The Army, Radical Islam and the Global War on Terror

Posted by on Nov 28, 2018 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

The Army, Radical Islam  and the Global War on Terror

Soeharto had ruthlessly suppressed political Islam, but during the New Order’s final years attempted to offset his waning popularity by mobilizing Muslim extremist groups. With blessings from his father-in-law, Major General Prabowo Subianto and his regimist allies sought to inflame anti-Zionist, anti-Chinese, anti-western and anti-Christian sentiments in cooperation with hard-line groups like Husein Umar’s Indonesian Islamic Proselytizing Council (DDII), Ahmad Sumargono’s Indonesian Committee in Solidarity with the Muslim World (Kisdi) and Eggi Sudjana’s Indonesian Muslim Workers Association (PPMI). It was a destructive strategy. Soeharto’s backing encouraged those radicals to become more aggressive. Despite generous regime patronage for B.J. Habibie’s Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals Association (Ikatan Cendekiawan Muslim Indonesia, ICMI) throughout the 1990s, modernist Muslim leaders turned against Soeharto and played a central role in forcing his resignation.

The sudden lifting of Soeharto’s restraining hand gave the radicals freedom to act in a variety of ways detrimental to the secular state. Militant groups and new Islamic parties like the Crescent and Star Party (PBB) called for an Islamic State, marking the return of political Islam with a vengeance after decades of suppression. The chaotic, lawless period after Soeharto’s fall allowed groups like the Islamic Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam, FPI), Laskar Jihad and the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah, to recruit and thrive. The phenomenon caught many by surprise since Indonesia – the world’s largest nation of Muslims – was considered peaceful and tolerant, its Islamic majority flavored with elements of Hinduism, Buddhism and Javanese mysticism. Almost exclusively Sunni, most Indonesian Muslims were from the marginal abangan variant, broadly tolerant and law-abiding. The large and growing modernist, or santri community was also considered moderate. Those championing radical Islam were and continue to be a small minority.

The modernist Muslim socialization process during the 1990s brought army leaders closer to a spectrum of Islamic institutions. Courting those groups was part of a new strategy. With Soeharto’s tacit blessings, senior officers – including regimists like Feisal Tanjung, Hartono and Prabowo, and secular-nationalists like Wiranto – cultivated conservative Muslims to accrue political power. Throughout the New Order, military and civilian elites had mobilized criminals (preman) and militant groups, regardless of ideology, to maintain their political and economic interests. Past collaboration with civilian militias irrespective of creed or legitimacy – and the steady “greening” among the senior ranks over the previous decade – had prepared military leaders for such partnerships of convenience with radical Islam.

The Army had come full circle since Lieutenant General Ali Moertopo’s malicious manipulation of political Islam during the 1970s and General Benny Moerdani’s brutal security approach toward conservative Muslims during the 1980s. In the post-Soeharto period, the patronage provided by President Habibie, Armed Forces Commander General Wiranto and others inside and out of the government gave hard-line Muslims renewed energy and self-confidence. Groups like the FPI and Laskar Jihad became vehicles for political mobilization, participating in quasi-official projects like Wiranto’s Pam Swakarsa volunteer security force. After religious violence erupted in Maluku during early-1999, those militants did not hesitate to organize a jihad campaign to avenge their Muslim brethren on Indonesia’s remote eastern islands – and received support in those efforts from politicians and elements of the security forces.

The tentacles of the New Order octopus were still thrashing about and creating problems across the broad archipelago. Recidivists and radical Islamists mobilized vigilante groups for rallies, demonstrations and to counter anti-government protests. Authorities tolerated illegal raids on bars, casinos and businesses considered un-Islamic. Unencumbered by the threat of a New Order-style crackdown, the preman-militants mounted huge protests against the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan and called for jihad against Christians in Maluku and Central Sulawesi. Appealing to society’s basest instincts, they preached a hate-filled message against Zionism, Christianity and the West – and promoted theories about diabolical conspiracies to destroy Indonesia’s economy and Balkanize the archipelago.

In Maluku, recidivist interests (to undermine President Wahid, divert attention from past misdeeds and justify a continued army territorial presence) and jihad group concerns (to protect and avenge Muslims) were complementary. Hard-liners provoked the civil war, callously intervening on both sides of the conflict. They allowed the communal violence to burn out of control for more than two years at a cost of thouands of lives, tens of thousands of displaced persons and hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage – while military intelligence and government ministers raised the sceptre of Christianization and ridiculously pointed fingers at the Army’s ancient enemy, the Republic of South Maluku (RMS), and its more recent incarnation, the Maluku Sovereignty Front (FKM).

