Friday, September 25, 2009

Hunting Laksaur and Halilintar Militia - Maternus Bere and his friends.

This is an interesting account of ADF and NZDF battles with Laksaur/Halilintar militias on the Timor border. Maternus Bere and his Laksaur friends were a serious group of people with serious TNI friends.

Australians, Kiwis, Nepalese, Fijians etc died and were wounded fighting Bere and his Laksaur friends - what do they and their families/governments think of all this?

The account is slightly "over the top" as our Australians friends might say - but it is very informative about the kind of people that are now seemingly allowed to return to Timor, get arrested, and then be released.

From: Austrlian Military Magazine Australian Defence

Gone are the days of ratbags on motorcycles armed with pipeguns. The second generation Militiaman is fully uniformed in TNI cammos, is armed with a range of assault rifles (M-16, G-3, SKS and SS-V1), wears webbing, carries South Korean made fragmentation grenades and operates in well trained groups that make well reccied and planned random attacks on United Nations positions.

The supposed Laksaur and Halilinti (now pronounced Hali Linta) groups operating along Sector West's approaches bare all the marks of professional irregular Special Forces cadre similar to that operated by the Free World Forces in MACV – SOG during the Vietnam War. They may be arseholes, but these are talented and battle experienced arseholes.

Sooner or later it was bound to happen, but it was still an awful shock to Sector West's Australian and Kiwi battalions when the Militia killed their first Anzac on Monday July 24. During a routine follow up patrol, a five man team from the NZBAT's 2/1 RNZIR was tracking Militia sign near the village of Nano about 10 kilometres out of Suai when they were ambushed by what was believed to be a group of nine Militiamen from the Laksaur Group.

The Militia opened up with automatic weapons from less than 10 metres on the Kiwi patrol, firing from concealed positions in the undergrowth. The opening burst caught Kiwi grunt Pte Leonard Manning in the chest. The balance of Manning's patrol initiated a break contact drill firing their Steyrs, Minimis and six 40mm HE rounds from their M-203 unders, leaving Mannings' body in the field. It was only after regrouping that the Kiwis realised that they'd lost Pte Manning.

Leonard Manning was not recovered until the following day, after 150 reinforcements were air inserted to conduct sweeps of the area. The Militia scored his weapon, ammo, webbing and boots and had cut off his ear to take home as a trophy.

Manning's body was given a warrior's farewell; his comrades performed a haka as his coffin left for home. Men had died in East Timor before. A Kiwi had crashed his vehicle, and an Aussie had died of sickness. But Manning's death was more than the 1649th Blue Helmet to die in UN service. He was conclusive evidence that there was a hot, albeit low grade, war going on along the Indonesian frontier.

Instead of shaking WESTFOR's morale, Mannings' death brought a new sobriety to the troops along the border. Manning was the first Kiwi KIA since Lt. Kidd got knocked during 6RAR/NZ's second tour of Vietnam in 1970. After hearing that his ear was taken, the Kiwi rank and file have vowed to avenge his death. Manning was the first, but not the last Anzac to come home in a coffin, as the AUSBAT would find out a few weeks later.

Things may have been going the Militia's way, but 6RAR had a few tricks of their own up their sleeve. On June 22, Charlie Company OC decided that he would conduct a series of random Vehicle CheckPoints on the feeder roads out of Atambua into East Timor. The aim of the surprise VCPs was to keep the Militia off guard and add an element of unpredictability to the AUSBAT's border screening process.

The first surprise VCP was established at the roundabout in central Batugade where the Balibo Road intersects the road to Atambua via Motaaine. Charlie Coy wasn't at it long before a busload of East Timorese aroused their suspicions. A thorough search of the bus soon revealed two Militiamen, an M-16, an SKS and South Korean hand grenades.

Charlie Coy's two new mates were soon enjoying a long questioning period, but it was obvious to all that the AUSBAT was now facing a new dry season offensive. Local reports and sign of Militia passage picked up by trackers increased after Manning was KIA.

On August 2, less than a week after the Nano contact, a platoon minus patrol from Alpha Company 6RAR was following up sign six klicks out of Maliana. The lead section (Callsign 1/1 Charlie) was following hard sign down a creek bed, the scouts following a trail of still filling TNI boot prints, empty Gutang packets and cigarette butts when the signal to harbour up for the midday meal came.

Having sited the Minimis in all round defence, the patrol settled down to pick at their dehyd patrol rations when the Dig on the 12 o'clock gun noticed a group of three armed Militia coming down through the creek bed patrolling aggressively.

