Indonesia Military Launches Anti-IS Operation on Eastern Island

By Kanupriya Kapoor & Randy Farbi 21 April 2015

JAKARTA — Indonesia’s armed forces have launched a six-month anti-terrorism operation to crack down on militants with suspected links to Islamic State, the top general said on Monday, amid growing concern about military involvement in internal security.

General Moeldoko said special forces personnel and intelligence agents were helping police track down radicals in Central Sulawesi, long known to be a hotbed of militant activity.

This is Indonesia’s first major military counter-terrorism operation, traditionally the domain of the police, since the aftermath of the 2009 Jakarta hotel bombings.

“The geographical terrain there makes it difficult for police to get to them,” Moeldoko told Reuters at military headquarters on the outskirts of the capital, Jakarta.

“Our hope is that with our troops and live ammunition, we can compel the radical groups to come out of that area. After that, it’s easier for the police to arrest them.”

Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population, is growing increasingly concerned about the return of hundreds of its citizens that have fought for IS in Syria and Iraq.

“The military will not give any space for IS to develop or live in Indonesia,” Moeldoko said.

The military’s growing presence on the island of Sulawesi started last month in an exercise involving warships and military aircraft. Some troops remain in the area.

But activists have questioned the military’s involvement in domestic security, pointing to its track record of rights abuses in handling internal conflicts.

“Terrorism is not war, it is criminal,” said Haris Azhar, coordinator of the commission for missing persons and victims of violence. “It has to be dealt with by police, not by the military.”

Moeldoko said it was the military’s job to make sure Indonesians were safe.

The general also raised concerns over tensions in the South China Sea, calling for a new military balance in the region.

“There are significant changes in the stable and calm conditions that existed in the region a decade ago,” he said.

“So everyone has an opinion that China is a threat to the neighborhood. The region needs a new balance, which cannot be represented by just one major power.”

China claims most of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea, disputed in parts with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Indonesia plans to upgrade its military forces in the remote Natuna Islands and Tanjung Datu, areas near China’s claims, “to deal with developments in the South China Sea,” the general said.