There’s a lot more going on in East Timor than they’re 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 Indonesia’s 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 Zealand’s elite Special Air Service, backed up by Australian SAS troops, were involved in the blitzkrieg, which took place across the border in Indonesian West Timor.

"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 unit."

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 barracks.

"More than a dozen and less than fifty SAS men were involved," confirmed another source, "I’m 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 why.

"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 ass.

"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 don’t realise how well-prepared and well-trained they are until you’re 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 Australia’s 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 Indonesia’s 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 activity.

"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 Timor’s 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 that’s where all the generals live. Yet it has, and that should give you an idea of how unstable things are."

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. I’ve 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: ‘Let’s invade Australia. Indonesia very small, many people. Australia very big, not many people’.

"They hate westerners. They feel we have too much and that we’re trying to push them around."

So what happens if a straw finally breaks the camel’s 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 potentially hostile.

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 gameboard somewhat.

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 Jane’s World Armies, Major Charles Heyman, who’s told Australian journalists that Australia is "a glittering strategic prize, and it would be surprising if, during the next century, the country’s 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 Indonesia’s 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? That’s the question occupying the minds of defence strategists on both sides of the Tasman.

Although it sounds like a tough ask, there’s 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, Indonesia’s 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 attack aircraft.

And furthermore, whilst Indonesia’s 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 jets.

Aside from a limited number of Soviet SU-30MK’s and its F-16s, there is little within Indonesia’s 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 RAAF’s 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 training.

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 F111’s, (or as stated the F16’s 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 SAM’s 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 SAM’s 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 army’s 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 Australia’s 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 AS–350 Squirrels.

Regardless of actual numbers, Australia’s 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 lift capacity.

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 at hand.

Australian analysts are writing off the entire Indonesian navy once it strays beyond Indonesia’s coastal waters. One writer describes Indonesia’s navy as having only "slight use". Even Indonesia’s 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 instant experience.

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 Cordesman’s 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 Indonesia’s 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, Indonesia’s 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 disposal).

By the year 2005 an additional marine force of 23,000 men will be added to Indonesia’s available manpower, according to Indonesia’s Chief Admiral Achmad Sutjipto.

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 belts.

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 Suharto’s 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, it’ll 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 militarisation.

Yet, for argument’s 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 malfunction.

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 it’s 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 Australia’s entire population.

When it comes to assessing Indonesia beyond it’s troop numbers, the problem becomes two fold. On one level Australian analysts are keen to point how much of Indonesia’s 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 Indonesia’s raw military material an absence of information concerning Indonesia’s 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. Indonesia’s 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 Australia’s 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 it’s 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 Army’s 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 Army’s 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 army’s 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 exercises.

Whether New Zealand and Australia’s past military cooperation with Indonesia ends up costing us dearly is something only time will provide the answers to.

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