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.
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)
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: http://www.akmil.ac.id
Battallion 330 website: http://www.yoniflinud330.mil.id/
More SBY biographical details: http://www.tokohindonesia.com/ensiklopedi/s/susilo-b-yudhoyono/biografi/keluarga.shtml
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).