The Jakarta Post
The Tinombala police-military operation to hunt down the remaining members of the East Indonesia Mujahidin (MIT) terrorist group in Poso, Central Sulawesi, has been extended once again, as authorities suspect the group had recruited new members.
The latest extension to the joint operation was made in December 2018 and will last until April 2019, making it one of the longest terrorist manhunts in the Reform Era.
Central Sulawesi Police spokesperson Adj. Sr. Comr. Hery Murwono said that the new recruits of the terror group – currently led by Ali Kalora – were already placed on the police’s most wanted list.
"The group's membership has now increased to 14,” Hery told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.
After former MIT leader Santoso, alias Abu Wardah, was killed in a firefight in July 2016 and following numerous security operations, it was reported that the group had only seven remaining members, including Ali Kalora.
The police subsequently revealed that the MIT had grown to 10 members.
In December 2018, a miner in Salubanga subdistrict of Central Sulawesi's Parigi Moutong regency was found dead and his body mutilated. The police sent out to recover the miner's body were attacked by unidentified gunmen, and two officers suffered gunshot wounds.
The police suspected the MIT group of being behind the miner's killing and the attack on police.
Originally Initiated in January 2016 to hunt down then-MIT leader Santoso and his supporters, Operation Tinombala has been extended several times. The operation is itself an extension to 2015’s Operation Camar Maleo.
Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, a retired military general who was the coordinating legal, political and security affairs minister in 2016, said at the time: “No one knows how long the operation will last. We are going to continue to hunt [them down].”
By Sunday, authorities had deployed about 1,000 combined personnel from the National Police’s elite mobile brigade (Brimob) unit and the Indonesian Military’s (TNI) Raider Battalion under Operation Tinombala.
“I heard that 1,000 police and TNI personnel are already in Poso,” said a police officer who requested anonymity.
The Post observed dozens of TNI personnel as they arrived on Wednesday at Poso's Kasiguncu Airport aboard two EADS CASA C-295 military transport aircraft.
The heads of the TNI and police units in Poso both refused to comment on the troops' arrival.
University of Indonesia terrorism expert Ridlwan Habib said that while Operation Tinombala had been effective in hunting down Santoso and neutralizing the MIT's threat, Ali Kalora and the remaining members of the group still needed to be apprehended to prevent the MIT from consolidating and attracting help from terror networks outside of Poso.
Observer Al Chaidar agreed, saying that the operation had rooted out 90 percent of the MIT's terrorist threat, but that the remaining 10 percent also needed to be eradicated.
"The military's involvement is needed to stamp out this kind of localized terrorist group, because [the TNI] has the training and experience from places like Mindanao and Maluku," Chaidar said on Monday.
The two experts concurred that Ali Kalora lacked Santoso's military skills, which made him less of a threat.
"He does not have any skills as a commander," said Ridlwan. "He is only good at surviving by robbing from the residents' land."
But Sidney Jones, the Jakarta director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), differed in her views, saying that solid intelligence was key to finding Ali Kalora and determining the group's potential for recruitment through its old networks as well as among newly released terror convicts.
"Obviously, some combat personnel are needed, but good intelligence is critical. You don't need hundreds of soldiers and police, you need people who can make use of informants," she said. "I'm sure there are institutional pressures to continue Tinombala, but the focus should be on the quality of the personnel, not the quantity.” (ipa)