Trikora Operation, the Giant Military Aimed to Free West Papua from the Dutch

Dutch colony - pinterest.com
Dutch colony - pinterest.com

In respect to the negotiations undertaken by Indonesia and Dutch in 1945-1949, West Papua (then West Irian Jaya) should be handed to Indonesia as late as 1950. Even according to the principle of uti possidetis juris, West Papua should automatically become a region under Indonesian administration. However, the Dutch did not act according to the principle or negotiation which had taken place.

Even after the Dutch-Indonesia Round Table Conference in 1949, in which the Kingdom of Netherland (Dutch) agreed with the independence of Indonesia, they still retained sovereignty over West Papua. The promise of declaring West Papua as a part of Indonesia at least a year after the Round Table Conference never became a reality.

Indonesia’s government saw that the Dutch had no intention to keep the agreement they made in the Round Table Conference. In response, Indonesia withdrew from the Netherland-Indonesia Union. This also marked the moment when the young nation realized that the diplomacy did not work effectively, therefore: they continued the fight to annex West Papua through military force.

People’s Triple Command

Trikora - wordpress.com
Trikora – wordpress.com

Since the negotiation with the Kingdom of Netherland about West Papua did not show any positive sign, Indonesia decided to use the military to invade their administration in the region. On December 19, 1961, Sukarno as the president of Indonesia at the time declared Trikora, an abbreviation for Tri Komando Rakyat (People’s Triple Command), in Yogyakarta.

The content of Trikora, as the name suggests, consisted of three commands. Firstly, Trikora aimed to prevent the Dutch from forming a puppet State of West Papua. This command was a response to the Dutch’s effort to establish a puppet country in West Papua instead of handing the administration to Indonesia.

Secondly, Trikora asked people to fly the red and white flag (Indonesia’s national flag) in West Papua. It was a symbolic action to show that West Papua was under Indonesia’s sovereignty. Thirdly, Trikora commanded people to get ready for mass mobilization as an attempt to defend Indonesia’s independence and unity.

To implement these commands, President Sukarno formed the Mandala Command. Led by Commander Soeharto (who later became the next president of the country), Mandala Command was in charge of strategic planning, preparation, and implementation of the military operation in West Papua.

Giant Military Operation in West Papua

Papua - ibiblio.org
Papua – ibiblio.org

During Trikora, Indonesia had a good bilateral relation with Uni Soviet, which made the country got the support from the then one of the greatest nations in the world. The diplomacy behind this cooperation was undertaken in December 1960 when General A. H. Nasution visited Moscow to buy military logistics. The diplomacy went well and Indonesia could get ammunition worth of US$ 2.5 billion—paid in a long term.

Using the war logistics from Uni Soviet, Indonesia got massive advanced naval and air forces, including the largest warship with giant cannons called KRI Irian. In term of size and strength, KRI Irian was proportional to the United States’ best warships such as USS Wisconsin, USS Missouri, and USS Iowa. With such power, Indonesia was considered as the strongest military in the southern hemisphere at the time.

Indonesian military also prepared for airports which were ruined by the war—many of them were located on the border of Maluku and West Papua. In 1961, at least 14 military airports near the border were ready for mass mobilization against the Dutch troops in West Papua. However, the attack did not take place right away since the strategies used by Indonesia’s military forces were divided into three stages as explained below.

  1. Infiltration—in which more than 10 companies of the military forces infiltrated the strategic area in West Papua and built strong military bases with the help of West Papuans. Within eight months in 1962, Indonesia had successfully insert 562 soldiers by sea and 1154 by air drops to West Papua.
  2. Exploitation—was an open attack on the Dutch military bases which had been infiltrated beforehand so that the area had not only Indonesian troops but also military logistics. The biggest attack was called Jayawijaya Operation—it was the biggest amphibious operation in the history of Indonesian Navy. The operation involved 100 warships and 16,000 marines.
  3. Consolidation—was the process to enforce Indonesian law in West Papua to show that the region had officially become part of the country.

The giant military operation had made the Dutch recognized Indonesians’ determination to annex West Papua. The Dutch was also pressurized by the U.S. which advised for peaceful conflict resolution instead of continuing military fight against Indonesia. As a response, the Dutch was willing to sign the New York Agreement on August 15, 1962, so that the Jayawijaya Operation was called off.

The New York Agreement was an important point in changing the status of West Papua from the Dutch’s colony to be a part of Indonesia. The whole Trikora Operation had played a big role in making it happen since after the agreement, the West Papuans decided to join Indonesia.