To an extent, it reflected the historic Javanese chauvinism toward the outer islands. Those stirring up the violence were Javanese outsiders, as were the majority of military-abetted jihadist fighters who entered Maluku to escalate and extend the civil war. National leaders and senior officers tolerated the appalling bloodshed and destruction because it was on the periphery, far from the imperial Javanese heartland – just as mainstream Javanese society had sympathized with the brutal and otherwise inexcusable behavior by Indonesian troops and their proxy militia partners toward the impoverished population in tiny East Timor during 1999.

Indonesia’s modernist community “saw B.J. Habibie’s assumption of power [in May 1998] as a historic opportunity to achieve political dominance.” [1] With the advent of secular-nationalist Javacentric leadership under Abdurrahman Wahid (October 1999), Megawati Sukarnoputri (July 2001), and later Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (October 2004), the modernists once more had their bright hopes for a new Islamic era dashed on the rocks of reformasi. Their Islamist allies in the Army were pushed aside in favor of “security first” generals. [2] Despite a proliferation of small Muslim parties, political Islam remained an impotent force, as it had been since the Republic gained its independence. Without official patronage from Soeharto and Habibie, ICMI turned into a second-rate club for political hopefuls, some who still blamed Muslim disunity on sinister outside forces.

Indonesians greeted news of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States with shock and sympathy; those attitudes hardened after the U.S. started its bombing campaign against al-Qaeda and Taliban targets in Afghanistan during early-October. For decades security forces had employed brutality as a tool to control society. Indonesians had been desensitized by years of regime-sponsored violence. It was difficult for many to identify with the September 11 victims. Vice President Hamzah Haz suggested Americans should “perform introspection,” further, “Hopefully, this tragedy will cleanse the U.S. of its sins.” [3] TNI Commander Admiral Widodo Adisucipto and senior officers were shocked by the Vice President’s remarks. Army Chief General Endriartono Sutarto characterized Haz as a “fundamentalist Muslim” and suggested his comments were aimed at his domestic constituency. The general confronted the Vice President during a cabinet meeting and told him he should think about the country’s interests before making careless statements. [4]

American strategic priorities changed dramatically after the September 11 attacks. Washington was determined to build a global alliance to combat al-Qaeda and its allies. Indonesia, as the world’s largest majority Muslim nation, was on the front line. On September 19, Megawati was the first head of state to meet President George W. Bush after the terror attacks. The American President’s convenient division of the world into pro- and anti-terrorist countries was similar to actions by President Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles to divide the world into communist and anti-communist camps during the 1950s. Against the fear Indonesia would “go communist,” Washington had sided first with regional rebels and later with the Army against Sukarno. Now, nearly a half-century later, many intuitively understood the risk the U.S. would again choose the Army as its local partner in the war on terror, and turn a blind eye to the excesses and abuses committed in that new struggle.

The bombing campaign in Afghanistan brought long simmering resentment toward the U.S. and the West to a boil – the so-called “arms embargo,” pressure on human rights concerns, Washington’s Middle-East policy, conspiracy theories about plots to Balkanize Indonesia, and the inferiority complex deeply felt by many after nearly four years of economic and social chaos. The Afghanistan war triggered nationwide protests and threats against westerners. It placed President Megawati in a difficult spot. Facing domestic pressure, she backed away from initial support for the Afghanistan invasion, but used Coordinating Minister Bambang Yudhoyono to deliver a back channel message of support for Washington’s war on terror. [5]

In the post-September 11 world, Jakarta experienced great frustration with American unilateralism, obsession with the Global War on Terror, and perceived discriminatory policies. Army officers expressed understanding for the military campaign against terrorist targets in Afghanistan, but resented Washington’s “pushy and condescending” diplomacy and the continuing arms embargo. Some privately echoed the Vice President: the U.S. got what it deserved and was being punished for its arrogance. FPI leader Muhammad Rizieq Syihab organized a huge rally in early-October to protest the Afghanistan invasion. He demanded the government sever diplomatic ties to Washington and threatened to “sweep” westerners from the country. When police moved in to control the crowd, a skirmish erupted between militants and the security forces. The next day, police raided Rizieq’s Tanah Abang FPI headquarters and detained the militia leader on charges of inciting hatred.

