Task force commander urges gradual end to counter-militancy operations in Poso

Dandy Koswaraputra
Task force commander urges gradual end to counter-militancy operations in Poso Arif Budiman, commander of the Madago Raya Task Force, speaks to a reporter at the police Mobile Brigade headquarters in Poso Pesisir, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, Feb. 26, 2022.
Dandy Koswaraputra/BenarNews

Although government forces have wiped out the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT) organization, counter-militancy operations in Central Sulawesi should be terminated gradually because sympathizers of extremist groups are still present there, a senior security official said.

Last week, authorities announced that they had killed the last armed member of MIT, after seven years of tracking a dwindling number of fugitives in the region’s forested mountains.

A decision is expected soon from authorities in Jakarta on what personnel are needed in Central Sulawesi to ensure that the province is safe post-MIT, senior Police Commissioner Arif Budiman told BenarNews.

“Radical groups and Jemaah Islamiyah sympathizers in Poso and its surroundings still exist,” Arif told BenarNews, referring to a regency that was a hotbed of MIT activity. He did not name groups other than JI, the al-Qaeda affiliate that carried out major bombings in Bali in 2002 and 2005.

Arif heads the 1,378-strong Madago Raya Task Force operating in three regencies of Central Sulawesi – the latest in a series of joint police and military operations deployed in the region since 2015.

He said that termination of such operations should be “carried out in stages.”

The last known MIT member, Al Ikhwarisman (also known as Jaid and Pak Guru), 34, was shot dead by members of Densus 88 in Poso Pesisir Utara district on Sept. 29, authorities said.

MIT was formed in 2010, rooted in the bloody conflict between the Muslim-Christian community in Poso that killed more than 1,000 people between 1998 and 2001. It was known for terrorizing local farmers, occasionally beheading them, and as the first militant group in Indonesia to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State, in June 2014.

The following year, Indonesia deployed a joint military-police security operation aimed at wiping out MIT, which at the time had about 40 members, including three foreigners. MIT’s leader at the time, Santoso, was killed in 2016.

Bambang Rukminto, an analyst at the Institute for Security and Strategic Studies (ISESS), said the police refusal to immediately disband the “ad-hoc” task force could be financially motivated.

“My guess is that one of the reasons is because of vested interests, the idea that the task force is a [lucrative] project,” Bambang told BenarNews.

Yanuardi Syukur, a researcher at the University of Indonesia’s Center for Strategic Policy Studies, said the operation should be wrapped up.

“Logically, when the last terrorist is removed, the operation is also over,” Yanuardi said.

Authorities could instead now engage religious leaders to promote religious moderation and award scholarships to young people in Poso to boost their education, he said.

“The government needs to win the hearts and minds of the people so that together they can live in peace,” he said.


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