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KOPASSUS
Inside Indonesia’s Special Forces
By Ken Conboy

In a nation where the military has played an influential social and political role since its founding, perhaps no unit has wielded more power–and seen more action–than Kopassus, Indonesia’s Special Forces. From the jungles of Irian Jaya to the backrooms of Jakarta’s most powerful political figures, this elite group of commandos has influenced nearly every major policy decision taken since its inception in 1952.

Here, for the first time, this secretive and controversial unit is exposed in KOPASSUS: Inside Indonesia’s Special Forces by acclaimed author Ken Conboy. In this new age of terrorism and counter-terrorism, and especially in the wake of the October 2002 Bali bombing, understanding Kopassus is an integral part of understanding the politics of modern Indonesia. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in unconventional warfare, contemporary Indonesian history, and the brushfire wars that have swept the Indonesian archipelago over the past fifty years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   
   
     
     

 

 

 


Kopassus has a special place in RI history

Endy M. Bayuni, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Kopassus – Inside Indonesia’s Special Forces, By Ken Conboy, Equinox Publishing (Asia), 2002, 320pp

Some see them as heroes, others as villains. Some fear and hate them, others admire and hold them in high esteem. However one views Kopassus, no one can deny that the Indonesian Army’s Special Forces (Kopassus) are special indeed.

They are not necessarily special because of their skills or their performance; other countries have special forces too, and needless to say, some have performed better or are in much better shape.

Kopassus is special because it has played a pivotal role in Indonesia’s modern history since its inception in 1952, and because, for better or for worse, Kopassus and its men have also helped to shape that history.

Ken Conboy’s latest work is a brave attempt to look at Kopassus’ place in Indonesian history.

I say brave because in spite of its high profile in the history of the Indonesian Military, Kopassus is a complex subject that is not easy to comprehend.

Given the often secretive and controversial nature of its work — including special warfare and military intelligence — few outsiders have had a chance to obtain a glimpse of how the Indonesian Army’s Special Forces think and operate.

Conboy is one of those few outsiders privy to the inner workings and inner thinking of the command, and of its many commandants over all these years.

As the title suggests, the book tries to tell the story of the Indonesian Military’s most fearsome command from the inside.

Since many of the military campaigns in which Kopassus has been involved have been written about and are well documented, some might dismiss the likelihood of finding anything startling.

But no one has ever attempted to write from the perspective of Kopassus, from the eyes of the people who made up the command.

Conboy combines his analytical skills (he is a military analyst by training) with the views and thinking of the dozens of Kopassus officers he interviewed in writing this book.

The strength of the book therefore comes from giving both an outside-looking-in and an inside-looking-out view of all the national events in which Kopassus has been involved since 1952.

The author takes a look at Kopassus from 1952 to 1993, and with good reason: events after 1993 are too recent to write about objectively, and too recent for any of the people involved to speak openly and frankly about, the way their predecessors did in helping the author reconstruct history.

Still, this is a pity because Kopassus became more controversial and more involved in political power plays after 1993, right up to the end of the Soeharto regime in 1998. Widely discredited after that because of its close association with the authoritarian leader, Kopassus has been struggling ever since to repair its battered image and regain its public standing.

Inside Indonesia’s Special Forces helps us understand Kopassus better. And understanding the evolution of Kopassus explains why the force is the way it is today. And we learn that this evolution cannot be separated from the individuals who led and gave the force the vision that charted its historical path.

The idea to set up the Special Forces, for example, came from Slamet Riyadi, the Central Java lieutenant colonel, while he was fighting the Dutch colonial forces in Maluku in 1949.

He was so impressed with his adversaries’ fighting skills that he told his colleague, Col. Alex Kawilarang, while they were ducking Dutch bullets, “I want some of those for myself.”

Riyadi never lived to see his idea come to fruition as he was killed in a later battle, but Kawilarang picked it up three years later when he was chief of the Siliwangi Military Command in West Java in Bandung. Thus the Army’s Special Forces were born.

It was not a smooth path, and typically, like any evolving organization, it was a hard struggle wrought with personal rivalries, competition from other services and ultimately politicking, within the military and national politics.