Jakarta Police Chief Sofyan Jacoeb threatened to “crush” the FPI if it endangered foreigners. Tensions had developed before September 11. The FPI lost its principal patron when Jakarta Police Chief Noegroho Djajoesman was transferred to Bandung in February 2001. Evoking memories of the Sukarno era, militants staged raucous protests in front of the U.S. Embassy. Most were “rent-a-mobs” financed by Muslim politicians. Protesters burned the American flag and displayed Osama bin Laden’s picture, while vendors in Jakarta and other cities profited from selling tee shirts with bin Laden’s image. Muslim objections thwarted government plans to send an Army Strategic Reserve (Kostrad) battalion to Afghanistan as part of the coalition force, while several hundred Indonesians set out to fight against U.S. forces in Afghanistan despite government travel restrictions; few, if any, made it beyond Pakistan. [6]

Security forces were reluctant to act against the FPI for fear they might insult Muslim sensitivities. After several uncertain weeks, at National Intelligence Agency (BIN) Chief Lieutenant General Abdullah Mahmud Hendropriyono’s initiative, intelligence officers and Army Special Forces (Kopassus) Group 4 (Sandi Yudha) operators quietly engaged the FPI and other radicals. They used persuasion and intimidation to convince the militants to back down from further threats to foreigners. Among retired officers, former Armed Forces Commander General Try Sutrisno pressed military leaders to take firm action against the extremists. Busy establishing a youth organization as a vehicle for his political ambitions, General Wiranto was silent. He was gearing up to compete in the 2004 general elections, if not as the Golkar candidate with his own party, and did not wish to antagonize Muslim voters.

American sanctions after the September 1998 East Timor debacle had strengthened hard-line elements in the military; they argued the U.S. was not a reliable partner. Military leaders had reacted to the “arms embargo” with defiance, expressing indifference toward military assistance programs and promoting officers involved in the East Timor carnage into key leadership posts. The sanctions prompted a hasty move to diversify weapons suppliers, for example, purchasing Russian Sukhoi fighters for the Air Force when the real need was for transports and helicopters. The generals realized the wind had changed after September 11. The U.S. was eager to restore cooperative working ties to the Army and police, especially Kopassus, Indonesia’s premier anti-terrorist force, despite its flawed human rights record.

Lifting the embargo was not enough because TNI lacked funds for equipment purchases. Military leaders sought to leverage America’s obsession with al-Qaeda, wanting nothing less than the sort of massive grant aid Washington had generously provided during the 1950s. Despite Bush Administration hopes to lift restrictions, Congress blocked closer military cooperation since Indonesia had failed to show accountability for the East Timor disaster, as required by the Leahy Amendment. In the end, Australia, the U.S. and other western nations appropriately directed their primary interface for anti-terrorism cooperation to the police. [7] In parallel, the CIA established cooperative anti-terrorism ties with its counterpart organization, BIN under Lieutenant General Hendropriyono.

In truth, military leaders were more concerned with separatism than the American-led Global War on Terror. For years, they had maintained delicate ties to Islamic groups, both moderate and radical. While many generals felt they could manipulate the militants for their own purposes, the September 11 attacks reawakened old concerns about fundamentalist Islam. They were still hesitant to crack down on those groups, at least until after the October 2002 Bali terrorist attacks. BIN Chief Hendropriyono and Coordinating Minister Yudhoyono disagreed over who should take the lead in anti-terrorism, the police or the military, with Yudhoyono advocating a lead role for the police. Hendropriyono wanted a prominent role for BIN, working hand-in-hand with Kopassus.

Army Chief Endriartono Sutarto and military leaders were also anxious for a role in the anti-terrorism mission and frustrated by Megawati’s indecision. TNI Commander Admiral Widodo was characteristically silent. In fact, no one in the cabinet except Hendropriyono was willing to take the lead. Sutarto (a 1971 academy graduate) had served under Hendropriyono (from the 1967 class) earlier in his career and considered him to be an ambitious empire-builder. Hendropriyono had followed the power during his career and now moved adroitly to align himself with Washington in the Global War on Terror.

A true believer in the security approach, Pak Hendro had shown he was willing to do whatever was necessary. As a colonel in South Sumatra, he had orchestrated the February 1989 attack on Islamic extremists in Lampung, killing dozens. A Sandi Yudha covert operations veteran, he had served as an intelligence officer under Catholic military strongman Benny Moerdani. He zealously opposed Islamic militancy. Even though he had joined the modernist Muhammadiyah mass organization in an attempt to recoup his Islamic credentials, like so many pragmatic New Order generals, Hendropriyono’s religion was the Army. He was smart, clever but damaged by his own ambition and sense of destiny.

