Remarks at the Annual Meeting of the Association of the United States Army

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Nisha Desai Biswal
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Washington, DC

Thank you, General Brooks, for those great remarks and for the invitation to speak at this important gathering. Thank you also for the vision and commitment you bring to advancing our security partnerships in across the Indo-Pacific.

I’m delighted to be here. The region of South and Central Asia is defined by opportunity. Not just the opportunities for the hundreds of millions of people there who are rising into the global middle class, but also the opportunities to advance the interests and values of the United States. Today I’d like to briefly sketch out – from the State Department’s perspective – how the U.S. military is helping us secure those interests and advance our values.

I have an extensive and successful track record working with the US military, and particularly the Army, during times of disaster management and response, through years of work with the Red Cross and our Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance.

Let me tell you, there is nothing that wins hearts and minds and embodies the American spirit more than when our soldiers deploy on humanitarian missions that save lives far from home.

One of the most dramatic manifestations was in the aftermath of the 2005 Muzaffarabad earthquake. I was working on the Hill at the time and was staffing a congressional delegation which went to review our assistance in the affected areas of Kashmir. By air we could see the terrible devastation – nearly 90,000 people lost their lives and over 4 million were left homeless.

We visited a field hospital set up by the US Army, we saw the search and rescue operations and the massive humanitarian airlift of food and relief supplies that was being ferried into the remote valleys that had been left isolated and cut off by massive landslides.

From the markets of Rawalpindi to the streets of small towns and villages, I saw something I did not expect to see: t-shirts emblazoned with the American flag, and children playing with little toy helicopters which, on closer inspection, I realized were tiny CH-47 Chinooks.

Those Chinooks and their crew had become the lifelines for those children and their families. After the earthquake struck, U.S. military helicopters flew over 4,000 sorties in Pakistan, delivered over 25 million pounds of relief supplies, and carried over 18,000 people to safety.

It was a proud moment for America, and a clear demonstration of how our military – the world’s most professional and capable fighting force – is also a life-saving force when disaster strikes.

I saw it in again Bangladesh, in the cyclone shelters that the Army Corps of Engineers and USAID started building in 2004. When Cyclone Sidr – one of the strongest on record – hit Bangladesh in 2007, over 2 million people had already evacuated to shelters. While over 3,000 people still lost their lives to Cyclone Sidr, consider that nearly 140,000 were killed when a cyclone of similar strength hit Bangladesh in 1991 – before the shelters were built.

And I saw it most recently in Nepal, where long before the quake hit this past April, the Corps of Engineers built a quake-proof blood bank in Kathmandu, and seven deep tube wells in the Kathmandu Valley. That blood bank sustained zero damage when the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck this past April. As a result, it was able to reach its full donation capacity after the quake, and provided life-saving blood to several hospitals throughout the capital. And those deep tube wells also held up, providing water for tens of thousands of earthquake survivors.

And we were reminded in Nepal of the vital yet perilous role of American service members in responding to disasters. A few weeks after the earthquake, I was in Kathmandu when we received the heart-breaking news that six American Marines, along with two Nepali soldiers, perished in a helicopter crash while conducting rescue operations.

To me, as important as the humanitarian response after disaster strikes is the investment we make in preparing for disasters and building the capacity of our partners to respond effectively. We saw that in Nepal where the US military had an unprecedented level of trust and cooperation, not just with the Nepalese military, but also with the Indian military which had deployed in massive numbers to aid in the rescue and relief operations.

That trust and cooperation did not happen by accident and it did not happen overnight. For years, General Brooks and his colleagues in the other services have been working with their counterparts in Asia on planning for humanitarian crises. Through exercises like Pacific Resilience, the US military has invested in these relationships, invested in joint training and exercises and built up the capabilities of their military counterparts, just as USAID has worked to do the same on the civilian side.

And in a part of the world that account for over 60% of weather related disasters and a growing number of seismic disasters, these investments save lives and money.

As important as HADR is, it is but one aspect. The primary mission of our military is to defend our nation and to advance our security interests. And increasingly, that extends to addressing threats from both state and non-state actors.

President Obama has said that in the coming decades the prosperity and security of the United States will increasingly be shaped by the prosperity and security of Asia. The Indo-Pacific region, with the world’s most populous nations and fastest-growing major economies, also is home to the land and sea lanes on which much of global trade is dependent – especially crucial energy supplies.

In the South Asia region, we have made the long bet on India as an important partner in advancing our collective security interests. It will come as no surprise to this audience that we conduct more military exercises with India than any other country and we are fast becoming India’s biggest defense partner. Great examples include Exercise Yudh Abhyas, an Army to Army exercise that brought 150 Indian Army soldiers to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State where they arrived aboard an Indian Air Force C-17, and MALABAR, currently underway with India and Japan.

Together with 225 American soldiers, our armies practiced working together in peacekeeping and counter-terrorism operations. They also exchanged views on regional security and emerging challenges in the Indo-Pacific.

The United States and India have a unique ability and opportunity to shape this region’s future for good, and, to that end, earlier this year President Obama and Prime Minister Modi laid out a Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region. This landmark document affirms the importance of safeguarding maritime security, ensuring freedom of navigation – especially in the South China Sea – and peacefully resolving territorial and maritime disputes.

We’re also building India’s capacity through our defense trade – like that C-17 they brought their soldiers to Washington in, or the C-130s they used to deliver relief supplies after Nepal’s earthquake. Last month, the Indian Air Force finalized a $3 billion deal for Apache and Chinook helicopters. And we’re now helping India develop aircraft carrier and jet engine technology as part of our Defense Technology and Trade Initiative, which Secretary Carter launched back in 2012.

But as I noted earlier, we are increasingly cooperating in countering the threats posed by non-state actors through increased counter-terrorism cooperation in the region. The United States and India just agreed on a Joint Declaration on Combatting Terrorism, which paves the way for greater intelligence sharing and capacity building.

We also reached a major announcement on peacekeeping cooperation: together with India we’re going to jointly train peacekeepers with several countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Peacekeeping is a great example of how the countries of South Asia are becoming net security providers. Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Nepal are four of the top six contributors to UN peacekeeping operations – in fact, over one-third of all deployed UN peacekeepers are from South Asia.

Of course, mil-mil relations with some of the countries in South and Central Asia are complicated by their human rights records. But we continue to air our concerns in frank discussions with their leaders, and are committed to making progress in this area.

If you look all across the board, U.S. Army programs and activities are supporting and reinforcing the work we’re doing at the State Department, whether it’s in regional security, humanitarian assistance, environmental protection, health outcomes, or a host of other issues.

And if you look at some of the greatest challenges facing South Asia in the future – earthquakes, flooding, infectious disease – all will require land-based forces to craft an effective response.

So I really can’t overstate the value of the U.S. Army’s peacetime engagements in South Asia. And not just for that region, but also globally, for its neighbors to the east and west, especially in Africa.

Thank you again, General Brooks, for inviting me to speak today, and I look forward to hearing from the rest of the panel and to a lively discussion.

Source: U.S Department of State

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