Leonardus Benjamin Moerdani

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LB Moerdani
Leonardus Benjamin Moerdani as Commander of the Indonesian National Armed Forces.jpg
Leonardus Benjamin Moerdani
Nickname(s)Benny Moerdani
Born(1932-10-02)October 2, 1932
Cepu, Central Java, Dutch East Indies
DiedAugust 29, 2004(2004-08-29) (aged 71)
Jakarta, Indonesia
Allegiance Indonesia
Service/branchIndonesian Army
Years of service1945–1988
RankJenderal pdh ad.png General
UnitStudent Army (Tentara Pelajar)
Army Commando Unit (KKAD)
Army Paracommando Regiment (RPKAD)
Battles/warsIndonesian National Revolution
Operation Trikora
Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation
Indonesian invasion of East Timor

Leonardus Benjamin Moerdani (also publicly known as LB Moerdani or Benny Moerdani) (2 October 1932 – 29 August 2004) was the ABRI Commander from 1983 to 1988 and also served as Indonesia's Minister of Defense and Security. He is famous due to his strong stance in many decisive situations in Indonesian political and social life, he was also significant as a leader who was Catholic in a predominantly Muslim community.

Early life[edit]

Moerdani was born on 2 October 1932 at Cepu, Central Java to R.G. Moerdani Sosrodirjo, a railway worker and his Indo Eurasian wife Jeanne Roech, who was half German. Moerdani was the 3rd out of 11 children. Although a Muslim, Moerdani Sosrodirjo tolerated his wife's and in their turn, his children's Catholic faith.[1]

Military career[edit]

Early Military Career[edit]

After the Indonesian Declaration of Independence on 17 August 1945, Moerdani was caught up in the wave of nationalism. In October 1945, aged just 13, Moerdani took part in an assault on a Kempeitai headquarters in Solo after the Kempetai refused to surrender to the Indonesian troops;[2] when the People's Security Army (TKR), the precursor to the ABRI was formed, Moerdani joined a Student Army (Tentara Pelajar) which came under the authority of an ABRI Brigade. From this brigade, Moerdani took part in the Indonesian National Revolution against the Netherlands, the highlight of which saw him participating in a successful general offensive on Solo.

Once Indonesia's independence was safely secured, Moerdani took the opportunity to complete his education, graduating from middle school and going on to high school; in the meantime taking a part-time job helping his uncle sell goods.[3] In 1951, the Indonesian Government began undertaking demobilization but Moerdani's brigade was deemed to have performed well enough for its soldiers to continue serving with ABRI. Moerdani, together with his brigade enlisted with the Army Officers Education Center (P3AD) and began training in January 1951. At the same time, Moerdani also took part in the Infantry Trainers School (SPI).

Moerdani completed his military education from P3AD in April 1952 and from SPI in May 1952,[4] he was also given the rank of Chief Warrant Officer. 2 years later, in 1954, Moerdani received his commission as a Second Lieutenant and was stationed at TT III Siliwangi, which looked after the security of West Java.


In a bid to deal with the threat of Darul Islam, Colonel Alex Evert Kawilarang, the Commander of TT III Siliwangi formed the TT III Siliwangi Commando Unit (Kesko TT III), their success interested the Army Headquarters in Jakarta to endorse the formation of a Special Forces Unit. As such, in 1954, the Army Commando Unit (KKAD) was formed. Moerdani was assigned as a trainer for the soldiers wishing to join KKAD and was appointed Head of the Teaching Bureau. In 1956, KKAD went through a name change, and it was now known as the Army Paracommando Regiment (RPKAD). Not long after, Moerdani was appointed a Company Commander.[5]

As a member of RPKAD, Moerdani became part of the battle to suppress the Revolutionary Government of the Republic of Indonesia (PRRI), a Sumatran-based separatist group. In March 1958, Moerdani parachuted down behind enemy lines in Pekanbaru and Medan to prepare the groundwork for ABRI to take over the two cities. A month later, on 17 April 1958, Moerdani took part in Operation 17 August, an operation which struck the killing blow on the PRRI rebellion.[6] Moerdani's next assignment was to take care of the Universal Struggle Charter (Permesta), another separatist group in Sulawesi. Similar to what he did in Sumatra, Moerdani and his troops laid down the foundations for an all out attack on Permesta who surrendered in June 1958.