BIN was divided. Both Habibie and Wahid had attempted to restructure the lethargic agency to serve their political interests. Due in large part to Zaini Maulani’s legacy, some BIN officers maintained sympathetic ties to Muslim militants. Hendropriyono established a tightly compartmented group, one that included his son-in-law, Major Andika Perkasa (inset photo), a Kopassus Group 4 (Sandi Yudha) battalion commander, to run his anti-terrorist field operations. Number two in his 1987 academy class and top graduate from his 1999-2000 Army Staff College (Seskoad) class, Andika was a smart, ambitious red beret officer, sometimes compared to Prabowo. A Javanese Protestant by birth, he had converted to Islam to marry Hendropriyono’s daughter and dropped his given first name, Emanuel. To the outside observer, Hendropriyono appeared closer to the dashing, young special forces officer than his own two pampered sons.

The BIN Chief steered a return to the extra-legal Kopkamtib model. With Megawati’s patronage, he launched a hasty program to monitor Laskar Jihad and other extremist groups, employing Sandi Yudha covert operations experts from Kopassus Group 4 to do the necessary field work. BIN also intensified surveillance of nongovernmental organizations. Hendropriyono held significant business interests, including the nearly bankrupt Kia “Timor” automobile franchise he inherited from Tommy Soeharto, and was known as one of the wealthiest retired generals. Using the security approach, he made generous contributions to militant group leaders, along with threats to “black list” them if they refused to cooperate. Black listing involved confiscating property and bank accounts. BIN recruited graduates from Islamic schools to infiltrate and spy on Muslim groups – another tried and true New Order method.

Military leaders were unhappy with Hendropriyono’s covert operations targeting suspected terrorists. It appeared he was building his own intelligence empire patterned after his predecessors, Ali Moertopo and Benny Moerdani. The three men were cut from the same material. Like Moerdani, Hendropriyono was a red beret experienced in covert operations with a pragmatic, some would say ruthless, secular outlook. Like many army officers, Hendropriyono displayed contempt for the police, so it is not surprising BIN competed with the police for the terrorism counter-intelligence role.

In the months after the September 11 attacks, Hendropriyono, his BIN officers and Major Andika’s commandos were responsible for several controversial “renditions” – picking up al-Qaeda operatives in cooperation with the CIA, but without any coordination with TNI, the police or judicial authorities. In addition to the CIA renditions, details which leaked to the press, members of Parliament expressed concern with Hendropriyono’s decision to employ discredited former Kopassus Commander Major General Muchdi Purwoprandjono as his BIN deputy and to bring others with tainted human rights records into the agency.

After the October 12, 2002 terrorist bombings on the tourist island of Bali, Hendropriyono sought to grab the lead role in tracking down Jemaah Islamiyah militants responsible for the atrocity. He failed; the anti-terrorism mission went to the police, with generous western assistance. After taking office in October 2004, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono replaced Hendropriyono.

Major Andika was sent to pursue a doctorate degree at George Washington University. He spent five years in the U.S. with his family, returning to Indonesia as a lieutenant colonel while many academy classmates were already colonels. After a stint as Jakarta Training Regiment Commander, in July 2012 Andika was assigned as Sibolga Resort Commander in North Sumatra, an army colonel with twenty-five years service. He was promoted to brigadier general in late-2013 as the army spokesman, to major general in November 2014 as Commander of the Presidential Security Guard (Paspampres) with patronage from President Joko Widodo, to lieutenant general in January 2018 as head of the Army Training Command (Kodiklat), a brief stint Kostrad Commander in July 2018 before promotion to Army Chief of Staff in December 2018.

[1] Adam Schwarz, A Nation in Waiting: Indonesia’s Search for Stability (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, Second Edition, 2000), p. 396.

[2] The term “security first” is taken from Jun Honna, Military Politics and Democratization in Indonesia (London: RoutledgeCourzon, 2003), pp. 187-188.

[3] Cited in Kevin O’Rourke, Reformasi: The Struggle for Power in Post-Soeharto Indonesia (Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2002), p. 411.

[4] Interview with General Endriartono Sutarto, September 26, 2001.

[5] O’Rourke, Reformasi, p. 412.

[6] Ken Conboy, The Second Front: Inside Asia’s Most Dangerous Terrorist Network, (Jakarta: Equinox, 2006), pp. 158-159.

[7] During 2002, the U.S. Department of Defense Counterterrorism Fellowship Program (CTFP) provided $20 to 25 million per year to train military officers, including formal military education courses in the U.S. – to a certain extent offsetting IMET restrictions. CTFP training had to be at least peripherally related to improving counter-terrorism capabilities. Nominees were subject to human rights screening.

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