Four thousand Indonesian and American troops are set to begin a two-week joint military exercise today, and this will become the most extensive “Garuda Shield” military drill to date. 

The Garuda Shield is a joint exercise to enhance and enrich the jungle warfare ability of both armies. The 2-week drills usually happen in Indonesia, taking advantage of various terrains in the region. The ongoing effort started in 2007 and is being sponsored by the US military and the Indonesian Army. 

 

In 2010, the Garuda Shield happened in Cipatat, Bandung, Indonesia. Staff officers from the Pacific Command, the HIARNG, USARPAC, and the TNI have formed a brigade to support stability and peace in the region. In this Garuda Shield, the troops conducted training aligned with the UN standardized organizational tactics. This helped both armies improve their tactical interoperability. 

During the Garuda Shield, other countries are invited to join in, including Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, New Zealand, Philippines, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Thailand, Tonga, United Kingdom, and Vietnam. Russia is usually invited on this list, but because of what’s happening with Ukraine, they may be omitted for this year’s Garuda Shield. 

 

According to a statement from the US Embassy in Jakarta, the Super Garuda Shield will be conducted from Aug. 1 to 14. Aside from Indonesia, participating nations like Australia, Japan, and Singapore kick off the ceremonies. Other countries will join in, like Canada, France, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Korea, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste, and the UK, but only as observer nations. This is a massive show of coalition power amid the rising tensions in the Asia Pacific region. 

However, as Maj. Gen. Stephen Smith, commander of the US troops, had said this is not to be interpreted as a threat. Maj. Gen. Smith said this is a “purely military-to-military exercise.” 

“This is not a threat or should not be viewed as a threat to anybody, anywhere,” Smith said.

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“I’m proud to see how Garuda Shield has grown since last year – expanding this summer to a joint, multinational exercise that includes all of our service components,” said Gen. Charles Flynn, Commanding General of US Army Pacific. “It’s a symbol of the U.S.-Indonesia bond and the growing relationship between land forces in this consequential region… because land forces are the glue that binds the region’s security architecture together. We do that together by building readiness, building relationships, and by building trust. Bringing our forces together like this, we stitch the fabric of regional security into something lasting.”

U.S Army 130th Engineers Brigade working alongside their Indonesian Army Counterparts to Conduct Joint Road Repair as Part of Garuda Shield 2022. (Source: U.S Army photos by Sgt. Kyle Chatman, 8th Theater Sustainment Command.)

Aside from tactical and military training, the exercise will also include cultural exchanges to strengthen the US-Indonesia partnership “through shared learning and training.” There will also be academic discussions, professional development workshops, and other activities focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. 

Longstanding US-Indonesia Partnership

The US has been an ally of the Indonesian military. For decades, the US has supplied various military assistance to the country, like the International Military Education and Training (IMET). Under the Department of Defense Program, the US military provided $1.3 million in the program aiming to “increase professionalism, strengthen respect for democratic values and human rights.” However, the IMET was suspended from 1999-2002 because of concerns about human rights abuses by the Indonesian military (TNI) in East Timor. However, in 2004, the IMET resumed under President Bush, funding the training with another $600,000. 

U.S Army 130th Engineers Brigade working alongside their Indonesian Army Counterparts to Conduct Joint Road Repair as Part of Garuda Shield 2022. (Source: U.S Army photos by Sgt. Kyle Chatman, 8th Theater Sustainment Command.)
U.S Army 130th Engineers Brigade working alongside their Indonesian Army Counterparts to Conduct Joint Road Repair as Part of Garuda Shield 2022. (Source:U.S Army photos by Sgt. Kyle Chatman, 8th Theater Sustainment Command.)

The State Department also launched an Antiterrorism Assistance Program in 2006, spending $6 million to “train and equip” special Indonesian counterterrorism police called the Special Detachment 88 (SD-88). 

Though a multi-million assistance package was sent to Indonesia over the years, Congress placed restrictions on US assistance. According to CFR, the military can only provide limited and conditional foreign military financing and is not permitted to offer lethal defense articles to Indonesia. 

 

So far, these programs have been proven effective. For example, US officials claim that their Indonesian military support was instrumental when an Australian embassy attack in Jakarta happened. According to Acting Coordinator for Counterterrorism William P. Pope, the SD-88 was able to arrest the lead terrorist and apprehend three terrorists preparing for a bombing at a major shopping center. 

Still, SD-88 is not failure-proof. The Bali bombings still happened, and the terrorist groups could still conduct their operations on Indonesian soil.

However, many are optimistic about the outcome of the Super Garuda Shield 2022.