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KOPASSUS - Army Special Force Command

The Special Forces Command (KOPASSUS), formerly called the Sandi Yudha Forces Command and KOPASSANDHA (which also means Special Forces Command), are trained in intelligence gathering, a variety of special operations techniques, sabotage, and airborne and seaborne landings. Founded on 16 April 1952, KOPASSUS was reorganized and reduced in size in 1985, and by 1992 KOPASSUS forces numbered some 2,500 army personnel identifiable by their distinctive red berets organized into two operational groups and one training group.

Since a reorganization in June 1996, KOPASSUS returned to the organization created in 1985. The stated reason for the reorganization was to permit a development rotation with one quarter on duty, one quarter in training, one quarter consolidation, and one quarter ready reserves which can be used at any time. Along with the reorganization and increase in size, its commander, the son-in-law of the Indonesian president, was promoted to two-star rank. By the late 1990s KOPASSUS numbered some 6,000-strong, an increase in the number of troops, but below that of 1985. Headquarters at Cijantung, East Jakarta, KOPASSUS had expanded to five Groups, with Group IV specifically handling intelligence operations along with the KOPASSUS Joint Intelligence Unit [SGI].

Standard briefing materials provided by KOPASSUS characterize the mission and function of the force in the following terms. KOPASSUS:

  • conducts special operations on "chosen strategic targets" under the command of the Panglima (commander-in-chief); special operations include separatism, VVIP protection, counterterrorism, national vital object protection, search and rescue and disaster relief;
  • can be deployed independently, under the Panglima or in support of the military regional commands;
  • trains other units in tactical operations; training teams can support military regional command forces or forces of friendly nations;
  • has direct action, reconnaissance, unconventional warfare and counterterrorism capabilities; and
  • recruits from the Strategic Forces (KOSTRAD), regional commands (KODAM), Infantry School and directly from the civilian population.

While the "elite" corps of the Indonesian Army is the KOPASSUS Red Beret Corps with its special camouflage field uniform, there are many similarities among KOPASSUS, KOSTRAD, and other corps. Because of differences in units, however, there are individual improvisations that become special features of each corps. The KOPASSUS training package called "How to Find a Fine Fighter."

With its headquarters in Cijantung, East Jakarta, KOPASSUS is considered to be an elite force that has traditionally emphasized its small size and its quick-strike potential. It has been involved in numerous military actions in response to internal Indonesian unrest. KOPASSUS units were involved in 1981 in freeing the hostages from the "Woyla," the Garuda Airline plane hijacked by followers of Imran, leader of an Islamic splinter movement in West Java. Imran forced the plane to land at the Don Muang Airport in Thailand. KOPASSUS troops to Thailand and brilliantly overwhelmed the hijackers. Around 90 troops from KOPASSUS were dispatched to Irian Jaya when a rebel group took hostages there have left the province without rescuing the remaining captives in 1996. KOPASSUS members climbed Mount Everest in 1997.

Colonel Prabowo Subianto, Suharto's son-in-law who married Siti Hediati Hariyadi Suharto in May 1983, was appointed to head KOPASSUS in December 1995. He was promoted to replace KOPASSUS chief Brigadier Subagyo Hadi Siswono, who was assigned to head the fourth Diponegoro Military Region Command.

On 15 July 1997 it was reported that Maj. Gen. Yunus Yosfiah, commander of the Indonesian Armed Forces [ABRI] Staff and Command College, replaced Lt. Gen. Syarwan Hamid as chief of ABRI sociopolitical affairs. Generally heads of ABRI sociopolitical affairs are officers with territorial, socio-political, or educational experience. Rarely if ever come from the ranks of the KOPASSUS Red Berets. Of previous heads including Bambang Triantoro, Sugiarto, Harsudiono Hartas, Haryoto P.S., Ma'ruf, Hartono, and Syarwan Hamid, not one came from the Special Forces Command. With the September 1997 appointment of Yosfiah as head of the sociopolitical affairs, the three top positions at ABRI headquarters were held by KOPASSUS Special Forces officers. ABRI Commander Gen. Feisal Tanjung, who was installed in 1993, was a KOPASSUS man, as was Lieutenant General Tarub, installed in 1997. This "domination" of the upper ranks at ABRI Headquarters has never happened in preceding periods.

