The Marines: Real Story Behind May 1998 Riot

03 June 2004
Back in May 98, when Jakarta was literally burning, the Chief of Staff of the Indonesian Navy, Chief Admiral Arief Kushariadi, was on his way for some pre-scheduled trip using the Navy helicopter. As he was flying over Jakarta, he could not help noticing the movement of rioters on the ground and the fires they started. He was amazed that he could not see any sizeable force of security personnel to oppose the rampaging rioters. He assessed the situation that strategic places such as the presidential palace had not been completely secured by sizeable military units visible from the air.

Being in a separate chain of command (thus he had no control of any Army or Police units), and thinking that Jakarta was in danger, he immediately contacted the Commanding Officer of Marines 2nd Infantry Brigade based in Cilandak, Southern Jakarta. Adm. Kushariadi inquired of available forces that the 2nd Marines Brigade could move at that instant. To his surprise, the Brigade commander replied that he had none. All of his available forces had been BKO-ed to Jakarta Military Garrison (Komando Garnizun Jakarta) and they were already fielded when Adm. Kushariadi reached him over the radio. This even include all combat support (Banpur) personnel, artilery and cavalry. The marines had a battalion of cavalry (amphibious PT-76 tanks and BTR-50 amphibious Armored Personnel Vehicle) in Cilandak. However, those armored cars remained in their base with nobody left to operate them.

Unbeknownst to the Admiral, the Marines based in Cilandak Jakarta had been involved in a plot engineered by Commander of the Army Strategic Reserves (Kostrad), Lieut. Gen. Prabowo and his clicks. Prabowo had realized that the Marines was the only military unit that was able to contest his Army Special Forces (Kopassus) in combat. He happens to be a good friend of Maj. Gen. Suharto, the Marines Corps Commanding General at the time, when they shared quarters during their days at the Integrated Staf and Command College (Seskogab) in Bandung a few years before. When Prabowo was in charge of the Kopassus, he tried to bring the two corps closer together. Having almost unlimited source of funding (thanks to the support he enjoyed from Cendana), Prabowo not only beefed up his Kopassus but he also sent some contributions to the Marines, commanded then by this old roommate of his. After living as a step son for more than three decades, the Marines received Prabowo contribution with a warm feeling. However, Suharto was aware of some moves from Prabowo that might follow the contributions.

It did come in 1997, when Prabowo proposed "to better integrate" Kopassus and the Marines. How? By interchanging personnel between the two corps. He wanted to have some Kopassus men in every Marines unit and to be part of the unit during the operation. Suharto flatly refused this proposal. Politely, he explained to Prabowo that the Marines has a different doctrine from its counterparts in Kopassus. The Indonesian Marines (owing to much similarities to the USMC) follow the doctrine as a professional combat unit. They never did nor wish to ever raise their weapons against their own countrymen. The marines subscribes to a frontal type combat style where the objective is as clearly defined as the identity of the enemy. When the Marines are landing on the beach, they must assume that the beach was part of Indonesian soil invaded by some foreign enemies. So "mendarat dan menang" just simply does not apply to the Indonesian Army doctrines.

Knowing that he could not influence the neutrality and professionalism of the Marines, Prabowo decided that he should at least tied up all available Marines units in Jakarta area when his troops were to secure power from then defunct government of President Soeharto. He was able to do this because Maj. Gen. Sjafrie Samsoeddin, the Commanding General of Jakarta Military Area Command (Kodam Jaya),, ex officio the Jakarta Garrison Commander, was his old friend from the Military Academy days and part of his click. Samsoeddin cleverly ordered the Marines to stand guard at some less important locations far away from the area being destroyed by rampaging rioters.

Now, back to Adm. Kushariadi. Realizing that there was no effective military unit to protect Jakarta, the prudent Admiral immediately raised the Commanding Officer of the Marines 1st Infantry Brigade based in Karang Pilang, Surabaya, East Java. Kushariadi ordered Surabaya to get ready one full infantry battalion equipped for combat deployment (they did not have extensive anti-riot (PHH) equipments). He also ordered Surabaya to get ready all available tank and armored car (panser) crews. Using all available planes belonging to the Navy fleet air arm (including the Nomad & CASA 212), the Admiral instructed the Marines battalion and its combat equipment to be flown in to Jakarta at all possible speed. As you may have suspected, the Navy did not possess planes with heavy load capacity, it took the small navy planes several sorties between Jakarta-Surabaya to finally air lifted the entire Marine battalion to Halim Perdanakusuma Air Force Base in Jakarta.

As soon as the Surabaya Marines battalion landed in Jakarta, Adm. Kushariadi ordered the infantrymen to secure strategic locations including the Presidential Palace area. The cavalry crew from Surabaya immediately started and manned all available tanks and armored cars still sitting in their hangars in Cilandak. These tanks were then rolling into Jakarta street to join the Marines infantrymen already in locations.

Adm. Kushariadi thought he had saved the city from total mayhem. Well, he did, but unbeknownst to him, his action also foiled two opposing groups that were just getting ready to launch a coup: Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, Gen. Wiranto's group facing Prabowo's group. Both Wiranto and Prabowo were cooking their own coup scenario. The situation in Jakarta was intentionally brewed to allow the deployment of combat troops in Jakarta using the riots as an excuse. While Wiranto and Prabowo were cooking up strategy to beat their opponents, they forgot to take into account the x-factor such as Adm. Kushariadi, who was totally outside the plot and unaware of the coup plans from either side.