After PRRI and Permesta's surrenders, Moerdani, was stationed in Aceh. In the beginning of 1960, he contemplated becoming an Army Aircraft Pilot but was dissuaded from it by Ahmad Yani who sent him to the United States to join the United States Army Infantry School at Fort Benning. There, Moerdani took part in an Infantry Officers Advanced Course and trained with the 101st Airborne Division.

Moerdani returned to Indonesia in 1961 to find ABRI preparing itself for a takeover of West Irian, his first assignment was to train the paratroopers who was supposed to land behind enemy lines and infiltrate. As the months went on, the infiltration did not bring concrete results. In May 1962, Moerdani was assigned to lead a paratroop drop which consisted of RPKAD and Kostrad soldiers.[7] After landing in West Irian in late June 1962, Moerdani led his troops in fighting skirmishes against members of the Dutch Marine until the United Nations interfered in August 1962 and decided in giving West Irian to Indonesia. Once there was a ceasefire, Moerdani was placed in charge of all the guerilla troops in West Irian.

By 1964, Moerdani was back in Jakarta again, his achievements during the West Irian campaign had caught the eye of President Sukarno who wanted to recruit him as a Presidential Bodyguard and marry him to one of his daughters.[8] Moerdani held his ground and rejected both offers.

In 1964, Moerdani and an RPKAD Battalion was sent to Borneo to fight a guerilla war against Malaysian and British troops as part of the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation. However, he did not spend a long time at Borneo, returning to Jakarta by September. At this stage, Moerdani had once again contemplated on expanding his career this time trying to decide between a career as a territorial commander in Borneo or as a military attaché, he picked the latter and had asked for a posting in Beijing.

At the end of 1964, a meeting of RPKAD officers was held and Moerdani was invited along; the topic of the meeting was to discuss removing crippled soldiers from RPKAD to which Moerdani objected.[9] News of Moerdani's objection found its way to Yani, who was now the Army Commander. Yani summoned Moerdani and accused him of insubordination; the meeting ended with Yani ordering Moerdani to move from RPKAD to Kostrad. Moerdani handed over command of his RPKAD battalion on 6 January 1965.


Moerdani's move from RPKAD to Kostrad had been a sudden one and there had been no position prepared for him, his first post was as an officer attached to the Operations and Training Bureau. His luck changed when Lieutenant Colonel Ali Murtopo found out that he was part of Kostrad. Having been acquainted with Moerdani during the West Irian campaign, Ali recognized Moerdani's potential and wanted to further develop it. Coincidentally, Ali at the time was the Intelligence Assistant for the 1st Battle Command, a Kostrad unit stationed in Sumatra in preparation for an invasion of Malaysia. Ali recruited Moerdani to be Deputy Intelligence Assistant and gave him his first taste of intelligence work.

In addition to becoming Deputy Intelligence Assistant, Moerdani also became part of Ali's Special Operations (Opsus) intelligence team, his task was to gather intelligence on Malaysia from Bangkok under the cover of being a Garuda Indonesia ticket seller.[10] As 1965 wore on, his assignment also covered sending messages out by Army officers who were not interested in Confrontation to the Malaysian Government for the prospect of gaining a peaceful settlement.

After the 30 September Movement was crushed on 1 October 1965 by Kostrad Commander Major General Suharto, Moerdani's activities intensified, he was joined by Ali and together they began working at laying the foundations for an end of the Confrontation. Their efforts culminated on 11 August 1966 when the Indonesian and Malaysian Government signed an agreement to normalise relations between the two nations.

