Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



Starting in the middle of the nineteenth century, the Netherlands East Indies sought to bring all the people and territory of the Indonesian archipelago under colonial control. In 1873, they turned their attention to the sultanate of Aceh in northern Sumatra, and sent a small invasion force. Their defeat led to 3000 mean being dispatched the following year, and while this force took control of the capital city of Banda Aceh and the lowlands near the coast, they were able to seize the city only after it had been abandoned by the Acehnese, who retreated into the mountainous regions to the south. From there, the Acehnese began what would become three decades of effective guerrilla resistance to Dutch domination. The usual Dutch military strategy which had defeated the other sultanates and kingdoms of the archipelago by sending expedition forces against the potentates’ armies was completely ineffective in Aceh. It was not until the Orientalist C. Snouck Hurgronje, an academic who had written a first-hand account of contemporary Mecca and who had worked for the Netherlands East Indies government since 1891 as the principle advisor on native affairs, worked with the military commander J.B. van Heutsz that the region of Aceh was conquered by the Dutch colonial military. The solution Snouck Hurgronje devised split the native leadership between the ulama, the Muslim religious elite, who could not be persuaded to work with the Dutch, and the uleëbalang, the secular chiefs, who could be co-opted. Not only were the uleëbalang brought into the Dutch colonial system, but Van Heutsz used small mobile forces to defeat opposition. Instead of the ineffective scorched-earth tactics used by his predecessors, Van Heutsz fought the counterinsurgency by targeting individual opponents precisely with mobile units made up of native troops from elsewhere in the archipelago. Starting with the decisive battle at Batoe Iliq in 1901 and ending with the defeat of the final insurgent chieftans in 1903, the Dutch gained the upper hand, and effectively pacified this region. This paper explores the legacy of the Acehnese counterinsurgency, in particular how the relationship between intellectual expertise and military policies developed in Aceh compares to subsequent counterinsurgency campaigns.

Journal Name

Insurgency and Counterinsurgency: Irregular Warfare from 1800 to the Present, Proceedings of the XXXVI International Congress of Military History


Proceedings of the XXXVI International Congress of Military History, Amsterdam, 2010