So, now Jakarta is in chaos, the army troops from both factions are ready. But the arrival of a marine battalion from Surabaya, now supported with tanks, (note that the Marines tanks are better armored and more heavily armed than those wheeled cavalry units fielded by Kodam Jaya) had rendered both Wiranto and Prabowo's plan unexecutable without serious consequences. If either Wiranto or Prabowo kept pressing forward with their coup plan, then they will not only face the other army faction but also a battalion of Marines from Surabaya. Also, as soon as the three Marines infantry battalions from Cilandak, which were BKO-ed to Kodam Jaya, realized that their brothers from Surabaya were here and there is a coup attempt in progress, then the full Infantry Brigades would retract themselves from under the control of Kodam Jaya and rejoined their original unit. Even under BKO, all Marines field commanders would certainly put the order coming from their Chief of Staff (Adm. Kushariadi) and their own Brigade Commanding Officer much higher than orders coming from Kodam Commander, Maj. Gen. Sjafrie Samsoeddin. Therefore, whoever wanted to press forward with their coup plan, they will have to face the entire Marines 2nd Infantry Brigade with an additional extra battalion from Surabaya. That is more than 4000 professional and very well trained combat troops, complete with their artilery and cavalry which have no match among the Army units in Jakarta. No to count the long range guns of the Navy battle ships at the Tanjung Priok, Jakarta harbor, which at that time were told to have been pin-pointed toward the directions of Merdeka Timur, Cilangkap, Cijantung, and Cilodong.

Some inside sources indicate that Wiranto replaced Adm. Kushariadi a few months after the May Incidents because of what the Admiral did to save Jakarta. Regardless of the outcome and consequences of his actions, Adm. Kushariadi, the Marines, and the Indonesian Navy as a whole, had again made their selfless contribution to the survival of the Republic. But as usual, the Navy remained unnamed in the history pages of Indonesia. However, the people of Indonesia had witnessed how their Marines display a true sense of military professionalism in the handling on various public unrest which culminated in the Semanggi Incident in November 1998. If only the people of Indonesia could find out the truth about May 1998 and the unparalleled role played by their Marines and Navy in the recent struggle of their country...

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  1. From Victor on 04 February 2007 11:32:10 WIB
    i just read the stories how the marines saved my jakarta and my country..
    i can only say" thanx....." from my heart...
  2. From Giovani Motorelli on 09 September 2007 14:11:40 WIB
    My greatest thank to Chief of Staff of Indonesian Navy, Chief Admiral Arief Kushariadi, who knows his life goal as a soldier. A True Soldier. My highest respect to him.
    My greatest thank also to Maj. Gen Suharto (Marines Corps Commander), a man with integrity and a real professional.

    Along Indonesia history of struggle, though as a "step son", Navy is always best yet humble. Bravo Navy.
  3. From Skydreamer on 14 February 2008 01:03:23 WIB
    It has been coming 10 years the May 98 riot was untouchable. My deepest respect to all my marine brothers, without you...our capital, Jakarta will be full of bloodshed if the coup take place.

    To Chief of Staff of Indonesian Navy, Chief Admiral Arief Kushariadi, thank you for your fast movement. Your gut feeling on the danger has proven you as a real professional soldier.

    From people For people To people. did it!
  4. From Jaka Setyanto on 13 May 2008 15:35:08 WIB
    I knew how it felt that day... But seeing those Marines and Sailors of Indonesian Navy marched in line toward the protesters -including me, at that time given a different aura. They sling their guns on their back whilst their Army counterparts aim it to us! The sailors even only brought a long black rod with their daily uniform! No protection suits! If someone throw something at them they just waved back and told us to calm down. They never retaliated. They won our hearts that day. And they guarded us to do protest in a more manner way. They're the true guardian of our constitution. They're the the one who secure the reformation. Yet, they stand low and still as before. Always out of the spotlight in our history as a nation... Thank you my Marines and Sailors...
  5. From marnissa Chairini on 25 August 2009 22:07:15 WIB
    Tell me this story is true! We do need heroes then and now, nationalists all the way!.Unselfish, unambitious, humble, loving and protecting their countrymen, where are they now?
    Marines, I salute you. Admiral Kushariadi, although you cannot save all the victims, but you saved Indonesia's name and face in the front of the world. Thank you.
    I wish all our leaders and military commanders are like you, how great Indonesia will be.

    Dimanapun dikau berada, bapak, semoga Allah SWT selalu memberkati dan menjaga bapak serta semua anak buah bapak yang terlibat pada hari2 yang mengenaskan itu.
  6. From a on 18 November 2009 16:06:39 WIB
    mr.arief .. if what you said is true, would you willing to testify, to bring justice. Let such thing never happen again in indonesia. and let those who kill, rape be persecuted in law and justice.. oh so much cruelty had been done to the woman..
  7. From Rena on 07 September 2011 18:56:47 WIB
    Kewl you shulod come up with that. Excellent!

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