KOPASSUS is associated with human rights abuses and "disappearances" which have been documented by respected human rights organizations and the Indonesian government. A number of activists were kidnapped by KOPASSUS troops in the last months of the Suharto regime, and at least 23 government critics disappeared. Nine later resurfaced and told stories of solitary confinement,interrogation, and physical abuse. One was found dead and 13 are still listed as missing. The abudctions took place ahead of a general assembly which reappointed Suharto as president for his seventh consecutive term on 11 March 1998.

As of 01 April 1998 Lt. Gen. Prabowo Subianto [Suharto's son-in-law] was serving as commander of the Army Strategic Command [KOSTRAD] and Maj. Gen. Mukhdi Purwopranyono was serving as commandant of KOPASSUS. Suharto was ousted on 21 May 1999 amid mounting public pressure and large scale violent pro-reform riots. Soon thereafter Son-in-Law Prabowo was pushed out of his position as commander of KOPASSUS and reassigned to head the army's command and staff training college in Bandung.

Armed forces chief General Wiranto set up the Officers' Honorary Council (DKP) on 03 August 1998 to probe the abduction and torture of scores of pro-reform political activists. On 21 August 1998 the Council ended its investigations of three senior officers linked to the kidnap and torture of political activists. In closed-door hearings, the Council questioned three officers from KOPASSUS, including the unit's former commander, Lt. Gen. Prabowo, son-in-law of ex-President Suharto. Wiranto admitted that KOPASSUS was involved in the kidnappings after the probe showed the KOPASSUS command had issued orders to "uncover several movements then considered radical and jeopardizing government programs and public security." On 06 April 1999 a military court on Tuesday found 11 members of KOPASSUS guilty of kidnapping nine pro-democracy activists and handed them jail terms of up to 22 months.

Maj. Gen. Mayjen Syahrir was appointed commanding general of KOPASSUS as of July 1998. Begining in early 1999 a campaign of systematic liquidation of the resistance was under way in East Timor, forcing thousands of people to flee into the jungles The operations were backed by at least a section of the Indonesian armed forces and intelligence service, notably KOPASSUS. In the countryside, village chiefs in favor of independence were systematically liquidated, and even villages considered not enthusiastic enough for autonomy were destroyed.

East Timor resistance leader Xanana Gusmao accused a renegade "KOPASSUS old guard" of scorning Indonesia's avowed policy of curbing the violence in East Timor. Western military sources said known KOPASSUS officers were involved in attacks on the UNAMET compound in Maliana southwest of Dili, from where the UN subsequently evacuated all its local and foreign staff. In early August 1999, less than three weeks before the poll in East Timor on the territory's future, Indonesia's military commander there has been replaced by Col Muhamad Noer Muis, formerly of KOPASSUS. Most recently, Col Muis was the commander of war training in Sumatra. Jose Ramos Horta, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a leader of the East Timor resistance, claimed that the so-called pro-Indonesian Timorese militiamen are in fact members of KOPASSUS special passing themselves off as militiamen. KOPASSUS unit 81 was created in June 2001 under Army Chief of Staff order Kep/12/VI/2001 as part of overall KOPASSUS reform, when Groups 4 and 5 were dissolved and replaced with two new entities: the Special Forces Training Command and Unit 81. While the Unit's lineage is traced back to the similarly named Detachment 81 (which was itself dissolved in 1996 and replaced with Group 5), its mission, size, and personnel have changed. Unit 81's mission is narrowly focused on counterterrorism activities. It consists of two battalions and one detachment.

