The Indian Ocean Tsunami – Impact on US-India Military Cooperation

June 11th, 2022 by admin No comments »

By the afternoon of the 26th requests for aid and assistance came from the affected countries of Sri Lanka and the Maldives–the Government of India (GOI) announced Operation Rainbow and Operation Castor for the two countries respectively. These operations were also run from the IDS headquarters with representatives of strategic ministries and departments present to coordinate civil-military efforts.

Far away in the Pacific Ocean, at the Hawaii-based headquarters of the US military’s joint Pacific Command (PACOM) it was still the afternoon of the 25th across the International Date Line, when reports of the earthquake and Tsunami first came in. Operational planning for responding to the disaster began immediately with PACOM in direct contact with US Ambassadors and local military officials of the affected nations. By the 27th this effort had been named Operation Unified Assistance and was backed by the formation of an inter-agency core group at Washington to synchronize civil-military operations.

The US military has the largest presence in the region and it seemed natural that they would be deployed for relief operations. However this intervention was attributed by some commentators to the US government’s “plan” of re-establishing military relations with Indonesia and gaining sympathy/appreciation from Muslims (India’s swift response in dispatching aid its neighbors was similarly described as “power projection” and India’s “pitch” for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council). Curiously these same commentators also criticized the Bush administration for initially providing a very low aid package of 3.5 million dollars. Now if the US really had a plan for gaining influence or appreciation would they have come up with such a low figure, when even Tsunami-hit India announced a 25 million dollar aid package for its neighbors?

In fact, like in all other countries, the US military also has international search and rescue responsibilities. Additionally it has commitments to allies like Thailand (affected by the Tsunami) and a military understanding, stemming from past exercises, with other powers in the region. The first reports of the Tsunami disaster had come from India, Thailand, and Sri Lanka, of which India and Thailand had announced that they would not require any international relief assistance. PACOM had established a regional base for relief operations at Utapao in Thailand by the 28th December and sent disaster relief assessment teams to the affected countries.

It was at this time that Indonesia finally uncovered the massive destruction in its remote province of Aceh and the total uprooting of its local administration, and consequently appealed for aid internationally. The US increased its aid package to 350 million dollars and dispatched military assets to Aceh, which were the first to reach the region on the 1st of January. India also responded to Indonesia’s appeal for aid and despite its armed forces being already engaged in four simultaneous operations, announced Operation Gambhir (Grim), dispatching two ships and aircraft that began relief work on the 5th of January.

Inter-military cooperation

With Indian troops being the first to engage in relief operations, alongside local troops in Sri Lanka and Maldives, while the Americans played that role in Indonesia, the US government announced the formation of a “Tsunami Core Group” on the 29th December to coordinate relief work in this unprecedented global calamity. That same day the US asked India to join this group alongside long-term allies Japan and Australia.

Here again there was criticism that this core group was formed deliberately to bypass existing United Nation’s bodies–a criticism that saw every US action through the prism of the recent Iraq War. In fact the core group was formed so that aid efforts would be streamlined, duplication of relief would be avoided, and operational requirements for each nation would be met speedily. Besides the large monetary aid promised by Japan and Australia, each country also put in military forces into their relief work. Although Australian aircraft were dropping supplies in Indonesia by early January, their ships did not reach the region until the middle of that month. Similarly Japanese self-defense forces were fully deployed on the Indonesian coast only at the end of January.

So the “Tsunami Core Group” was in fact coordination between the United States and India–both leading and dominating operations in South-east Asia and South Asia respectively.

Secondly even though foreign ministers and secretaries from the core group countries had daily teleconferences to coordinate efforts, their lack of operational knowledge and real-time information meant that these teleconferences became unnecessary. Later on Canada, EU countries, and the UN also became part of the core group, which was finally dissolved a week after the post-Tsunami relief operations had begun.

Other international efforts

Apart from the militaries of the affected nations, and the forces contributed by the Tsunami Core Group, there were countries in the region that also gave crucial aid to their neighbors. The global response was also commendable–Germany and Sweden were directly affected by the Tsunami as they lost thousands of their citizens in the tourist resorts of Thailand to the destructive waves. But due to the distances involved, global military assets took a long time to deploy in the affected region.

In South-East Asia, Singapore and Malaysia were specially noted for their contribution of military assets–Singapore deployed 5 C-130 aircraft, 4 CH-47 and 4 Super Puma helicopters, and two LST vessels. Along with Thailand it also opened its bases for the use of military assets from long-term ally, the United States. Malaysia deployed 2 C-130 and 3 other aircraft, 2 helicopters, one ship, and medical and engineering teams to Indonesia. It also opened its bases for use by the United Nations relief agencies.

In South Asia, Bangladesh sent 2 C-130 aircraft, 3 helicopters, and 2 ships for relief work in Sri Lanka–this being the first occasion when the Bangladesh Navy has deployed its assets in an overseas operation. Curiously Pakistan, which is a much bigger military power than Bangladesh, contributed similar assets for the post-Tsunami relief operations–4 ships, 2 C-130 aircraft, and a medical team. Out of their four ships deployed, the PNS Badar and the PNS Tariq happened to have made a port call to Male on December 23rd and were still in the Maldives when the Tsunami hit three days later–these two ships joined the Maldives Coast Guard and the Indian Air Force aircraft for search and rescue operations on the 27th.The Pakistani Armed Forces certainly had the capacity to contribute more since they have received several C-130 and P-3 Orion aircraft, helicopters, and vessels, as military aid from the United States in the last six years.

But at least they contributed some military assets–the most bewildering absence was of China. The country has acquired naval bases in South-East Asia, has professed its ambition of obtaining other bases in South Asia, and is a rising economic and military power like India. However the communist nation neither sent the PLA navy nor deployed the PLA air force in relief operations in its neighborhood. It only promised monetary aid, sent one medical team to Sri Lanka, and some relief material to Indonesia.

The UN and NGOs

The scale of destruction in the 26th December earthquake and Tsunami necessitated the massive deployment of military assets by the affected countries, their neighbors, and the Tsunami Core Group. The United Nations and Non Governmental Organizations did not have the resources or the assets to provide timely aid in each affected area. The repairing of infrastructure and communication links, provision of relief material, and setting up of medical camps, by the military forces was a great help to the UN and NGOs in starting their own operations. But they had other differences (and some advantages) over the military forces in the delivery of aid:

The Private Label and Contract Manufacturing

April 21st, 2022 by admin No comments »

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