1. The year was 1977. The 18th Battalion, Royal Malay Regiment was established a year earlier, and being commanded by its first Commanding Officer, Lt Col Abdul Rahman Lassim, a strict disciplinarian, and a no nonsense sort of person. For those who had long been associated with him, he is fondly known as “Rahman Rimau”.
2. The battalion is mainly manned by soldiers who had just completed their basic training at the Recruit Training Centre, Port Dickson. These are soldiers who were virtually ‘picked up from the villages’ and with minimum acceptable educational standard. The purpose is to evaluate soldiers competency against their educational standard, and to see if there is correlations between minimum acceptable educational standards and competency level achieved by these soldiers.
3. A few months of continuous battalion retraining for these new soldiers , the battalion was finally declared the operational, with a grand parade to mark the occasion.
4. The first opportunity given to the battalion to prove its prowess in jungle operations, was to be part of a bilateral Thai-Malaysian military operations to be conducted astride the Malaysia-Thai border, in the northern states of Kedah and Perlis. The bilateral operation was code named “Ops Doyai-Musnah”, which also gave the opportunity for Malaysian troops to exercise ‘hot pursuit operations’ inside Thailand. The battalion was to be placed under command of HQ 6th Infantry Brigade, for this operation, whose commander was Brig Gen Dato Osman Zain (now retired in the rank of Maj Gen).
5. A few months following the termination of Ops Doyai-Musnah, the battalion was ordered to be deployed to Telemong, Pahang; the hotbed of communist terrorist (CT) activities during the notorious First Malayan Emergency. And being a newly established battalion, the deployment to Pahang in search of remnants of Chong Chor’s infamous 6th Assault Unit, is another feather in the cap for the battalion.
6. The deployment to Telemong was to be a regular battalion deployment. But fate works in mysterious ways, and for this new battalion, the deployment was to be a proud and an historical achievement for the battalion, when the battalion successfully captured a total of 13 militant CTs in a single operation.
7. Let me briefly relate to the readers the glorious year of 1977, and the unfolding historical events that led to the battalion’s success, that had remained untold through all these years.
8. The order to deploy to Pahang was initiated by HQ 1st Infantry Brigade, than based at Terendak , Melaka. While in Pahang, the battalion was placed under command of HQ 4th Infantry Division under the command of Maj Gen Dato Wan Ismail (now retired).
9. Upon arriving Telemong, the battalion occupied the village Civic Centre (Balai Rakyat) as its HQ, with the companies deployed at its assigned locations. I, who was than a Company Commander, was called in to help man the Battalion HQ. The Commanding Officer being his routine, will always be out on the move, to keep a close watch on the activities of the companies.
10. A week or two into the operations, the Battalion HQ was to become a centre for a highly secret and confidential meeting place between senior military commanders and the Police Special Branch (SB). However, prior to this event, the Commanding Officer was summoned to attend a briefing at the Royal Malaysia Police HQ, Bukit Aman, Kuala Lumpur. The briefing was attended by non other than the Chief of Defence Forces (CDF), Gen Tan Sri Ibrahim Ismail (now retired Gen Tun Ibrahim), General Officer Commanding (GOC) HQ 2 Infantry Division, Maj Gen Dato Mahmud Sulaiman (now retired) and the host, the Inspector of Police (IGP), Tan Sri Hanif Omar (now retired Tun Hanif) himself. Also present were VAT 69 Commander, DSP Navaratnam (retired) and Military Intelligence Officer, Maj Otto Ong (retired).
11. This high level briefing was to deliberate on a joint military-police operation in the Telemong-Karak area; the success of which will impact on the future activities of the 6th Assault Unit in the entire state of Pahang.
12. The briefing proceeded with the Police Head of Special Branch (HSB), providing the full intelligence scenario concerning CT activities within the Pahang state, with special emphasis to the Telemong-Karak area. This was followed by an intense discussion as to the modus operandi to adopted for this special operation.
13. The HSB had proposed that the VAT 69 be used for this operation. Lt Col Abdul Rahman Lassim rebutted and suggested that “since my battalion is already positioned at Telemong, it will only be proper that the battalion be given this task”. To this suggestion, the CDF cautioned Lt Col Abdul Rahman, and told him to sit down.
