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The War Nerd May 29, 2003
Aceh vs. the Borg
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email
Page 3 of 3
To be honest, that's how counter-insurgency warfare works everywhere. But it's not pretty and sure doesn't make good TV. Now that everybody and his dog's got a video camera, it's tougher to do things the good ol' way.

That's what's been happening in Aceh in the past week: real old-school counter-insurgency blood'n'guts. Literally old "school": TNI seems to be specializing in burning schools this time. They've burned down almost every school in Aceh. They've taken a lot of men and boys out of the villages and shot them. No doubt they used standard TNI interrogation methods to get more names: beatings with rifle butts, electric shock on a wire stuck into your penis hole, that kind of thing.

Meanwhile the rebels, GAM, have laid low. That's standard guerrilla warfare too: when the Army comes in hard, you vanish. That means you let your own people get terrorized by the troops. Like I said, it ain't pretty but it's the way things are done. From GAM's way of looking at it, TNI's doing a great job of recruiting more GAM soldiers. Every time they shoot somebody, his brother volunteers to join GAM.

Nobody's sure how many men GAM has, but most estimates say 5,000 at least. That's pretty big for a guerrilla force, but I hear they're not very good soldiers yet. They do small ambushes mostly, and kill maybe 10 TNI soldiers per month. But they do have what every guerrilla group needs more than guns: a good network of informers all over the province. A guerrilla war is about intelligence, not so much combat. That's why TNI raids villages: to get information. That's why GAM doesn't defend the villages: it doesn't want battles, it wants the locals even more pissed-off at TNI, so they'll become informers for GAM.

The trouble is, wars like this turn into long stalemates real easy. This could go on for 20, 30 years. TNI officers will stage a few offensives, brag about the body count, and go back home to Java with a medal and some loot. Then GAM will play up the locals' anger, recruit some more guerrillas, and ambush a few dumb privates who don't even know where they are. That's the way it goes, and it can go on like that forever.East Timor would still be bleeding if the UN hadn't finally stepped in. What happens next on Aceh doesn't depend on the locals, or the TNI. It'll be decided by what happens in the rest of Indonesia -- especially if the other rebellions get hot -- and what's decided in DC, and in the UN. Until something big and dramatic happens far away, this will drag on, a nice little war that makes a few TNI officers rich and a whole lot of villagers dead.
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Gary Brecher
Browse author
Email Gary at, but, more importantly, buy his book.

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Save The eXile: The War Nerd Calls Mayday
The future of The eXile is in your hands! We're holding a fundraiser to save the paper, and your soul. Tune in to Gary Brecher's urgent request for reinforcements and donate as much as you can. If you don't, we'll be overrun and wiped off the face of the earth, forever.

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Everybody complains about celebrities, but nobody does anything about them. People, it’s time to stop fretting about whether we’re a celebrity-obsessed culture—we are, we have been, we’re going to be—and instead take practical steps to clean up the celebrity-obsessed culture we’ve got...


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