The patrolling pattern was a clear sign of 'intent' under the new robust definition of the ROEs, and the young Dig cut loose with the LSW into the lead bloke with 20 rounds before following up with 200 rounds on a second target.

After the opening bursts, which dropped one Militiaman armed with a K98 Mauser rifle, the Militia (supposedly from Halilinti) broke into a professional and swift break contact drill returning a large volume of fire on the Australian patrol and attempted to work around its flanks. Unseen Militia joined in the firefight, while the Alpha Six patrol put in a platoon attack in an attempt to cut off the Militia's escape.

During the consolidation phase of the platoon assault, a second blood trail was found which led to a second dead Militiamen armed with an SKS. In either a super staunch or drug addled frenzy, the Militiaman had run 200 metres with two SS109 rounds in the guts and one in the ankle before carefully taking up a fire position, placing out his ammo and grenades for easy access and preparing to fight a suicide delaying action to help his mates escape. Fortunately he died of blood loss before implementing his plan.

The Alpha Coy Digs were stoked with their success, with the exception of an M-79 that refused to fire during the battle, the manoeuvre under fire went smoothly. The soldiers had reacted exactly as they were trained and prevailed on the field.

The bodies of the two dead Militia told a big story. Clothed completely with TNI issue DPM uniforms and wearing basic webbing, the KIA Militia were clean- and shorthaired. Underneath their DPM they wore civilian clothes. They carried plenty of ammunition and grenades and had local fruit in their pockets. Weird talismans of silver coins and weird stringy bits of dark frayed organic material were worn in little crocheted bags around their necks along with quantities of a red pharmaceutical drug in thin clear sealed sachets. While not clinically tested it was suspected that the liquid was Ba – a new super speed which is sweeping Asia - which would go along way in explaining KIA Two's 200 metre final.

Trouble was again in the air a few days later (August 6) when the 6RAR Battalion Group was contacted twice within 30 minutes at opposite ends of its AO. In the first contact a patrol from Bravo Six spotted a group of three armed Militiamen wearing black T-shirts and TNI trousers inside East Timor near the coastal town of Batugade.

The Bravo Six Diggers twice challenged the Militia group warning them to put down their weapons, but after the second challenge one of the Militia raised his weapon and aimed it at the Australians. The Digs opened fire on the group, wounding one armed with an SKS and probably wounding another in the brief engagement.

Thirty-five kilometres east, a Section from Reconnaissance Platoon 6RAR was manning an OP near Maliana not far from the August 2 contact site. Recon had only just heard about the Batugade contact over the radio, and one Dig said, "I wish we could have a contact." At that moment a group of nine armed Militia strode into view and a Recon Minimi gunner opened up with a series of well aimed bursts at the intruders.

>Luck was with the lead Militia, when reacting to the Minimi burst he was literally blown into the only dead ground around. Recon maintained fire on the intruders for a minute while the Militia conducted a high speed organised break contact drill. "Shit they were fast," the Recon gunner reckoned.

Reaction to the increased rate of Militia incursions saw a number of changes within the 6RAR Group. Patrol Heavy - helmets and kevlar body armour – was instituted throughout the AO.

A detachment of four S-70 Blackhawk helicopters and support crews from the Townsville based 5 Aviation Regt and extra 6RAR Diggers were deployed to Balibo in early August, bringing the online 6RAR Group strength to almost 1100 personnel. The 5 Avn Det moved into the big hill to the west of Fort Balibo, and 1 CER Engineers dozed the top off the feature to provide four hard LZs for the Blackhawks and workshop and accommodation lines for the Avos.

Included in the 5 Aviation Det, were an Aero Medical Evacuation Team, who were soon at work with a run of accidents and WIA flowing in from the battlefield.

The following day near Maliana, August 9, a Steyr lying in a bundle of field equipment on the floor of a 2 Cav ASLAV –PC discharged accidentally fatally wounding 2 Cav Recon Scout section commander Corporal Stuart 'Monster' Jones. Monster Jones was rushed to 6RAR's Forward Aid Station at Maliana before being airlifted by the AME team Blackhawk to Dili where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

Monster died from an unfortunate accident, but there would soon be more combat casualties for UNTAET. Having banged their heads against the Aussie door and found it well guarded, the Militia groups focused their attention on the Fijian and Nepalese Company AOs south of the giant mount Foho Leo Laco that dominates the Maliana horizon.

