Other Military Operations and Peacekeeping Missions: U.S. Relations and Operations in Asia

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Other Military Operations and Peacekeeping Missions: U.S. Relations and Operations in Asia

The United States has a long history of involvement in Asian affairs, stretching back to antipiracy raids in Sumatra and the Pacific Islands in the 1830s and 1840s. With the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry's infamous “Black Fleet” in Tokyo Bay in 1853, America began playing an active and direct role in Asian affairs. This was an involvement that ultimately resulted in extensive operations across the whole of the vast continent of Asia, first in opposition to Communist expansion and later in fighting against Islamic terrorists.

The Philippine Insurgency

After the Perry expedition forced Japan to participate in trade with the United States in 1853, American trade began steadily expanding into East Asia. In the wake of the Spanish-American War in 1898, in which the United States won the Philippines and the island of Guam, America gained territorial possessions to match its economic expansion.

Although a vocal faction in U.S. politics at the time was in favor of seeing America become a colonial power, the acquisition of the Philippines would bring with it unforeseen trouble. An insurrection began in 1899 that ultimately lasted for fourteen years and required, at its peak, 126,000 American soldiers to contain.

The United States lost four thousand soldiers over the course of the insurgency. The toll on the native civilian population was even steeper—estimates range from anywhere between 250,000 and 1,000,000 deaths due to the conflict and the famines and diseases that accompanied it.

At the core of the conflict was the issue of Philippine independence. The insurrection had actually begun under Spanish rule but continued when it became clear that America had no plans to deal with the rebel government.

After a series of hard-fought victories, the Americans had effectively broken the Philippine army by 1900. This only drove the insurgents to adopt a tactic of guerilla warfare, which in turn drove the American troops to adopt increasingly harsh countermeasures, including burning whole villages and shooting prisoners.

By such harsh measures, coupled with the enormous troop presence on the islands, the American military was gradually able to gain the upper hand. By 1902, the last of the Philippine generals had been either captured or killed, and widespread resistance came to an end. Nevertheless, scattered bands of rebel fighters kept up sporadic attacks against both the U.S. occupiers and their Philippine allies for over a decade.

Nationalist China

Around the time the Philippine insurgency was beginning to die down, America found itself increasingly drawn into affairs in China. Beginning with the Boxer Rebellion and followed soon after by the 1911 Revolution, U.S. troops were sent in ever-increasing numbers to protect American interests in China. American marines were first stationed in Tientsin during the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895. By 1927, over five thousand U.S. troops were on the ground in China, guarding railways and American businesses and embassies. Troop levels declined as the Great Depression turned America isolationist in the 1930s, but the last American soldiers did not leave Peking and the surrounding regions until the outbreak of World War II.

Although ground troops were withdrawn from China, the area proved essential as a base for American planes during World War II. Under General Claire Chennault and his famous “Flying Tigers” squadron, missions were flown throughout the war to support British, American, and Chinese efforts in the China-Burma-India Theater. After the war, Chennault proved instrumental in founding what would eventually become Air America, the covert Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-operated transportation service that flew missions throughout Southeast Asia before and during the Vietnam War (1959–1975).

Cold War Power Politics

After World War II came to a close, America found itself inextricably bound up in Asian affairs. The Japanese home islands were under occupation. The Korean Peninsula had been split between North and South and the “DMZ,” or demilitarized zone, which marked the border, was garrisoned by thousands of U.S. troops. French Indochina, whose first stirrings for independence had been felt after World War I, soon erupted into open rebellion. And China, to the great surprise of many, turned Communist in 1949.

Tibet was soon to become a theater in the “shadow war” waged by the CIA against America's Communist enemies. Invaded by China in 1950, Tibet fought a fierce resistance effort for four years before America quietly intervened, providing weapons and training in guerilla tactics in Saipan and at a base in Colorado. This American backing lasted until 1974, when attempts to normalize relations with China led to a sudden withdrawal of support for Tibetan insurgents operating out of Nepal.

The Cold War largely drove American policy all across Asia, as in the rest of the world. With China and North Korea firmly under Communist rule, and clear signs developing in other nations of strengthening Communist influence, the United States focused on preventing further expansion of the enemy's ideology. The Korean and Vietnam Wars were direct results of America's belief in the “domino theory,” which suggested that the next country to fall to communism might touch off a whole sequence of similar revolutions in neighboring states, much like a toppling line of dominoes.

Although the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam are the most well known of America's Cold War efforts in Asia, they were also somewhat anomalous. Much more common were operations in which the CIA and American Special Forces provided arms, equipment, and training to groups fighting against Communist insurgencies or invasions. In one of the last such efforts, during the Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979–1989), Americans trained and equipped the mujahedeen freedom fighters who successfully resisted the ten-year invasion. Ironically, many of these same Muslim guerillas, including Osama bin Laden (leader of the al-Qaeda terrorist network), later used their training to help plan and carry out terrorist attacks on the United States and its allies.

Asia and the War on Terror

The War on Terrorism has shifted America's focus in Asia toward the Indian subcontinent, Afghanistan, and the former Soviet Republics of Central Asia. Countries such as Pakistan and Kazakhstan, despite sometimes questionable human rights records, have proven instrumental in assisting American war efforts and in hunting down suspected terrorists.

The current wrangling for influence in Central Asia between America, Russia, and China (among others) has been termed the “New Great Game,” a reference to a similar diplomatic and military struggle carried out between Britain and the Russian Empire in the nineteenth century. Because of the presence of weapons-grade plutonium in the Central Asian republics, not to mention their prime placement over extensive oil and natural gas fields, it is doubtful that the “new game,” or American intervention in the region, will end any time soon.

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