divisions.

With ISIS-affiliated groups centred in the region, stronger relations between regional powers and the United States are vital for preventing another attack.

With the US support, Indonesia’s anti-terror unit will continue to lead the way in ASEAN’s fight against terrorism.

The May attacks exposed a weakness in the prevention and detection aspect of Indonesian counter-terrorism strategy. The Dubai talks must be viewed as an attempt from Widodo’s government to strengthen that weakness. By bolstering local cybersecurity resources and sharing intelligence from other regional and global powers, the government will have added a new weapon to its arsenal. It is getting ready to go to war against terrorism. The government is determined not to be bested again.