Why It Matters

Jakarta's battle against terror

Indonesia's national police chief Tito Karnavian said last week that the elite Detachment 88 unit is being beefed up in the light of increased threats from local and international terror networks. There will be an additional 600 policemen assigned to the squad, bringing the total headcount to 1,300.

The push for such a significant increase would not have been possible had there not been bold efforts by General Tito in convincing Parliament, which holds authority over the country's purse strings.

Gen Tito, 53, is greatly respected in Indonesia. He personally led numerous high-profile terrorist raids, including one that resulted in the capture of top ideologue and strategist militant Noordin M. Top in 2009, and his subsequent promotion to be Detachment 88 chief.

He also holds a doctorate in terrorism and Islamic radicalisation from Singapore's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

His credentials go some way in explaining why Gen Tito, police chief since July 2016, only needed a few hearings and minimal lobbying to make his case.

Any increase in Indonesia's efforts to keep terrorism in check is good news for its neighbours. In 2016, Detachment 88 foiled a plot by a terror group to launch a rocket attack from Batam on Marina Bay.


Detachment 88's bigger headcount ensures better surveillance and intelligence gathering as it can now expand from assignments at province-level police stations to cover city and district levels as well.

This means better and faster detection, increasing chances that terror plots can be nipped in the bud.

But the police must bear in mind that headcount is not everything. More personnel without adequate equipment and well-funded quality training would not enable Detachment 88 to become stronger.

In Indonesia, money is not available in abundance and sometimes this gets in the way of the intended aims of projects. Quality matters too if Detachment 88 is to become a more effective unit.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2018, with the headline 'Jakarta's battle against terror'. Print Edition | Subscribe