Theres a lot more going on in East Timor
than theyre telling you about. In this special report we reveal details of the
biggest military clash of the campaign so far - one that brought us to the brink of war -
and we profile Indonesias military strength. IAN WISHART and
BEN VIDGEN report:
A New Zealand military attack on Indonesia allegedly left 100 Indonesian troops
dead or wounded, and brought the two countries to within hours of war.
Details of the up till now clandestine mission have been leaked to Investigate by military
sources closely linked to the East Timor operation who claim that this incident was behind
Indonesian plans to launch a full scale war against New Zealand and Australia.
Members of New Zealands elite Special Air Service, backed up by Australian SAS
troops, were involved in the blitzkrieg, which took place across the border in Indonesian
"SAS had identified a large number of Indonesian soldiers who were making
cross-border incursions into East Timor under the guise of local militia," one of the
SAS sources told Investigate.
"They would come in at night and murder women and children, then slip back to their
barracks near Atapupu, inside Indonesian territory. "Attacking soldiers is one thing:
massacring innocent women and children is another. A decision was made to take out this
Using Australian Blackhawk helicopter gunships, a joint ANZAC force of SAS troops flew
from Dili to Atapupu to launch a full scale strike against the Indonesian military
"More than a dozen and less than fifty SAS men were involved," confirmed another
source, "Im not going to give you the exact numbers. But in the region of 100
Indonesian soldiers were killed. There were no ANZAC casualties."
The raid took place only weeks after ANZAC peacemakers first landed in Dili.
Media reports at the height of the Timor crisis suggested Indonesia had indeed come within
48 hours of declaring war on New Zealand and Australia, but shed no light on specifically
"Our invasion of Indonesian territory to get these bastards was technically an Act of
War," the source added, "and yeah, Indonesia was making retaliatory threats. But
making threats and actually doing it are two different things. We would have kicked their
"New Zealand had SAS reconnaissance troops in East Timor long before the election. We
knew what was going on. And despite what the armchair pundits will tell you, the
Indonesian military is no match for Australia. The Aussies have been preparing for an
Indonesian invasion for a very long time, and you dont realise how well-prepared and
well-trained they are until youre actually there."
Information obtained by Investigate suggests Indonesia thought better of declaring war
only after a US warning delivered through diplomatic channels to Jakarta, and the
intervention of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Nor did it help that Indonesian troops
had no hard evidence of the raid in the form of captured or killed ANZACs, and on the flip
side going public would require admitting that 100 of its own troops had been killed
without enemy loss.
It is also understood that New Zealand and Australia plan to remain silent on the matter,
so as not to provide Indonesia with public confirmation of the incursion.
Indonesian discretion, in the end, was the better part of valour aided additionally
by what Investigate understands was a last minute boost of 30 US F-111 fighter-bombers -
flown out from retirement in the US to bolster Australias northern coast as a
further dissuasion element, armed with the latest US tactical weaponry and capable of
striking into the heart of Indonesia.
But the threat of war has not diminished, and may have actually increased. With East Timor
wrenched from Indonesian power, the Indonesian military has suffered embarrassment. In
addition, domestic political upheaval and rioting has caused strong racial and religious
tensions, and Indonesias economy is in a state of collapse. There are 200 million
unhappy people getting unhappier by the day. It is a similar situation, say military
analysts, to the one in Germany that led to World War 2.
More significantly, New Zealanders living in Indonesia are providing first-hand reports
that back up those fears and add new information about increasing Islamic fundamentalist
"Timor was a trap and the West walked right into it," says one expatriate Kiwi
still living in Jakarta who refuses to be named for fear of retribution.
"Prior to East Timors independence, it was the Chinese, not the Christians, who
were treated as the Jews of Indonesia. Christians were generally left alone. Indonesians
saw East Timor as a little dot on the map surrounded by a sea of Muslims and they felt no
real reason to be intimidated by Christianity.
"But now, with armed European troops in Dili, Indonesians feel like they have been
invaded and they resent that. Now religion has been added to the equation and that can
only spell trouble. There are groups now calling openly for an Islamic state to be
established, and some of the generals are reportedly financed by the fundamentalists.
"Recently Bali was on fire. Bali never burns because thats where all the
generals live. Yet it has, and that should give you an idea of how unstable things
The New Zealander reports widespread anti-Australian feeling in Indonesia not just
confined to the military but embracing the general populace as well.
"I have to be careful not to appear as an Australian. Ive already been beaten
up once by a crowd who thought I was. So I try to sound British.
"In Indonesia, everywhere you go, you hear the same thing: Lets invade
Australia. Indonesia very small, many people. Australia very big, not many people.
"They hate westerners. They feel we have too much and that were trying to push
So what happens if a straw finally breaks the camels back?
