SBY’s Timor History

SBY - top graduate 1973

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), like many of his generation of former military men, has a Timor history. Australian researcher Ernie Chamberlain shows that, while SBY may not have been in the very first wave of the 7 December 1975 Indonesian military invasion, he was on active duty in Timor in those early years of the occupation which had such catastrophic consequences for the Timorese population and resistance. While the detailed story of SBY’s roles inside Timor is yet to be told, what follows sketches the beginning of his Timor history.

Chamberlain writes:

In his senior year (1973) at the Akabri military academy at Magelang, Bambang Yudhoyono was the Dandivkortar (“top cadet”) – overseeing 3,000 cadets. On graduation in November 1973, as the “top student” among the 987 graduates (Prabowo Subianto, by the way, graduated the following year in third place), he was presented with the Bintang Adhi Makayasa medal personally by then President Soeharto.
From Akabri, he was posted as a platoon commander to Kostrad’s 330 Airborne/Raider Battalion (Commander 3 Platoon, “A” Company) serving in the period “1974-76”. That unit’s history website notes that the battalion saw service in Timor in “1975-1976″.
Indonesian journalist and author Hendro Subroto has written on 330 Battalion’s operations in several of his works. In particular, two battalions of 330 Battalion’s formation – the 17th Airborne Brigade/”Satgas B” – parachuted onto the Baucau airfield on 10 December 1975, but 330 Battalion (commanded by Major Syukur) did not arrive in Baucau from Kupang until 14 December in an airlanded operation utilising civil-type aircraft. Soon after landing, 330 Battalion led the ABRI advance south to Viqueque – meeting quite stiff Falintil opposition led by Sabika in the Lariguto/Ossu area.

SBY’s Timor entrance
But was Yudhoyono with 330 Battalion in Timor in December 1975 ? I think not.
Firstly, Hendro Subroto is an inveterate “name dropper”. In relating operations in Timor, he invariably highlights the presence/role of any later-to-become-senior ABRI officers. He makes no mention of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in the Baucau/Viqueque operation of 330 Battalion. Moreover, Yudhoyono reportedly attended English language training at the US military’s Defence Language Institute in Texas in late 1975/early 1976, followed by Airborne and Ranger training at Fort Benning in 1975-1976.
He apparently returned to Indonesia in mid-1976 – deploying to Timor in August 1976 as a platoon commander in 305 Battalion (a month after his marriage to the daughter of Major General Sarwo Edhie Wibowo a renowned/infamous commander of the RPKAD and graduate of the Australian Army’s Staff College at Queenscliff, Victoria). While little is known about 305 Battalion’s activities in Timor in 1976-1977, it reportedly operated principally in Lautem.
Among his medals, Yudhoyono wears the Satya Lencana Seroja, 1976 (Operasi Seroja – Operation Lotus – was the name given to the major Indonesian military campaign in Timor from December 1975 to November 1979)

Other connections
As an aside, over the years, Bambang Yudhoyono has had several koneksi with the Australian military – and was a close friend of Lieutenant General Peter Leahy (former Chief of Army, and now a professor heading the University of Canberra’s National Security Institute). They were in the same class at the US Command and Staff College, Leavenworth in 1990-1991 (Leahy was the “top” foreign student, Bambang Yudhoyono was “No.2”). It was planned that Yudhoyono attend the year-long “one-star” ADF ACDSS course at Weston Creek (Canberra) in 1996 – but in November 1995, Yudhoyono was quite suddenly posted to Bosnia-Herzegovina as the Chief Military Observer of the UN Peacekeeping Force.


Subroto, S., Operasi Udara di Timor Timor (Air Operations in East Timor), Pustaka Sinar Harapan, Jakarta, 2005, pp.107-197.


Military Academy website:

Battallion 330 website:

More SBY biographical details:

Ernie Chamberlain is a retired Australian brigadier, having served for 36 years – including as Australian Defence Attache in Jakarta in the mid-1990s. Since retirement in 1998, he has spent some years in Timor – including advising Defence Minister Roque Rodrigues and F-FDTL commander Taur Matan Ruak on defence policy and planning (2004-05).

4 Responses to SBY’s Timor History

  1. Rob Wesley-Smith says:

    Fascinating. Excellent research. SBY has certainly put on some weight since 1973 – then again, so have I !!

  2. Rui Araujo says:

    At end of 1978 and beginning of 1979 he was a company commander on the ‘cerco de aniquilamento’ at Sector Fronteira Sul involving part of Ainaro, part of Bonobaro and the whole of Covalima, particularly in the cleaning-up operations arround the area of Zumalai. And in late 80s he was the battalion commander of batallion 745, reknown for its cruelty throughout the years of occupation….Can anyone confirm these additional information? The version on Timor’s archives does not mention this.

    [Note: This comment was originally made on 16 March 2010 by Rui Araujo on the Facebook ‘wall’ of Jose Teixeira who had referenced the SBY item on Timor Archives.]

    • Ernie Chamberlain says:

      I believe that Sr. Rui Araujo’s comments are essentially correct.

      The initial posting on the Timor Archives website on Yudhoyono was aimed at correcting a statement on another blog that Yudhoyono had participated in ABRI’s “brutal invasion of Dili on 7 December 1975 ” – ie by confirming that he was not in Timor until August 1976, and the post also sketched the beginning of his Timor history.

