Cablegate: Uss Bonhomme Richard and 11th Meu Visit Timor-Leste

DE RUEHDT #0290/01 2990536
R 260536Z OCT 09



E.O. 12958: N/A

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1. (U) Summary: The USS Bonhomme Richard and the 11th Marine
Expeditionary Unit visited Timor-Leste October 13-23 and
conducted highly successful exercises, provided medical
services, completed humanitarian engineering projects, and
engaged in community relations activities in coordination with
the Timorese armed forces and the Australian-led International
Stabilization Force. This visit, its exercises, and activities
represent the most dramatic and visible U.S. interaction with
this country in its 10-year history. Despite some initial
trepidation about the scale of the visit and activities, the
President, Prime Minister, Secretary of State for Defense, and
the F-FDTL Commander were all favorably impressed, effusive in
their public praise for the U.S., and resolute in their desire
for more such training in the future. The results were
spectacularly successful and have helped to advance key Mission
objectives and improve bilateral relations between the U.S. and
Timor-Leste. End Summary.

The Visit in Numbers


2. (U) The USS Bonhomme Richard, the world's largest amphibious
aircraft carrier, and the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU)
visited Timor-Leste October 13-23 for a series of joint
exercises with the Timorese armed forces (F-FDTL) and the
Australian-led International Stabilization Force (ISF). This
visit by over 2,500 Navy Sailors and Marines represented the
largest-ever presence of Americans in Timor-Leste, effectively
increasing the existing American population here for the
duration of the visit by 20 fold. This number of participating
U.S. military personnel was triple the entire size of the
trained Timorese armed forces.

Marine Exercises and Medical Clinics


3. (U) The military exercises and medical and engineering
projects took place in towns and training facilities spread
throughout the country. The military training exercises
conducted by the U.S. Marines included a multi-day guerilla
insurgency exercise in Gleno, urban warfare training in
Manatuto, close air support training in Baucau, and jungle
training in Seisal. In addition, the Marines opened medical and
dental clinics to the communities in Oecussi, Maubara, and Laga,
treating almost 800 patients. Finally, the Marines completed a
major engineering/construction project to replace the roof and
walls of a school in Maubara. At our request, the Marines also
conducted a realistic non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO)
exercise at the Embassy, in which over three dozen private and
official American citizens participated and were "evacuated" by
helicopter to the USS Bonhomme Richard, thereby providing an
invaluable service by enhancing Embassy Dili's emergency
readiness (see Septel for a more detailed account of this

Navy Community Relations Activities


4. (U) Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy conducted several community
relations activities including a donation of medical supplies in
Dili to the Ministry of Health and local NGOs, visits to two
Dili orphanages, and a soccer match between the ship's team and
the Timorese Under-17 national team at the National Stadium in
Dili (we were gracious in defeat, losing 4 - 0). The Navy also
refurbished another school in Manatuto. Although the USS
Bonhomme Richard traveled up and down the coast of Timor-Leste
over the course of the ten days to support the exercises and
activities, it spent three days anchored in the Dili port in
full view of the local population, hosted a large diplomatic
reception for local dignitaries, including President
Ramos-Horta; private visits by Prime Minister Gusmao and F-FDTL
Commander Taur Matan Ruak; and dispatched about 900 Navy
personnel ashore for liberty in and around Dili.

Media Coverage

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5. (U) The Embassy and the advance team of the 11th MEU engaged
in an aggressive public relations campaign to provide detailed
briefings of the planned activities to senior GOTL officials and
Members of Parliament, as well as to inform the Timorese public
about what to expect. Additionally, the Embassy arranged for
VIP participation in and extensive media coverage of several
events, including the arrival and unloading of large landing
hovercraft in Maubara, the reception on board the USS Bonhomme
Richard, and visits to the training exercises in Gleno,
Manatuto, Baucau, and Seisal. The media also covered the
donation of several pallets of medical supplies and the visits
to the orphanages. The soccer match at the National Stadium on
October 18 was attended by over 3,000 Timorese, including
President Ramos-Horta.

Comment, Kudos & Recommendation


6. (SBU) This visit was spectacularly successful. The variety
of multi-day opportunities for direct engagement and training
with the F-FDTL dramatically reinforced one of our principal
objectives in Timor-Leste - namely, that stability is dependent
on the need to develop and maintain a professional military with
clearly-defined roles and responsibilities under civilian
leadership. Despite some initial trepidation about the scale of
the visit and activities, the President, Prime Minister,
Secretary of State for Defense, and the F-FDTL Commander were
all favorably impressed, effusive in their praise for the U.S.,
and resolute in their desire for more such training in the
future. Indeed, in a presentation in Dili on October 26 to an
assemblage of ambassadors and Timorese security sector
officials, Secretary of State for Defense Pinto asked that
large-scale U.S. Marine exercises in Timor-Leste become an
annual event and suggested the next round include a trilateral
component with Indonesia. The high degree of professionalism
and respect exercised by all of our military personnel made a
deep and profound impression on the Timorese public and has
established a model and high standard to which their own
military can aspire. Similar results were achieved in helping
us to build relations with key officials and to enhance our
Embassy's emergency preparedness.

7. (SBU) Embassy Dili is extremely grateful to the U.S. Navy,
the U.S. Marines, and the U.S. Pacific Command for giving us
this excellent opportunity to advance our Mission objectives and
improve bilateral relations with Timor-Leste. We would also
like to extend special thanks to the commanders of the Bonhomme
Richard Amphibious Ready Group, the Bonhomme Richard itself, and
the 11th MEU for their exceptional professionalism, decisive
leadership, keen political savvy, and for accommodating so many
of our requests. We want to commend Lt. Col. Derek Montroy, the
MEU Executive Officer and Officer-in-Command of the Forward
Command Element for his invaluable advice and liaison work, as
well as Captain Brennan Simi for the superb job he did in
advancing the visit and briefing President Ramos-Horta and
Secretary Pinto, and Captain Michael Manning for leading the
Embassy NEO exercise. We also commend John Belliveau from NCIS
in Singapore for the terrific job he did handling force
protection issues and liberty arrangements for 900 sailors from
the USS Bonhomme Richard. Finally, we commend Chief Warrant
Officer Josilito Sarmiento for his work on the advance team in
preparing for and making the Navy's community relations
activities a success.

8. (SBU) Looking forward to the next visit, we offer only a few
suggestions. This visit involved a lot of complex, moving parts
and it only went smoothly as a result of excellent planning and
foresight. We recommend that future MEUs continue to provide an
officer to carry the project from the planning stages (including
site visits and negotiations) to the advance work (on the ADVON
team) to the implementation (including participating in the
Forward Command Element). In addition, the Forward Command
Element (FCE) itself was an indispensable part of making this
visit a success. We strongly recommend that future MEUs also
continue to dedicate an FCE to supporting the visit and
exercises. Perhaps the only shortcoming during this visit was

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the presence of only one Navy person versus ten Marines on the
advance team. The level of activity and the force protection
requirements probably should have necessitated at least two or
three Navy representatives.

© Scoop Media

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