For decades Indonesia was seen as a potential military threat to New Zealand and
Australia, but freemarket commerce in the 1980s brought New Zealand businesses into
contact with Indonesia and it became politically incorrect to regard the country as
It has also been difficult for New Zealanders to believe that Indonesia would bother
attacking a country so far away, or was even capable of doing so. Although the latter may
be true for now, a successful Indonesian invasion of Australia would alter the strategic
And why would Indonesia have designs on Australia? With space rapidly running out in the
Indonesian archipelago, and no room to expand northward without coming into conflict with
other Asian superpowers like China, the Great Southern Land continues to beckon.
As reported in the March issue of Investigate, the Pentagon has already warned Australia
that the price of US assistance in any struggle with Indonesia will be a promise to commit
Australian troops to battle if the US goes to war with China.
Among those who believe an invasion of Australia is only a matter of time is the editor of
Janes World Armies, Major Charles Heyman, whos told Australian journalists
that Australia is "a glittering strategic prize, and it would be surprising if,
during the next century, the countrys defences were not tested."
One respected Australian general, Brigadier Fred Serong, agrees. Speaking from his
Melbourne home, Serong says the twin pressures of population growth and global warming are
likely to force Indonesias hand.
"Global warming will play a significant role in accentuating any of the internal
difficulties that Indonesia is experiencing."
On a military level can New Zealand and Australia, with a combined population of 24
million, resist or even vanquish an attack from a country with almost ten times the
population? Thats the question occupying the minds of defence strategists on both
sides of the Tasman.
Although it sounds like a tough ask, theres every indication that an ANZAC defence
force could indeed thwart any Indonesian advance, without direct US intervention. The
relative population difference would be the deciding factor but only if Indonesia
shared a land border with Australia.
According to the CIA Factbook, Indonesia has more than 60 million people capable of being
drafted into the Army, but does not have the resources to send more than a fraction of
those into offshore combat.
So when push comes to shove, how do the protagonists stack up?
If the world learnt anything from the Gulf War, or even Kosovo, it was that air
superiority will be cru
cial in future conflicts especially those where blitzkrieg land invasions cannot be
mounted. Therefore the current state of the Indonesian air force could be strong evidence
that Indonesia is not yet in a position to declare war on anybody. It is equipped with
older generation weaponry, which it is increasingly having difficulty finding parts for.
Some defence commentators also claim the political repercussions surrounding Timor made it
difficult for Indonesia to find willing suppliers.
But arms dealing is an industry without morals: the major supplier of parts is the USA,
which resumed selling arms and military training to Indonesia not long after the UN
peacemaking force moved into Timor. Ditto the UK.
In turn, Indonesias reliance on the West for parts has been reduced by an increase
of Indonesian-based arms manufacturers, making weapons locally under licence. Such
licenses range from French artillery to F16 fighter plane components. This also includes
the recent agreement by the UK to sell Indonesia the licence to manufacture Hawk ground
And furthermore, whilst Indonesias own publicised Security and Defence
Policy cites that there are no plans to obtain new aircraft, which comes alongside
the reported cancellation of existing Indonesian US and Russian fighter jet contracts, it
does indicate plans to replace and modernise its existing F5 Tiger and A4 Skyhawk fighter
Aside from a limited number of Soviet SU-30MKs and its F-16s, there is little within
Indonesias air armoury, in straight technological terms, that poses much in the way
of competition to the Royal Australian Air Force.
But there are other unresolved issues.
One of them (and one which appears throughout the Australian armed services) relates to
breaches of intelligence that may have occurred as a result of RAAFs own training of
Indonesian pilots, using Australian aircraft and Australian air bases. A similar problem
arises in New Zealand, which has also hosted Indonesian troops and pilots on extended
As a result of this training, Indonesian air intelligence should at the current moment
have a pretty good understanding of the exact capacity and weakness of the RAAF logistics,
strategy, and tactics.
Further questions arise concerning the status of key equipment and facilities, essential
to ensuring that the RAAF is able to put aircraft into the air in the first place. For
instance, there are shortages of refuelling tankers, none of which are capable of
supporting Australia key attack fighter aircraft, the F111s, (or as stated the
F16s used by allies, such as Singapore, and Thailand).
Inside its own borders, Indonesia has at least an adequate level of fixed air defence,
while its armoury is believed to include an impressive number of US Stingers and other
modern handheld SAMs (surface to air missiles). The SAMs provide the additional
advantage of mobility. Stingers became increasingly common on the arms market after the
CIA deployed them in Afghanistan, for the Islamic Mujahadeen to use against the Russians
during the eighties.
In Somalia, the SAMs proved efficient at knocking out Blackhawk combat helicopters,
a type used extensively by the Australian defence force. Again, in the Falklands and the
Gulf War, helicopters have proven to be potentially devastating in both the role of air
defence and fire support.
