(Jae C. Hong/AP) * Informed at Defense News Letter om Nov. 12, 2010 Christian Monitor Why Adm. Mike Mullen visited the South Pacific island nation of Tonga : Adm. Mike Mullen stopped at the South Pacific island nation on his trip home this week from Australia, where he attended security discussions.
Nov. 11, 2010
By Anna Mulrine, Staff writer
posted November 11, 2010
Nukualofa, Tonga — Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, touched down behind schedule for a visit to the kingdom of Tonga this week, the result of strong head winds, and he was met with a flurry of activity.
The divide between royals and commoners here has sparked a push for democracy that has at times resulted in violent riots. The island will hold its first democratic elections later this year.
Tonga seemed a well-located, and well-timed, stop during Mullen’s trip home from Australia, where he attended security discussions centered on the Afghanistan war and China’s growing influence in the Pacific region. His 757 needed to refuel, and his staff decided that this was also an excellent opportunity to thank Tonga for its contributions to US war efforts, both current and historical.
During World War II, thousands of US troops were based in Tonga, whose soldiers also fought alongside the United States at Guadalcanal.
During the Iraq war, the country came to symbolize America’s desperate search for coalition partners: The Bush administration accepted 55 Tongan soldiers to bolster US efforts in late 2004.
Back then, there was some debate about whether to call the contingent a large platoon or a small company. US military officials settled on the former and set about deciding what to do with them – mindful that the island nation’s contributions represented 10 percent of its armed forces.
The troops were deployed to heavily fortified Camp Victory in Baghdad, where they quickly became good-natured staples of the security scene guarding Al Faw palace, the headquarters building for America’s top generals.
Now, another 55-strong Tongan troop contingent is preparing to head to Afghanistan, where the US is once again leading a coalition that is becoming smaller and increasingly fragile. Another search ensued for a relatively safe place to station the Tongan troops. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, too, is said to have been touched by the Tongan troop contribution and has taken an interest in their safety.
When they arrive in the country later this year after a training stint in Britain, the troops will head to Camp Bastion – a bustling yet highly remote desert outpost in Afghanistan’s violent Helmand Province – where they will take on base security duties.
At a lavish reception held in honor of Mullen’s visit and the newest military partnership between the two nations, the admiral was to review the Tongan troops. Since he was being whisked away to meet with the king, however, he delegated those honors to a senior member of his traveling party, Lt. Gen. Charles Jacoby.
Though he acknowledged he was improvising, Jacoby was congratulated by fellow US military officials for not flinching in the midst of a ceremonial volley of gunfire that visitors noted was aimed closer to the reviewer’s face than US military tradition would have dictated.
On a recent visit to the island, Chinese military officials had asked the band to come perform in China, one of the hosts mentioned. US military officials said it was the first they had heard of the Chinese visit to the island – and decided that back in Washington, a battle of the Tongan and US military bands may soon be in order.