Assessing the rumors of US Special Forces based in Bangladesh

Mar 9, 2012

By Brig Gen Shahedul Anam khan ndc, psc (Retd),

If there has been a furore about the presence of US Special Forces on our soil it was not unjustified. The media in Bangladesh had quoted a part of the US Pacific Commander's deposition at a Congressional hearing that, "We have currently special forces assist teams…laid down in Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, as well as India."

We would like to put our faith even in the US ambassador's suggestion not to believe what appears in the media, but such a disclaimer from the source would have been more appropriate and would have helped further dispel the doubts.

Although the matter has been somewhat clarified by the relevant ministry in Bangladesh when the said report appeared in the media, and since then by the US ambassador in Dhaka, that no permanent US forces are based in Dhaka, there are a few questions that need the government to respond. Our questions stem from not only the reported presence of US "assist teams" in this region but also from the claims that Bangladesh is an active partner in the global war on terror being conducted by the US.

Firstly, even if we were to accept the clarifications regarding actual stationing of troops in Bangladesh, it would still be for the government to spell out the actual nature of the presence of US teams. Is it merely a training team or one that is of sizeable strength, albeit in Bangladesh temporarily? And what is actually the type of training that the so called assist team is imparting? How often do our security forces involve themselves with the Americans in joint training, and is training restricted to theory only, and if not, does training involve tactical maneuvers without troops or with troops?

It is no secret that our government has been cooperating with other countries, particularly the US and the UK, for enhancing its counter and anti-terrorism capability. And given the threat we had been exposed to or the potential threat that we face, although not anywhere near what some of the other countries of South Asia have been and are exposed to, we have to nonetheless prepare ourselves to address the issue with a degree of professionalism and competence.

However, while one should welcome any cooperation that enhances our capability to combat this threat, the extent of the cooperation is something whose details ought to be made public. And what we are particularly interested in is the level and type of cooperation in the US war on terror.

The US Pacific commander had said in the said deposition: "Bangladesh has emerged as a particularly effective partner in the fight against terror, cooperating with India as well as the US to counter VEO activity by actors such as LeT." And that is a different ball game altogether.

Certainly most of the world differs with the US definition of global war on terror (GWOT) and also the way it has been pursued, with painful results both for the US, its allies, but more particularly so by countries that were made the direct targets of US attacks, Iraq and Afghanistan. And one has to look only at Pakistan to see consequences of being a direct ally in a venture that was laced with deceit and falsehood. Both operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom have been unmitigated disasters for the US. No wonder that that the Bush administration had renamed GWOT as the "long war." So what war on terror is the US talking about that we are participating in with them? Are we getting entangled in the "long war?"

In fact, US strategy has only helped spawn the phenomenon. We must understand the underlying thrust of the US strategy where the GWOT has been made an excuse to reorder the world order. What should one make of the fact that as early as the evening of 9/11 Bush had told his advisors that he saw the attacks as a chance to do what he had decided he would long before his administration had come to power, and Donald Rumsfeld, who was yet to be appointed the defence secretary, told his boss that he believed that the US military power was needed "to help discipline the world." What the US had embarked upon was a road to neo-imperialism and the Bush Doctrine was used to chastise the world. While sanity may have partly returned to US planners after Obama took over with the realisation that use of force has its limit, many see the Obama Doctrine as a "Bush redux."

It should not be lost upon our policymakers that a direct involvement with the US in its so called GWOT is fraught with high degree of risk for Bangladesh. Not only would it not go down well with the people, because of the warped notion of the war on terror conveyed to the Muslin world by the US, we would have to be prepared to face retaliatory attacks by those that are made targets of US actions. We should not forget that if we are willing to embrace a bear we should be prepared to suffer some broken bones too.

Courtesy: The Bangladesh Star, 8 March 2012

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