Diplomatic career[edit]

Although peace had been reached, Moerdani stayed in Malaysia as chargé d'affaires, his first task was to ensure the release of Indonesian soldiers and guerilla fighters which had been caught during Confrontation.[11] In March 1968, with an ambassador finally assigned to Malaysia, Moerdani became the head of the Indonesian Consulate in Western Malaysia. At the same time, he continued being part of Opsus with the assignment of conducting surveillance on the goings on in the Vietnam War.

At the end of 1969, Moerdani was transferred to Seoul to become the Indonesian Consul General at South Korea. In 1973, Moerdani's status was upgraded from Consul General to chargé d'affaires.

Intelligence Officer[edit]

Moerdani's diplomatic career came to an abrupt end with the Malari Incident in Jakarta in January 1974 and within a week of the incident, Moerdani had returned to Jakarta. President Suharto immediately gave him a collection of positions which gave him a lot of power. Moerdani became the Intelligence Assistant to the Minister of Defense and Security, Intelligence Assistant to the Commander of the Operational Command for the Restoration of Security and Order (Kopkamtib), Head of the Strategic Intelligence Centre (Pusintelstrat), and Deputy Head of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (Bakin).[12]

In 1975, Moerdani became deeply involved with the matter of East Timor's decolonization. In August 1975, Moerdani began sending Indonesian soldiers under the guise of volunteers to begin infiltrating East Timor;[11] the situation intensified on 28 November 1975 when Fretilin declared East Timor's independence. The intelligence operation was ceased and a military operation, Operation Seroja was set up in its stead. Despite it not being an intelligence operation, Moerdani continued to be involved, this time as the planner of the invasion, his method in planning the invasion drew the ire of colleagues because it kept some high command officers, such as Deputy ABRI Commander Surono and Kostrad Commander Leo Lopulisa in the dark when they should have been involved in the planning process.[13]

On 28 March 1981, Garuda Indonesia Flight 206, which was supposed to be flying from Jakarta to Medan was hijacked; the news arrived to Moerdani at Ambon where he was attending an ABRI Leadership meeting with ABRI Commander M Jusuf. Moerdani immediately left the meeting to go to Jakarta to prepare to take action, in the mean time the hijacked aircraft had landed at Bangkok's Don Muang Airport. Moerdani met with Suharto and secured the President's permission to use force in a bid to release the hostages; the rationale being that the hijackers should not be allowed to intimidate the aircraft pilots into flying to other countries.[14]

Accompanied by troops from the Battle Intelligence Troop Commando (Kopassandha), formerly RPKAD, Moerdani left for Thailand. Although his plan encountered some resistance, particularly from the Thai Government, there was finally an agreement to take the military action. On the morning of 31 March 1981, Moerdani personally led the Kopassandha troops to storm the aircraft, take back control of it, and save the hostages.

Commander of ABRI[edit]


In March 1983, Moerdani reached the pinnacle of his Military career when Suharto named him as the Commander-in-Chief of ABRI and promoted him to the rank of full General. During the inauguration ceremony, Suharto gave recognition to Moerdani's loyalty by personally placing Moerdani's epaulettes on his shoulder.

Moerdani reached this position with the distinction of having never commanded a unit bigger than a battalion and having not served as a Regional Military Commander (Kodam) and Army Chief of Staff. In addition to the Commandership of ABRI, Moerdani was also appointed Commander of Kopkamtib, and retained his position in Pusintelstrat, which was renamed Strategic Intelligence Body (BAIS). Unlike previous New Order ABRI Commanders, Moerdani was not appointed Minister of Defense and Security.