The biggest problem in pinning down how much firepower all this adds up to is the fact
that nobody knows for sure exactly what Indonesia has up its sleeve. The most
authoritative defence publications differ on significant details.
One, for example, claims it has only 30 helicopters, while others are closer to seventy.
Kopp says the army, the ruling clique of Indonesian society from which any plan for
conquest would be led, has "a large" rotary wing force orientated as an air
mobile assaults force, and mobile gun platforms. The exact numbers of the armys
helicopters are not available and it is by no means insignificant, in terms of
intelligence, that no unit allocations for the Indonesian Army helicopter fleet have been
published in open literature.
In regards to Australias helicopter air fleet the Military Balance
reports that Australia has only 16 helicopters. Again the figures (or at least the
definition) is questionable with the World Defence Almanac 1993-1994 citing Australia as
having 44 Bell 206 B, 39 Blackhawks and 18 AS350 Squirrels.
Regardless of actual numbers, Australias rotary force has problems with questions
over the performance of the Hawks. Under actual battle conditions, the Hawks have to date
performed poorly. Further, in an Australian Army evaluation report it was outlined that
there was insufficient equipment available to meet the needs of the Special Forces, and
the 3rd Brigade Light Infantry. All rely on the same helicopter company group for their
Whether helicopters become crucial in any battle between Indonesia, Australia and New
Zealand is a question that depends on where the battlefield is: Short of establishing a
definite bridgehead on the Australian mainland via invasion, chopper confrontations will
be limited to Timor or Indonesian territory.
Although Indonesia is pushing its own vision of
a proposed 120-strong fleet of warships, the
Indonesian navy is "the poor relation" of the
Indonesian military service and receives the least flattering report of all the branches
Australian analysts are writing off the entire Indonesian navy once it strays beyond
Indonesias coastal waters. One writer describes Indonesias navy as having only
"slight use". Even Indonesias acquisition of the "instant
fleet", 39 warships purchased off the former East Germany, causes little excitement.
The 39 ships lack air defences, anti-surface, or anti-submarine defences, that are
effective beyond shallow waters. Nor does the instant fleet come with a crew that has
However, the purchase of some dozen large-scale landing, supply and transport ships, and
the proposal for the navy to increase its marines force capacity by 10,000 troops, should
be borne in mind. Anthony Cordesmans report for the Centre for Strategic and
International Studies cites Indonesia as having up to 108 amphibious ships and landing
craft. The purchase of craft in such numbers should be considered beyond the realm of
Indonesias internal security and in terms of geo-political common logic. An invasion
of China by Indonesia is unlikely, and therefore one must consider the motive behind
purchasing such ships in large numbers in the first place.
By itself, Indonesias navy is indeed no match for the Royal Australian Navy, which
by comparison is very well off. An Australian/Indonesian conflict is hardly likely to be a
deep water one, but rather an invasion by air and amphibious force to which the Indonesian
navy would be suitably equipped if the campaign was quick. Yet if Indonesia is to pose any
threat to its neighbours then it is their army that will lead the way.
When it comes to cannon-fodder, Indonesia has plenty. 212 million people, 60 million or
so of military age. Conservative estimates place the actual amount of troops that
Indonesia could place in an overseas engagement at only 30,000, however. These figures do
not include the 5000 Special Forces soldiers, the 6000 quick reaction air force
paratroopers (who have a suitable number of transport aircraft and parachutes at their
By the year 2005 an additional marine force of 23,000 men will be added to
Indonesias available manpower, according to Indonesias Chief Admiral Achmad
So within five years, we could be facing an Indonesia with the ability to put 64,000
soldiers onto Australian soil fairly swiftly, an Indonesia with an upgraded air force and
a naval force whose crews have managed to get a few more years of experience under their
One of the limits on the number of troops Indonesia can commit to battle is the need to
maintain internal security, already shaky as a result of Suhartos demise and the
Timor crisis. The current government is establishing a new paramilitary force comprised of
unemployed youth that will assist in keeping domestic order. At 40,000 strong, itll
free up regular army troops for international engagements.
Given also that the average Indonesian supports the concept of war with Australia,
Indonesia may find its domestic turmoil is eased by the nationalistic fervour associated
with a "wag the dog" style conflict.
There are an estimated 70,000 men in a mixture of paramilitary forces and corporate armies
who could conceivably be sent into battle as well.
Analysts would be wise to watch the paramilitary units for signs of increased
Yet, for arguments sake, if this last point is ignored, then by cautious estimates
Indonesia could commit to battle, in the short term, some 70,000 troops. This compared
with Australia, a nation that found it nearly impossible, without the assistance of its
volunteer reserve soldiers, to muster up an effective fighting force of 4500. The ratio
sits, worryingly for Australia, at 17:1.
