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The 1991 PUKUL HABIS, Total Wipeout

In 1991, the Malaysia and Indonesia armies staged a parachute drop just 20km from Woodlands. It was codenamed “Pukul Habis” which means total wipeout in Malay.

The official military exercise name was “Malindo Darasa 3AB” – joint forces by Malaysia and Indonesia. Darasa means air, sea and land.

The point of this exercise was to test the cooperation and response between Malaysia and Indonesia in case a neighbouring country turns hostile against one of these two countries.

Here are 5 things you need to know about this operation which has everything to do with us.

  1. The military exercise was conducted on Singapore’s 26th National Day celebrations

It was scheduled on 9 August 1991 in Johor, the same day when Singapore separated from Malaysia to become an independent and sovereign state.

According to an anonymous Malaysian blog commenter who was based in Kluang (2-hr car ride from Singapore) in 1991, this exercise was not a “secret” as it was a scheduled bi-annual exercise between Indonesia and Malaysia.

When asked about the timing of the airdrop on Singapore’s National Day, the Malaysian commenter agreed that the timing was insensitive and could have been shifted.

However, he explained that Malaysian field exercises are driven by the availability of commercial agricultural land.

That means the timing would always be in between planting cycles or when the crops are due for replanting. This is to prevent the military from forking out a high compensation amount for damaged crops.

But why choose to conduct the operation on Singapore’s National Day? There can’t just be one good date for the availability of the commercial agricultural land right?

  1. The entire army was activated to be on standby

More than 300 paratroopers from Malaysia and Indonesia were involved in the airborne assault in Kota Tinggi, Southern Johor. There were parachute drops and live firing.

MINDEF triggered a massive open mobilisation on National Day Eve (8 August 1991) and recalled thousands of troops. NSmen were called back. Live ammo and new weapons were distributed. Armour and artillery assets were deployed to staging areas.

Some were mobilised to sit along the edges of the Malaysian railway in Tanjong Pagar with live ammo. Soldiers were also deployed to plant live mines around Singapore.

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  1. Lee Kuan Yew just passed the baton over to Goh Chok Tong

It was a period of change in Singapore as Lee Kuan Yew stepped down as Singapore’s first Prime Minister in 1990. Goh Chok Tong was formally sworn in on 28 November 1990.

Lee Kuan Yew did not think that Malaysia and Indonesia would actually invade Singapore but regarded these exercises at Singapore’s doorstep as a threat and test of Singapore’s bottom line.

  1. First time six codes were flashed on TV for open mobilisation

According to a forum commenter, it was the first time six codes were flashed on TV for open mobilisation.

An open mob is a serious type of mobilisation where all traditional broadcast media outlets like TV and radio will show the mobilisation notice and code words.

Most of the time, there are usually only four code words flashed on TV. So when you see six codes on TV, you can be sure that something serious is brewing.

  1. It’s a hush-hush matter

This matter was never well-publicized. It’s probably for diplomatic reasons but it’s an important learning lesson for Singaporeans. Especially towards those who feel strongly that our defence budget should be cut.

We should take the security of our nation seriously.

In a nutshell…

The name of the military exercise, the choice of the drop zone and the date of the airdrop on were definitely provocative. While we enjoy warm ties with our neighbouring countries, there are always undercurrents in our bilateral relations.

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