Reorganization of ABRI[edit]

Moerdani immediately took steps to reorganize ABRI, listing cutting costs, improving efficiency, and improving professionalism as his immediate goals.[15]

With regards to command structure, Moerdani first eliminated the Defense Territory Command (Kowilhan), a command structure that had been created in 1969, he then revamped the regional commands system for the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The Army's Regional Military Commands (Kodam) were reduced from 16 to 10, the Navy's 8 Regional Naval Commands (Kodaeral) were streamlined into 2 Armada Headquarters, and the Air Force's 8 Regional Air Force Commands (Kodau) were similarly streamlined into 2 Operation Command;[16] the Police was also reorganized with red tape being cut to allow Police forces at the lowest levels to take immediate actions.

Moerdani also worked towards decreasing the non-military portion of the ABRI Academy (Akabri) curriculum. To improve the quality of the Academy's input as well as to strengthen the nationalist base, Moerdani conceptualized a senior high (pre-Academy) school to train the nation's brightest talents to later become members of the national elite group (the school, Taruna Nusantara, is now running and located side-by-side with the ABRI Academy in Magelang). Moerdani also improved cooperation between the Armed Forces of ASEAN countries.[17]

Tanjung Priok Incident[edit]

Moerdani's Catholic background would come to the forefront in 1984 when together with KODAM V/Jaya Commander, Try Sutrisno, he ordered a crackdown on Islamist protesters at Tanjung Priok, Jakarta which resulted in deaths. Moerdani claimed that the protesters had been provoked and could not be controlled peacefully and as a result he ordered the crackdown.[18] Moerdani insisted that he never wanted to persecute Muslim and conducted visits to Muslim schools all around Java to improve his image with Muslims.

As ABRI Commander-in-Chief, Moerdani was arguably the de facto second most powerful man in social and political aspects of the Republic, after Suharto.

Political career[edit]

1988 People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) General Session[edit]

By 1988, Moerdani's relationship with Suharto had soured. Although he was loyal to Suharto, Moerdani was assertive enough to criticize the President for the corruption and nepotism in the regime. By this time, Moerdani had also made an enemy out of Prabowo Subianto, Suharto's son in law.

1988 was an important year as it was the year of an MPR General Session, the venue in which the President and the Vice President is elected. As the General Session approached, Suharto began making signs that he wanted Sudharmono as his Vice President. According to Kivlan Zen, a close associate of Prabowo, this ran contrary to Moerdani, who wanted to become Vice President himself;[19] as such, this seemed to have been the reason for Moerdani's discharge from the position of ABRI Commander in February 1988, although according to Robert Elson, this was done more because Suharto did not want Moerdani to be in control of ABRI when Sudharmono was nominated. Robert Elson theorized of the possibility of Sudharmono's Vice Presidency being the final step before the Indonesian Presidency itself.[20]

Moerdani did not seem to give up; the same month the top brass of Golkar met to discuss the MPR General Session. On the matter of the Vice Presidential candidate the Bureaucrats and Functional factions unanimously agreed to nominate Sudharmono; the ABRI faction's nomination was delayed, with Moerdani continuing to procrastinate by claiming that he had not discussed the Vice Presidential nomination with Suharto yet. When pressured, Moerdani expressed his concern about Sudharmono's nomination although he did not give a specific reason. At one stage, he began giving subliminal signals that Try should be nominated as Vice President. Try did not pick up on this and along with the other officers convinced a reluctant Moerdani that the ABRI Faction's Vice Presidential candidate will be Sudharmono.

Many believed that Moerdani was responsible for the controversy that continued to dog Sudharmono's nomination, it was believed that Brigadier General Ibrahim Saleh's attack on Sudharmono and the nomination of the United Development Party (PPP) Chairman Jaelani Naro as Vice President was Moerdani's work. Nevertheless, Suharto's will came through in the end and Sudharmono was elected Vice President.

Minister of Defense and Security[edit]

Despite his attempts to block Sudharmono, Suharto did not demote Moerdani and appointed him as the Minister of Defense and Security. However, Moerdani would lose most of his powers in September 1988 with the disbandment of Kopkamtib.