Political infighting aside, the Special Forces quickly made their mark by spearheading some of the government’s military campaigns: putting down regional rebellions in the late 1950s, the Irian Jaya (Papua) campaign in 1960, the confrontation against British Malaya in 1964, the crushing of the communist forces in 1965, the East Timor military campaign in 1975, and the subsequent campaigns against terrorism, or anyone considered a threat to the Soeharto regime.

Kopassus’ main role in shaping history came in 1965 when it became the backbone of the Army, then politically fractured between pro and anticommunist camps, to crush the abortive coup blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).

The force paved the way for Soeharto’s rise to power, and subsequently helped him stay in power for over three decades.

While Kopassus’ contribution to Indonesian history has been significant, not everything was glory for the force. Conboy’s book gives a sober account of both the failures and the successes, the ups and downs of Kopassus.

The force’s contributions were not limited to the military operations they were involved in. Probably much more significant was its success in producing some of the finest and most disciplined Army men, who went on to become statesmen long after they retired from Kopassus and the military.

A quick glance at the list of Kopassus men who appear in the book reads like a who’s who of the Indonesian Military.

Gen. Benny Murdani, although he never held the leadership baton, was one of the most prominent Kopassus alumni, having served in the command from its early years.

Other figures to have come from the command include Sarwo Edhi Wibowo, Feisal Tandjung, Kentot Harseno, Hendropriyono, Luhut Pandjaitan, Sintong Pandjaitan and Yunus Yosfiah.

Although Conboy based his book largely on official documents, including declassified U.S. intelligence reports, his lengthy interviews with many of the past Kopassus leaders allowed him to reconstruct history as seen from inside the command. The many anecdotes in the book help to sustain the reader’s interest.

Conboy is not a stranger to Indonesia or the Indonesian Military. His background as a military analyst and his work in Jakarta for the last 10 years as a consultant allowed him to become acquainted with the people that he writes about.

Inside is a powerful narration of the history of the military’s fearsome Special Forces.

Reading the book, one gets the feeling that Kopassus is far from becoming history. It will continue to play a major role in shaping Indonesia’s history for many more years.

The sequel to this book, if there is one, will be just as interesting to read as this present volume.

— Endy M. Bayuni

 

 

 

   
     
     


Bali Advertiser


Kopassus: Inside Indonesia’s Special Forces
By Ken Conboy

These guys don’t fool around. KOPASSUS (Komando Pasukan Khusus), the elite red-beret force, is the most dedicated, ruthless and professional military unit in Indonesia.They do stuff like aircraft assaults, parachuting onto the decks of moving ships and covert exits out of submarine torpedo tubes. One initiation rite is sending teams across Java in civilian clothes without money or maps, armed only with a knife.

Although their survival training is modeled on SAS in the UK and the Green Berets in the American armed forces, KOPASSUS is more than just a “Special Forces.” They can also play the role of agent provocateurs, a Fifth Column, a secret army and sometimes even act like a shadow government.

KOPASSUS is often a tool used by senior officers to do political dirty work or to serve as means of realizing their own self-serving agendas or nationalistic ideology. For all its faults and failures, KOPASSUS has also served its country with distinction on a number of occasions. Its romanticized image somehow persists through 50 years of bad press and unending controversy. Led initially by impossibly young Indonesian commanders (Sudirman 28, Slamet Riyadi 23, Kawilarang 30), their first professional instructor was a gentleman tulip farmer and former World War II Dutch jungle fighter and special operations expert who defected, converted to Islam and married an Indonesian woman.

In this dense and unremitting history you’ll find all the painstaking military scholarship you’ll ever need. If you want to know who the 2nd lieutenant was who led the assault in the Lubis Affair (1956) or the adjutant who was the supply officer during the Ben Hur Mission near Kuching in 1965, look no further. The index, though serviceable, is not up to the task of detailing the voluminous amount of detail in the text.

This taut and dramatic book is not just a chronicle of the evolution and development of Indonesia’s elite forces. It is also a blow-by-blow account of the events and separatist movements which shaped the new republic. The campaigns against and the scourge of Indonesia – Islamic fundamentalist extremists – are particularly well-documented.

Descriptions of coup attempts abound: an army putsch against the mercurialPresident Sukarno in the 1950s, the war of words and nerve between Sumatran Permesta rebels and the central government, the bloody civil war between Jakarta and breakaway rebels of northern Sulawesi. Also well told is the military’s role during Sukarno’s Guided Democracy period (1959) when the legislative assembly was dissolved.