      I showed that Yudhoyono – although posted to the 330 Airborne/Ranger Battalion of 17 Brigade as a rifle platoon commander – did not accompany his Battalion to Timor in December 1975 as he was under training in the United States in late 1975 and during the first half of 1976.

      Yudhoyono served in Timor three times. These were in 1976-1977 with 305 Airborne/Raider Battalion; as a company commander in 330 Airborne/Raider Battalion in 1979-80; and returning to command 744 Battalion in 1986-88.

      The commonly declared bio-data (1) on Yudhoyono, up to and including the rank of major, is as follows:

      “Because of his fluency in English, he was selected to attend airborne and ranger training at the US Army Army Training Centre at Fort Benning, Georgia in 1975 [I believe that he was first at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas doing English language trainining in late 1975, before moving to Fort Benning in early 1976. EC].
      “Subsequently, he returned to Indonesia and was appointed commander of II Platoon, A Company, 305 Battalion for the period 1976-1977 – and commanded his platoon in combat in East Timor.
      “Returning from East Timor, he became the 81mm Mortar Platoon Commander in 330 Airborne Ranger Battalion [his nominal unit in 1975-1976. EC]. Following this, he was appointed as Section Officer-2/Operations, Headquarters 17th Airborne Brigade (Kujang), Kostrad – 1977-1978. In 1979-1981, he served as a company commander of an infantry rifle company in 330 Airborne/Ranger Battalion, followed by appointment as a Junior Operations Officer at Army General Headquarters – Jakarta (1981-82).
      “He next returned to the United States for training – attending the Infantry Officers Advanced Course at Fort Benning in 1982-83, followed by on-the-job-training at Fort Bragg with the 82 Airborne Division in 1983. He later attended the US Army’s Jungle Warfare School in Panama in 1983, and Anti-Tank Weapons Courses in Belgium and Germany in 1984 – and the Battalion Commander’s Course in 1985. At this time, he was also the Commandant of the Infantry Training School (1983-1985). In 1986-1988, he served as the commander of 744 Battalion (East Timor – under Kodam IX/Udayana), then as an operations staff officer at Kodam IX/Udayana Headquarters – Bali, in 1988. He then attended the Army Command and Staff Course in Bandung in 1989, graduating as the top student.”

      The interesting aspect is his service as a company commander in 330 Airborne/Raider Battalion in the period 1979-1981. 330 Battalion’s history indicates the Battalion served in East Timor in 1979-1980 in ABRI’s Operation Tuntas (2). This appears to connect with Rui’s mention of Yudhoyono in the Sector Fronteira Sul area (Ainaro/Cova Lima/Bobonaro/Zumalai) in 1979.

      In a November 2004 report, Tapol outlined Yudhoyono’s “almost perfect military background”, and also referenced “dubious military activities” – including his service in Operation Tuntas in 1979-1980 (3).

      There is very little published material on the detail of ABRI operations in East Timor. Accordingly, Sr. Rui’s comments are particularly helpful.

      (1) Translation from:
      (2) .

    • timorarchives says:

      Picking up on Ernie Chamberlain’s Tapol reference, here’s what Tapol said about SBY in 2004:

      An almost perfect military background

      In many ways, SBY personifies the kind of army officer now at the top of TNI, the Indonesian army. In the early days, army recruits came from all levels of society, mostly from the grassroots but since the seventies, there has been a gradual shift. The prominent role of the army in society has affected the class origins of its new cadets.

      Officers have gradually become a caste of their own. Through inter-marriage and as the sons of senior officers who follow in the footsteps of their fathers, many highly-placed officers are related to each other. SBY’s father was in the army, serving as a first lieutenant while his father-in-law is the infamous Major-General Sarwo Edhie, who played a brutal role in the bloody killings of tens of thousands of innocent peasants in the red drive of 1965 in Central Java. His eldest son is a graduate from the Military Academy and holds the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. There are similar family ties between many high-ranking officers.

      In many ways, SBY can be said to have an almost perfect military background. As a cadet, he was one of the brightest, graduating from the Academy in 1973 at the top of his class. He was soon sent abroad for further training … [details already recorded by Chamberlain].

      Dubious military activities

      Not much has been reported about his combat duties or his involvement in serious human rights violations. He served three times in East Timor which, in those days, was a necessary step in one’s military career. He took part in Operasi Seroja in 1976-1977 (for the pacification of East Timor), in Operasi Tuntas in 1979-1980 (for the eradication of the resistance) and so-called mopping-up operations in East Timor in 1986-1988.

      Also little has been said about his role when he was army chief-of-staff in the Jakarta military command in 1996 during the attack on the headquarters of the PDI, which was chaired by Megawati. Even less is known about his role during the violence that erupted in East Timor in 1998-1999, at which time he was chief-of-staff for territorial affairs (from 9 November 1998 till October 1999) which continued until international forces stepped in.

      By the time of the downfall of Suharto in May 1998, SBY had joined the ranks of more liberal-minded officers, which included people like Agus Wirahadikusumah, Agus Widjoyo and Saurip Kadi.


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