During his term as Minister, Moerdani was accused of planning a coup against Suharto;[21] this prompted Suharto to promise a harsh crackdown on anyone who dared to replace him unconstitutionally.

1993 MPR General Session[edit]

Before the 1993 MPR General Session, Moerdani was seen as the engineer of ABRI's pre-emptive nomination of Try as Vice President. Suharto was displeased with the nomination and only accepted Try reluctantly. Suharto's consolation was that he did not name Moerdani to the next Cabinet.


Moerdani died on 29 August 2004 in Jakarta from stroke.


International Honours[edit]

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • L.B. Moerdani, 1932-2004.- Festschrift in honor of Leonardus Benjamin Moerdani, former Commander in chief of the Indonesian Armed Forces and Minister for Defense.

Jakarta: Centre for Strategic and International Studies. ISBN 979-8026-87-X (In Indonesian, some articles in English).


  1. ^ Pour, Julius (2007). Benny: Tragedi Seorang Loyalis (in Indonesian). Jakarta: Kata Hasta Pustaka. pp. 13–14. ISBN 978-979-1056-10-6.
  2. ^ Pour, Julius (2007). Benny: Tragedi Seorang Loyalis. p. 18.
  3. ^ Pour, Julius (2007). Benny: Tragedi Seorang Loyalis. p. 33.
  4. ^ Pour, Julius (2007). Benny: Tragedi Seorang Loyalis. p. 36.
  5. ^ Pour, Julius (2007). Benny: Tragedi Seorang Loyalis. p. 42.
  6. ^ Pour, Julius (2007). Benny: Tragedi Seorang Loyalis. pp. 60–69.
  7. ^ Pour, Julius (2007). Benny: Tragedi Seorang Loyalis. p. 87.
  8. ^ Pour, Julius (2007). Benny: Tragedi Seorang Loyalis. pp. 104–105.
  9. ^ Pour, Julius (2007). Benny: Tragedi Seorang Loyalis. p. 132.
  10. ^ Pour, Julius (2007). Benny: Tragedi Seorang Loyalis. pp. 141–142.
  11. ^ a b Pour, Julius (2007). Benny: Tragedi Seorang Loyalis. p. 163.
  12. ^ Pour, Julius (2007). Benny: Tragedi Seorang Loyalis. p. 184.
  13. ^ Area Studies: East Timor (r) Archived 2007-08-22 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ Pour, Julius (2007). Benny: Tragedi Seorang Loyalis. p. 213.
  15. ^ Pour, Julius (2007). Benny: Tragedi Seorang Loyalis. p. 239.
  16. ^ Pour, Julius (2007). Benny: Tragedi Seorang Loyalis. p. 243.
  17. ^ Pour, Julius (2007). Benny: Tragedi Seorang Loyalis. p. 242.
  18. ^ Pour, Julius (2007). Benny: Tragedi Seorang Loyalis. p. 264.
  19. ^ Uba (30 August 2004). "Arsitek Intelijen Itu Telah Pergi". Republika. Retrieved 2007-01-13.
  20. ^ Elson, Robert (2001). Suharto: A Political Biography. UK: The Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge. pp. 258–259. ISBN 0-521-77326-1.
  21. ^ SIB (5 October 2006). "Kivlan dan Prabowo Dukung Habibie, Cegah Benny Moerdani Jadi Presiden". Sinar Indonesia. Retrieved 2007-01-13.[permanent dead link]
  22. ^ "Semakan Penerima Darjah Kebesaran, Bintang dan Pingat".
Military offices
Preceded by
Deputy Intelligence Assistant
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Mohammad Jusuf
Commander-in-Chief of the Indonesian Armed Forces
March 28, 1983 – February 27, 1988
Succeeded by
Try Sutrisno
Preceded by
Commander of Kopkamtib
March 29, 1983 – September 5, 1988
Government offices
Preceded by
Indonesian Minister of Defence
March 23, 1988 – March 17, 1993
Succeeded by
Edi Sudrajat