Australia-Indonesia war over East Timor in 1999?

While reading Birmo's excellent Quarterly Essay, A Time For War (yes, he's a scholar as well as an AHer!), I came across a mention of the startling jingoism in Australia in 1999, during the East Timor crisis, and a sense that war with Indonesia could be near. I was only 9 at the time, and thus not so jingoistic in any sense, but it does strike me as plausible, especially given the horrific pictures arising from East Timor.

So, what if Australian troops in East Timor had come into contact with Indonesian troops, perhaps while patrolling the border (I'm told events like this might have actually happened), and this had sparked a general war? What would the fighting be like? What would be the effects?
 
Off the top of my head, the destruction of the Indonesian navy and airforce.

IIRC, the old Leander Class HMNZS Canterbury (or Wellington) was quite easily able to find the Indonesian submarine watching events unfold, so likely would have been able to destroy one of the key threats.

There were not only ANZAC forces in the area, but also those from a host of other nations, so quite a lot of firepower available.
 
The ADF was prepared for high intensity war with Indo, the leopards were in Darwins dock area, bombed up and ready to embark, as was the artillery. F111s were moved to Tindal, and another hornet sqn was moved to Darwin, also ready to go. The Navy was already up there and bombed up. The Army shot a few militias who had no direct link with the TNI, they soon learned there is a big difference between terrorising villiagers and standing up to the Australian Army. I vividly remember footage of a digger telling a militia to get down, and when he didn't get the digger put the barrel of his rifle to the bloke's forehead and pushed him to the ground with it. I'd say a hands down victory to Australia, TNI AF and Navy would be gone, and the TNI army on Timor routed. I don't think we were jingoistic and bayed for blood, but there was considerable frustration with the time it took for permission to go to be granted, and the atrocities which occured in that time.
 
A couple of points:

1) The Howard govt did basically everything it could to avoid a war with Indonesia. Although it meant it took longer than ideal, in the deployment of Australian peacekeepers in E. Timor, the Howard govt did wait until Indonesian forces had left & it was obvious that Indonesia wasn't going to object to Australian intervention.

2) Australia deliberately went around the region, in fact around the globe, & got other nations to deploy peacekeepers to E. Timor as well as Australian troops. So we got troops from the UK & NZ, but more importantly Thailand & Malaysia (amongst others). The message, hence, being sent to Indonesia was don't play up or you'll have basically all of your neighbours at war with you & then some.

3) There was an actual engagement on the border of E. Timor between Australian troops & Indonesians within a few days of the initial deployment. If memory serves at least one Indonesian was killed & several more wounded. There were no major Australian casualties. Importantly, both sides were very quick to downplay the incident & nothing war-like-alert etc was entertained by either side. It was explained away as an accident.

4) In a similar fashion, there were several engagements along the E. Timor border between the peacekeepers & the so-called Timor militias. In fact one NZ soldier was killed, & his body mutilated, which really pissed off the peacekeepers but they continued to do their jobs in a discipled & professional manner as one expects. Interestingly enough, not long after this incident, the Indonesians themselves pretty much withdrew their support, overt or otherwise, from these militas & they soon became forgotten. Whether there were some "high-level" governmental discussions, between Australia & Indonesia over the situation, I wouldn't know, but it's interesting to note the coincidence of events.

So in order to get a war going, between Australia & Indonesia over E. Timor, these factors have to be removed from the scheme of things. Importantly, though, Australia under the Howard govt would not have intervened with military forces in the first place if the first two points above hadn't come to pass. Consequentally, there wouldn't be any war. The Howard govt would have complained, like what previous governments had done since 1975, & that'd be all IMHO.
 
3) There was an actual engagement on the border of E. Timor between Australian troops & Indonesians within a few days of the initial deployment. If memory serves at least one Indonesian was killed & several more wounded. There were no major Australian casualties. Importantly, both sides were very quick to downplay the incident & nothing war-like-alert etc was entertained by either side. It was explained away as an accident.
IIRC there were 2 Australian wounded in that clash ... one in the neck, but not a lot was mentioned of the casualties, so I suspect that the wounds weren't especially severe
 
IIRC there were 2 Australian wounded in that clash ... one in the neck, but not a lot was mentioned of the casualties, so I suspect that the wounds weren't especially severe

Oh nothing that a Band-Aid & a Vegemite sandwich couldn't fix ;)
 
IIRC there were 2 Australian wounded in that clash ... one in the neck, but not a lot was mentioned of the casualties, so I suspect that the wounds weren't especially severe
Well, what if there had been more casualties on both sides, including Australian fatalities? Could public pressure have forced John Howard to take a more confrontational stance, since 'our boys' were being killed?
 
Well, what if there had been more casualties on both sides, including Australian fatalities? Could public pressure have forced John Howard to take a more confrontational stance, since 'our boys' were being killed?

I'd highly doubt it. In fact the Howard govt did everything it could to avoid such a situation from occuring, especially in the light that the Clinton administration avoided, as best it could, from being committed to E. Timor. In the end I think they supplied a transport ship & some support personnel, but little else.