In the 1960s, Indonesia began a tenacious and determined campaign to wrest West Irian away from Holland. With the Soviet Union under Kruschchev providing material support and weaponry, the purpose of the initial submarine infiltrations, airborne insertions and assaults by speedboats was to establish guerilla pockets. Detected and hunted down by Dutch marines, the commandos were shot, captured or eaten by crocodiles and sharks, their torpedo boats blown out of the Aru Sea by Dutch destroyers.

The intensive Irian Jaya campaign was finally terminated by a ceasefire negotiated under intense American diplomatic pressure exerted on the Dutch. In effect, the Indonesians had lost all the battles but won the war.

As a means of drawing attention away from his catastrophic economic policies, by the mid-1960’s Sukarno’s fiery rhetoric was preparing the nation for war, culminating in the disastrous Konfrontasi campaign in East Malaysia in which Indonesia dropped paratroopers into northern Malaysian-held Borneo in support of Chinese-communist guerillas who were fighting British troops. Most of these forays ended in their death or capture and little was accomplished. Suharto finally called off Konfrontasi in 1966.

The history also records the birth of OPM (Free Papua Movement) with a bloody revolt by Arfak tribesmen of Manowari. KOPASSUS has led many decisive and daredevil operations against this ragtag guerilla band. While all this military adventurism was taking place, a drama of historic proportions was taking place in Jakarta which the author called “the hottest Cold War battlefield in Indonesia.”
In a chapter entitled “Black September,” KOPASSUS gives excellent background on how the PKI made such deep inroads into Java’s heartland leading up to the 1965 so-called coup attempt. The whole sordid affair and its chaotic aftermath is described in riveting detail. The writer brooks no conspiracy theories and narrates the official New Order version of events. He is almost matter-of-fact when describing the mechanisms by which hundreds of thousands of communists, sympathizers and innocent people were slaughtered.

Indonesia’s blatant full-blown invasion of East Timor was launched just one day after President Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger departed Jakarta for Tokyo on 6 December 1975. Inspired by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Sunday morning would find most of the Timorese population attending Catholic religious services. Waves of jumpers from nine C-130 Hercules, descending in complete darkness over the capital of Dili, ended in the bloodiest single day of fighting in the history of Indonesia’s Special Forces.

The rescue of hostages hijacked on the Wyola by Islamic fanatics in March 1981, the most brilliantly executed and daring operation ever carried out by KOPASSUS, is an extremely fast-paced and thrill-packed telling. Though the commandos who took part in this mission trained for only three days with totally unfamiliar weapons, not a single hostage was lost. It was KOPASSUS’ defining moment.

By the late 1990s, it had became more and more difficult to distinguish between bona fide operations sanctioned by the army chain of command and those missions – the 1998 riots in Jakarta, the 1999 upheavals in East Timor, human rights abuses in Aceh and Papua – in which KOPASSUS personnel were moonlighting on behalf of political interests. At worst its members can sink to murder, assault, kidnapping and torture, actions for which written orders were never issued.

As evidenced by their 2001 murder of Papuan independence movement leader Theys Eluay, in which four convicted KOPASSUS members were called “heroes” and given ludicrous sentences of two and three years, they are still a protected and coddled force.

Data is backed up by ponderous detail on the background and training of commanders, number of battle casualties, military acronyms, battalion, regiment and detachment, with documents, publications and archives cited. It’s a wonder how Conboy ever finessed the hundreds of interviews from members of Indonesia’s usually secretive and paranoid armed services.

Some of the most amazing detail and odd facts turn up in the supporting footnotes at the end of each chapter – anecdotes, eye witness accounts, corrections of historical documents, bizarre explanations of mishaps and misjudgments, character sketches.

Keep in mind that this is unadulterated military history, rife with such arcane terms as “walking point,” “outflanking,” “order-of-battle,” “subordinate units,” “night drop,” abesiling device,” “assault harness,” and the mysterious technique of “exfiltration.”

The whole is a meticulously researched tale by a learned military historian who obviously relishes the heat of battle, and the ironies, coincidences and unexpected surprises of war. The book is essential reading for anyone interested in unconventional warfare, contemporary Indonesian history and the innumerable bushfire wars that have swept the republic since its inception in 1950.

 

 

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