The worst casualty rate of the entire East Timor deployment was about to occur. On August 10, four Nepalese infantry were wounded in action in two separate contacts with a large Militia force that had entered their sector of border. All were whinched out of the battlefield by the 5 Avn AME Team in a dramatic NVG night rescue mission. One of the Nepalese later died of his wounds.

The following day, August 11, a rubbish fire exploded injuring four Alpha Company Diggers at Junction Point Memo. While seriously injured, three of the four wounded Diggers are expected to return to duty with their Company by the time this issue hits the shelves. The fourth WIA is expected to make a complete recovery and return to light duties with the Group.

The accidental death of Monster Jones and the wounding of the Alpha Coy Digs at Memo certainly put on a downer on 6RAR which had been on a high since the successful Maliana contact. A moving ceremony was conducted on the bare hill overlooking Balibo to pay last respects to the fallen Recon Scout. ASLAVs lined up as an honour guard as the sun went down over the Savu Sea and another young Aussie Dig was farewelled by his mates during an Asian war. Hymns and tears flowed as the ASLAVs symbolically carried Monsters' empty Alice from the field, every soldier on that hill no doubt asking whether his mates will one day gather to say good bye to him on an East Timorese hill top.

Operations however could not stop. With the increased tension and reports of Militia activity throughout the border region, 6RARs Diggers and the armoured vehicle and helicopter crews are hard at it maintaining a solid presence throughout their Company AOs.

NZD's last night in AO Matilda (17 August 2000), the Fijian Company of the NZBAT fought a sharp contact with a group of four Laksaur Militia near Suai firing more than 40 rounds at the group and pursuing them as they fled into West Timor.

After the elation of INTERFET, and the brief pause in Ops due to the Monsoon the cold reality is that Australia's combat operations in East Timor are now far more intensive than ever.

After the speed and aggression of INTERFET's expansion Operations during September and November, the existing Militia were obviously too shocked to mount a coherent campaign of nuisance raids. Things have changed. The security environment within which 6RAR is operating has deteriorated seriously since the Militia and TNI were chased out of town pre Xmas.

Obviously the Militia and their sponsors within the Indonesian security apparatus have had time to think and have learned a few lessons. The Groups that violate the border now are serious Hombres. A&NZD suspects that they may be the paid uniformed irregulars seen riding TNI trucks with the Kopassus scarlet berets and balaclava wearing INTEL SF during the TNI's withdrawal from Dili. If so, these operators could have years of experience fighting Falintil behind them.Either way, the situation is far more serious than it was when INTERFET handed over to UNTAET in late February.

Prior to their deployment, the 6RAR Group's Digs copped a lot of slagging from INTERFET vets who teased them for being too late for the party. Four months after rotating in, 6RAR stands proud. The battalion may have missed the brilliant opening sequence of the ADF's East Timor story, but have no doubt that Six is doing The Hard Yards in a much more threatening environment than existed last year.

Despite Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister's claims to the contrary, the men of the 6RAR Battalion Group are facing an organised and well armed military incursion which is being actively aided by at least sections of the TNI's Bali based western command.

The nature of the Militia has changed too – the thousands of renta-thug Militia with their pipe guns, T-shirts and cigarette lighters have now given up the cause and turned into stand over criminals in Atambua and Kupang. What the Digs on the border are currently facing is a much smaller, very well trained and experienced irregular cadre who are good to very good in a rumble.

For a battalion that barely existed this time last year, 6RAR and its support units have given a sterling performance on the scrubby ridgelines of the Bobonaro Regency. After 16 weeks constant intensive security operations and two serious accidents, the men of 6RAR are still Mad Keen to hunt the raiders from over the border.

Credit, must go where credit is due. NZD has no doubt that 6RAR is finding more trouble because it has hunted the hardest. The professionalism and aggression of the 6RAR Groups' Digs is a credit to the ADF.

No doubt a combination of factors are contributing to the Group's achievements. The detailed preparation of the battalion prior to rotation, the steady build up of ADF operational experience in East Timor and a well respected command team have all contributed to the continued success of the Australian occupation of the border region.

Go down to any patrol base, junction point or company position and you'll walk away impressed with the quality of Ops and the dedication of the blokes in the paddock.

As this issue goes to press, tensions are building along the border. Sector West Command was openly canvassing the opinion that a major Militia offensive was expected to coincide with the first anniversary of the August 30 Independence Referendum. 30 August 200.