The Bush administration is preparing to provide U.S. military advisors, weapons and special training to governments in Central Asia, the Mideast and Africa over the next six months as part of an expanded effort to mount proxy fights against terrorists in more than half a dozen countries, administration officials say.
The administration has sought a 27% funding increase for a federal program designed to bolster militaries in other countries. Money, materiel and U.S. military trainers would go to Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Nepal, Jordan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, a senior Defense Department official said.
The United States has traditionally conducted training exercises with friendly militaries and has helped them buy military equipment and services. But the expanded effort is designed to allow the U.S. to more directly use other nations' armed forces to strike at terrorists who threaten American interests.
The new push comes despite years of controversy over misuse of U.S. training and materiel by foreign militaries. Now, however, the expanded ties are seen as essential to the administration's plan to conduct proxy fights against terrorist cells in many places at once.
"All these programs were predicated on the idea that if we get together, U.S. values will be transferred and U.S. interests will be served. Right now, our interest is in curbing terrorism," said D. B. Des Roches, a spokesman for the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
While the Pentagon says it will not disclose publicly where the war on terrorism will take U.S. resources next, military officials said the Pentagon is sending a surplus patrol boat and rifles to the Philippines and spare helicopter parts to Pakistan. It has sent military trainers to Djibouti, Ethiopia and Oman and has trained Georgian pilots at U.S. military flight schools.
"We will continue to train and equip countries that face terrorist threats. We will establish or, in some cases, reestablish military-to-military contacts with countries that face terrorist threats," Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said Monday. "The power and reach of weapons today are too great and too lethal to do otherwise."
Senior defense officials say the preparations are a central part of the next phase in the war on terrorism, in which the United States hopes to be able to wage military operations against its enemies around the world without using U.S. troops. Administration officials believe that by sending military equipment to countries that have long sought such aid, then training their militaries, Washington will build relationships strong enough that U.S. leaders can later ask those nations to use what they have learned on the United States' behalf.
"This is more of a long-term investment than an immediate fix," said one senior military official. "It's an attempt to get more exposure to democracy for front-line states in the war against terrorism, and to equip them to fight on their turf. It's part of the realization that there are an awful lot of nasty things out there that could touch us more directly than we ever thought they could in the past."
The military aid is being channeled through three Cold War era programs. Two of the programs--Foreign Military Financing, or FMF, which awards credits, loans and grants to other militaries to buy military equipment; and International Military Education and Training, or IMET, which provides education at home and in the United States to officers of foreign militaries--are run by the State Department and implemented by the Pentagon. A third program, which awards excess defense equipment to friendly countries, is run by the Pentagon.
The programs have been used in the past primarily for funding military aid to Israel, Egypt, Jordan and countries in Latin America. But they were also used in 2001 to train and educate more than 9,000 foreign military personnel and to equip the 100 countries those personnel came from.
In its 2003 budget request to Congress, the State Department is asking for an increase of 27% over this year's budget for FMF and 13% for IMET.
The increases reflect "new conditions" after Sept. 11, a State Department official said. "Certainly we want to use [the programs] to complement our objectives in the war on terrorism."
Military officials say the relationships the Pentagon has been cultivating for almost a decade with the militaries of Central Asian countries have already paid dividends. The U.S. has been making heavy use of air bases in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to support the war in Afghanistan. And the Air Force is building an air base in Kyrgyzstan it plans to use for years.
"There's no guarantee this will buy you anything in the long term, but if you're coming into these places starting from ground zero, the chances that you will get anything from them are near zero," said Jay Cope, a retired Army colonel and a senior research fellow at the National Defense University.
Critics say that strengthening militaries without strengthening government institutions in unstable parts of the globe could create more problems than it solves.
"What do we actually buy when we train these militaries? Presumably they can shoot better and train better, but are they more likely to be our friends? We don't actually know," said Deborah Avant, an assistant professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.
"We're partly going on hope here," Avant said. "You might be shooting yourself in the foot, particularly when you're talking about getting terrorist threats under control."
Pentagon officials said that while the programs are not perfect, they are gambling that they can be used effectively to leverage U.S. interests in the war on terrorism.
"We can't change where these people come from and the culture of their particular institution," a senior military official said. "We can expose them to a lot, but that doesn't necessarily mean that, when they go back home and they become part of that particular institution, they are going to respond as expected."