Furthermore, you must also realise that the Indonesian leadership had drastically changed from the dark old days of Suharto (which, as you'd know, were militaristic & not overly friendly towards Australia). Instead we've got Habibie & then Wahid (president from Oct 1999-mid 2001). Habibie was clearly an interum president, who wasn't meant to do anything, until the political powers & parties figured out what type of government Indonesia was to have after Shuarto's departure: whilst Wahid was a nice guesture to all & sundry that the bad old days were over.

So if you want a war with Indoesnia, not only do you have to deal with the points I raised in an earlier posting, but you have to address the radical changes to Indonesia's leadership during this period as well. In fact it's probably this last aspect that's far more important than anything the Howard government may or may not have done in 1999.
 
Could Suharto have been kept up until 1999, possibly?

He was far too sick by then. He held on for as long as possible if not longer. But the rot had already set in by the time he had to resign. The Cold War was over, the communists had pretty much vanished, & all the reasons why Suhrato was tolerated had gone - even by many of his own people.
 

backstab

Banned
The ADF was prepared for high intensity war with Indo, the leopards were in Darwins dock area, bombed up and ready to embark, as was the artillery. F111s were moved to Tindal, and another hornet sqn was moved to Darwin, also ready to go. The Navy was already up there and bombed up. The Army shot a few militias who had no direct link with the TNI, they soon learned there is a big difference between terrorising villiagers and standing up to the Australian Army. I vividly remember footage of a digger telling a militia to get down, and when he didn't get the digger put the barrel of his rifle to the bloke's forehead and pushed him to the ground with it. I'd say a hands down victory to Australia, TNI AF and Navy would be gone, and the TNI army on Timor routed. I don't think we were jingoistic and bayed for blood, but there was considerable frustration with the time it took for permission to go to be granted, and the atrocities which occured in that time.
There were 30 000 Indonesian Troops stationed in East and West Timor at the time of our Intervention. There were also IIRC a large contingement of their Special Forces close by (We trained them). If you really think it would have been a push over , you must be dreaming. Our Army is good but not that good and without US/UN support we would have lost most of 3 BDE ( 3 Bde is our Light Deployable Brigade).You also remember that Indonesia will have a short supply line where we will have to fly/ship eveything
 
The US CINCPac rang Gen. Wiranto and informed him that he had to pull his head in over the intervention. While the US didn't provide much direct support they did have an MEU afloat nearby ready to intervene against Indo if needed. I don't think it would have been too difficult for the 'Allies' to isolate Timor from reinforcement, and quickly reduce the ground forces in Timor to guerillas with no external heavy weapon support. Similarly I doubt the TNI would be able to stop the ADF from bringing in the leopards and artillery, or the USMC MEU from landing. How commited is the TNI and Indo govt to fighting a guerilla war in Timor and having its planes and warships destroyed?
 
The US CINCPac rang Gen. Wiranto and informed him that he had to pull his head in over the intervention. While the US didn't provide much direct support they did have an MEU afloat nearby ready to intervene against Indo if needed. I don't think it would have been too difficult for the 'Allies' to isolate Timor from reinforcement, and quickly reduce the ground forces in Timor to guerillas with no external heavy weapon support. Similarly I doubt the TNI would be able to stop the ADF from bringing in the leopards and artillery, or the USMC MEU from landing. How commited is the TNI and Indo govt to fighting a guerilla war in Timor and having its planes and warships destroyed?

A couple of points:

1) I think it's fair to say that most, if not all Australians (especially at governmental levels), thought that there would be little support coming from the US if things hotted up on Timor. Consequentially the Howard govt planned accordingly under this assumption.

2) As I've mentioned previously the Indonesian leadership had drastically changed. They were not interested in having a war with anyone, let alone Australia.

3) There's also another dimention worth mentioning & that's the internal politics of Indonesia. I kind of mentioned it in passing before, but I'll stress it here. President Habibie was supposed to be a interum president whilst the power blocks & political parties figured out how Indonesia was to be run in the aftermath of Suharto. But Habibie was/is actually a rather enlightened liberal fellow & I think he was pissed off that he wouldn't get a second term as president. So giving E. Timor its independence was a big fuck-you to the Indonesian political conservatives from Habibie & the reformers.

4) Linked with the above point 3, Habibie's gesture must have worked, & knocked the conservatives for six, because not only are numerous democractic reforms introduced, but we get Wahid as President in partnership with Megawatti Sukarnopuri as his vice-president. Both supported E. Timor independence & neither wanted a war over the issue. Furthermore, not long after Wahid becomes president, old Suharto finds himself in serious trouble with numerous investigations being launched against him.

Fundamenally, Indonesia in 1999/2000 had drastically changed from the rather militaristic nation under Suharto a mere year prior to the E. Timor business when Suharto was forced to resign. It seems amazing, when you think about it, almost ASB in it's own right, but nevertheless it's a fact. And as I keep saying, these factors have to be reversed, somehow, before some war may even have a chance of errupting. Yet, even if Suharto manages to hang around for another year or two, which I highly doubt because he was pretty much gah-gah by this stage, the Howard govt WON'T land an intervention force on E. Timor without Indonesian permission & only then with additional & substantcial forces from our allies like the Kiwis, British & the Thais.

I must admit that I am being rather harsh in my anti-war stance, but you must understand that I've got an MA in Indonesian History from Sydney Uni. So I guess that makes me AH.com's resident expert on Indonesian Affairs... :D
 
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