The counterterrorism practices generated through exchanges and exercises among elite fighting forces of members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and its dialogue partners will boost the People's Liberation Army's combat capability during multinational counterterrorism missions in response to regional terror threats, military officers said.
A live-ammunition, joint exercise was held Wednesday to drill counterterrorism missions in urban environments at the PLA Ground Force Southern Theater's training ground in Guilin, the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.
More than 800 officers and soldiers from 18 countries - and the ASEAN Center of Military Medicine - took part in the exercise aimed at improving joint command and operation procedures drafted by the Experts' Working Group on counterterrorism of the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus.
The exercise simulated terrorist attack scenarios from around the world in recent years. The scenarios included armed attacks in crowded public places like theaters and churches, civilians being taken hostage on trains and buses and the kidnapping of government officials, said Lieutenant Colonel Huangfu Yaodan, a PLA Ground Force Southern Theater staff officer and a member of the exercise's expert panel.
"Different multinational assault and counterterrorism task groups have to work together to deal with multiple attacks simultaneously happening around the 'city'. This is the new character of terrorist attacks in recent years," Huangfu said.
Under the framework of the Experts' Working Group on counterterrorism of the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus, a member country can require others' assistance in counterterrorism missions if the situation is out of control and terrorist threats may spread to other countries.
The ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus provides a platform for ASEAN's 10 members and eight dialogue partners - including China and the United States - to strengthen security and defense cooperation.
The exercise was the largest-scale land-based counterterrorism activity since the founding of the Experts' Working Group on counterterrorism in 2011. It aims to improve countries' joint command and operation procedures when responding together to regional terror threats, said Lieutenant General Zhang Jian, commander of the PLA Ground Force Southern Theater.
"Based on counterterrorism situations in Southeast Asia, the countries have agreed that it's important to have a mechanism in place to jointly combat terror activities, which are often transnational and may endanger the whole region's security," said Huangfu, who is involved in drafting the Counterterrorism Task Force Standard Operating Procedure Counterterrorism Planning.
"During multinational operations, partner forces should establish at an early stage liaisons with forces of each nation, facilitating the ability to integrate and synchronize operations and enhance mutual trust," said Major General Thanong Tannarak of the Royal Thai Armed Forces' Counterterrorism Operation Center.
"Trust is the most important thing during multinational operations, particularly gaining trust from local civilians," Tannarak said.
ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus is the foundation for carrying out successful joint missions. The training and exercises can help participants prepare for combat situations, said Yang Yong, the commander of a PLA Ground Force Southern Theater mixed brigade whose troops took part in the drill.
"What's more, elite troops from different countries learn from each other during the exercises. It's a good platform for them to exchange military skills in fighting terrorism," Yang said.
"The PLA has the responsibility to be ready when it's needed for international counterterrorism missions," said Zhang Bo, political commissar of the mixed brigade. "Also, the exercises can test the troops' skills for actual combat, which has been the focus of our routine trainings."
Before the exercises, commanders from different countries coordinate different counterterrorism task teams - such as those for air assaults, mobile strikes, reconnaissance missions, sniper activity, medical rescue and intelligence gathering. The newly assembled multinational assault teams have worked on their tactics and communications so they can function as bands of brothers when facing "terrorists", just like in actual combat situations.
"We have integrated the most practical elements of the Chinese and Thai troops' tactics to improve the detachment's combat effectiveness," said Duan Xingmin, a PLA Ground Force Southern Theater soldier who teamed up with a Royal Thai Armed Forces officer to carry out a mission searching for fleeing "terrorists". In counterterrorism situations, explosives disposal has to be fast so it doesn't impede other operations. Russian units often choose to conduct controlled explosions rather than disassembling explosives, said Major Liu Kun, head of the explosive ordnance disposal detachment.
"Exchanges among Chinese soldiers returning from a peacekeeping mission in Lebanon and Russian units that have been involved in counterterrorism missions are very valuable," Liu said.
"Having such a joint command and operation mechanism can put pressure on terrorists in the region who are the member countries' common enemy. It can be triggered at anytime and the PLA is ready," said Senior Colonel Zheng Songhua, a former researcher at the Academy of Military Science.
China will deepen cooperation in counterterrorism and disaster relief with ASEAN and continue to contribute to safeguard regional stability, Defense Minister Wei Fenghe said during the 10th ASEAN-China Defence Ministers' Informal Meeting held in Bangkok, Thailand, on Sunday.