14. The secret meetings now became a regular feature with the Commanding Officer being intensely involved with the SB. Something serious was amiss, and this became apparent when plans for the redeployment of the companies were being worked out, but the nature of operations had still remained elusive.
15. The operational plan for redeployment was being worked out by the Commanding Officer himself, whose past experience in counter insurgency operations, was to be put to test. Being trained by the US Special Forces in his early career, Lt Col Abdul Rahman had the full trust and confidence in himself, that his plan will succeed.
16. Upon the assurance from the SB that this highly secretive operations was ready to be executed, it was only then, that the officers and men of the battalion was fully informed as to the nature of the operations i.e. to capture alive 13 CTs that operates within the Telemong-Karak area.
17. Briefings with all Officer Commanding of companies ensued at Battalion HQ. This operation entails the redeployment of companies into assigned cordon positions and cut-offs before dawn. With three companies being deployed over a confined area, and a company in reserve, the operations had to executed with speed and under cover of darkness. There was to be absolute radio silence throughout the operations, until success is achieved.
18. As companies moved into positions, we all at Battalion HQ had a restless night. We had planned to take some sleep in rotation, but the excitement had kept our eyes wide opened. The ambience within the HQ itself was rather tense. The Commanding Officer had decided to move in with the companies, taking along with him the unit Regimental Signal Officer, Lt Nordin Shaari (decease) and a soldier escort.
19. With the cordon tightly in place, and the secrecy well maintained, we waited for the anxious moment to hear the first news of success at the break of dawn. I anticipated a fire fight which is quite expected in a cordon operation, but the sound of shots were not to be heard.
20. A few hours after the break of dawn, the HQ received news that the operation was a complete success, without a single shot being fired. The news was transmitted by the Commanding Officer himself who had been with the soldiers at the operation area throughout the night. The success of the operation was attributed to the successful negotiation between the Commanding Officer, SB and its agents, and the CT group. I was later informed by an officer who had participated in the operation that “should there be a fire fight, there would surely be casualties to both side”.
21. At around 10 am that morning, I was told to proceed to a school field at Telemong to receive the captured CTs that were being airlifted out from their jungle hideout. Although the RMAF helicopter carrying the captors did land at the school field, the pilot was immediately instructed to fly them out of Telemong, to another secured landing area, which was unknown to anyone of us.
22. The success of 18th Battalion, Royal Malay Regiment in this risky operation was attributed to the excellent cooperation that we had with the SB. This operation had been kept unknown to others up till now, supposedly to safeguard the security of the informants of the SB. There was not to be any jubilation for the success, and neither had anyone of us talked about it upon our return to Camp Segenting, Port Dickson, the battalion’s home base. The Commanding Officer who was highly instrumental in the conduct of the operation, was neither awarded for his achievement. However, I am told that the VAT 69 Commander and SB officer were duly awarded for their involvement. Here lies the discrepancy, which obviously favoured the police.
23. It is worthy to mentioned here, that HRH Sultan of Pahang and the Minister of Defence, Dato Mokhtar Hashim flew in to Telemong to be briefed by the Commanding Officer, immediately upon knowing that the operation had ended.
24. The success had no match in the annals of the corps of the Royal Malay Regiment i.e. to capture alive 13 CTs in a single operation without firing a single shot. The capture freed the Telemong-Karak area of CT influence, which consequently resulted in the annihilation of the 6th Assault Unit in Pahang, a few years later.
25. Three decades had now passed. Pahang and the entire nation is now free of threats from communist terrorism that had lingered for many years. But the sacrifices of the officers and men led by its first Commanding Officer, Lt Col Abdul Rahman Lassim (now retired Col Dato Abdul Rahman Lassim)to achieve unrivalled success in the 1977 Telemong-Karak episode, shall remain firmly embedded in the annals of the battalion.
Note: This article was prepared by Brig Gen Dato Mohd Arshad Raji (retired) with the consent of Col Dato Abdul Rahman Lassim (retired) for the purpose of record. The accuracy of this article has been checked by the latter. Should there be any error or inaccuracy in the article, the author wishes it to be posted in the comments to this blog.