The United States Congress developed a compromise limiting International Military Education and Training (IMET) assistance to expanded-IMET, which is a human rights curriculum. However, the Department of Defense used Joint Combined Exchange and Training to train Indonesian military personnel in activities which would have been prohibited under the IMET ban, raising questions about a violation of Congressional intent.

Since 1998 there has been a growing institutional realization of the need for human rights training, implementation and oversight. In late 1998, KOPASSUS began receiving human rights training as part of a TNI-wide program and also began incorporating human rights into two key phases of their Commando training: the Base Camp, and Jungle/Mountain training. Training included issuance and study of a Human Rights Handbook, in both English and Bahasa Indonesia. In 2003, they requested and established a KOPASSUS-specific human rights program administered by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the TNI Headquarters law office. In 2006, ICRC provided two train-the-trainer programs for unit leaders (NCO and Officer) who in turn would provide unit-wide training. Training included case studies and other classroom activities, as well as practical training in the field.

KOPASSUS soldiers are trained according to the norms of international human rights law and that all soldiers attend a one-week seminar on human rights and the law of war (Geneva Convention) conducted in coordination with the ICRC. Every soldier carries an illustrated pocket manual issued by the TNI containing its Rules of Engagement. Additional training courses have been offered, such as a Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) seminar in San Remo, Italy in 2003. KOPASSUS also cooperates with the Norway Center for Human Rights. KOPASSUS also maintains that, in contrast to the Suharto era, verbal orders are no longer executable and that all operational orders must be written and signed.

The United States announced in July 2010 that it would resume training with the Indonesian militarys special forces unit Kopassus, after a 12-year moratorium. Military cooperation has already improved significantly since 2005 when the United States lifted restrictions on working with the Indonesian army. The announcement on restoring U.S. military ties to Kopassus will be gradual and limited to members who are not linked to past violations.

President Barack Obama received a warm welcome when he visited Indonesia November 9-10, 2010. When Mr. Obama met Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, they focused on mutual security interests. The US planned to resume military training to Indonesia's counter-terrorism force, Kopassus. Some human rights groups were concerned Kopassus has been accused of rights abuses. Washington, however, said closer ties ultimately will improve human rights protections and strengthen democracy here. The US military had broken ties with the unit because of its human rights abuses. Australia resumed training with Kopassus in 2005.

In October 2010, a video showing soldiers torturing two men in the restive province of West Papua appeared on the Internet, sparking international condemnation. The soldiers branded one of the mens genitals with a burning stick and held a knife to the face of the other. One victim later said he was beaten and burned for three days. The government promised swift justice, and arrested the three, charging them with disobeying orders.

One was sentenced to 10 months in jail, one received a nine-month sentence and the third was sentenced to eight months. Human rights activists said the sentences are too short and call on the United States to reconsider its involvement in the Indonesian army. I think the outcome is extremely disappointing," said Elaine Pearson, the deputy director for the Asia division of Human Rights Watch. "This is a case where the men involved were supposedly tortured for a period of three days, and then what we see is the soldiers is being slapped on the wrist. The charges dont even reflect the serious nature of the allegations. They have been tried for disobeying orders rather than the more serious offense of torture.

On September 05, 2013 an Indonesian court sentenced eight special forces soldiers for breaking into a jail and executing four prisoners in a revenge killing. The military court in Yogyakarta handed down sentences of six to 11 years for the three who led the attack. Five others were given sentences of 21 months in jail. The soldiers carried out the killings in March in retaliation for the murder of another member of their unit, allegedly by the men being held in the jail. The three ringleaders could have faced the death penalty and the relatively light prison sentences are being criticized. The incident highlighted political divisions in Indonesians. The killings caused an outcry among many who remember the Suharto dictatorship when the military often acted with impunity. But others praised the solders for acting decisively against alleged gang members and rallied for their release outside the court.

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Page last modified: 11-09-2013 19:07:56 ZULU