The situation is heightened, as Aussie defence commentator Tony Pitt points out, by the
poor performance handling of the Steyr, the Australian and New Zealand standard small
arms. Pitt claims that an order, order 7196-94 was issued preventing soldiers from firing
more than 90 rounds of ammunition if the weapon was placed on automatic, due to fears of
At the time of print, the Australian Defence Department has failed to respond to a written
request concerning the existence of order 7196-94. It is known that the Steyr, also used
by New Zealand soldiers, has received poor evaluation in relation to its performance in
desert and jungle conditions, the environments that Australia is most likely to find
its self-fighting in. Throughout the Australian and New Zealand service the weapon
is not regarded with any overwhelming popularity.
Obtaining ammunition has also proved to be a problem for both New Zealand and Australia.
Until recently the manufacturing of such ammunition was in fact left in the hands of an
Indonesian based company who were unable to meet the terms of contract, leaving Australia
with such a shortage of ammunition that according to Pitt the Australian army did not have
sufficient rounds for even practice firing.
Indonesia on the other hand has reportedly over 70,000,000 rounds in its reserve
armouries, and over one million combat assault rifles in storage. It is here perhaps that
it should be pointed out that according to the CIA Fact Book 1999 issue
Indonesia has over 61,000,000 people of available military serving age (15-49), with an
actual estimated 33 million fit or actual service. A figure nearly twice the size of
Australias entire population.
When it comes to assessing Indonesia beyond its troop numbers, the problem becomes
two fold. On one level Australian analysts are keen to point how much of Indonesias
equipment is old and past its effective use by date. Analysts overlook the fact that this
fault is also a common flaw within the ANZAC forces. Secondly, as pointed out earlier, the
military strength statistics vary markedly depending on which source you consult.
There is in the final consideration of Indonesias raw military material an absence
of information concerning Indonesias advanced weapons, a significant intelligence
failing for military superiority, as the Gulf war pointed out, no longer means physical
numbers but who possesses superior technology. Indonesias advanced weaponry is
alleged to include lasers. The Chinese made lasers, (based on stolen US designs) are not
lethal, they are however capable of rendering large amounts of soldiers blind and
therefore incapable of fighting. As such weapons result in large portions of resources
been tied up with the care of the injured, they are in military terms more successful than
weapons that directly kill.
Indonesia has also purchased communication satellites for military purposes thus enhancing
its intelligence and communications capability. The satellites provided by US military
aid, have also led to an Indonesian space program, which has the dual role of providing
Indonesia with BMD (ballistic missile defence) capacity. So far Indonesia has tested
missiles with a believed range of up to 250 - 300 km. Asides from conventional explosive
payloads, such missiles could also contain chemical and biological weapons, which
Indonesia is also believed to possess.
As for the state of Australias Armed forces an Australian Army survey conducted last
year paints a highly critical picture, "exacerbating" flaws in such key areas as
night vision capability, surveillance, nuclear biological and chemical defences, logistics
and battle command failings. Indeed, the Australian Labour party has claimed that there is
a complete "vacuum" within the top position of the defence department, an
allegation that the Minister of Defence Jon Moore has denied. Nevertheless its
interesting to note that the new Crocodile series of military exercises has a focus on
command and logistics. The report continues citing breakdown in control and support
systems, and deficiencies in maintenance and personal health care.
Mechanical operations were scored low, with the discovery that only 25% of the Armys
reserve motorised units "the best of Army reserve formations" meet the Army
Individual Readiness Notice (AIRN) status. Whereas, Australian 2nd Division rated at less
than 40% AIRN. The capability for protective security operations was cited as having
"low preparedness levels", further stating it has "little effectiveness for
war fighting". The Armys Aviation reconnaissance and aerial fire support
ability was hammered as having "little operational utility". Whereas the light
Infantry, and associated air borne operations, would themselves come under attack in the
report. In these areas, the report finds an essential shortage of parachutes and
communication equipment (and as stated an overall airlift capacity problem).
Land surveillance operations were rated as credible, but lacking operational experience.
Only the armys combat support units (such as intelligence, construction, and
topographical) have been rated as having a high level of readiness. As with the RAAF,
Indonesia has, as the potential invader, an intelligence advantage having been trained on
many occasions by the Australians themselves, within Australian military facilities.
Indeed during the UN operation in East Timor it was reported that Australian Intelligence
believed that the Indonesians had compromised its security. The intelligence compromise
should not come as any surprise.
Kangaroo 95, based on an enemy invasion from the North (played by the American soldiers),
was according to Pitt umpired by Indonesian generals, who reportedly bragged that they
would be back to invade. Commander Rod Dudfield, a Defence Department spokesperson,
confirmed the presence of Indonesian soldiers as "observers" at the Australian
Whether New Zealand and Australias past military cooperation with Indonesia ends up
costing us dearly is something only time will provide the answers to.
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