‘Claret’ was the codename for cross-border operations carried out by Commonwealth units into the Indonesian province of Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. The need for such operations was perceived early in the Confrontation when British and Malaysian planners realised that by operating only on the Malaysian side of the border they were allowing the Indonesians to seize and hold the initiative. To counter this a strategy allowing ambushes up to 2,000 yards into Indonesian territory or permitting troops to pursue the enemy up to the same distance as well as using mortar and artillery fire to hit Indonesian positions was devised.
Security and secrecy were of primary importance as official public policy held that Commonwealth troops would not cross the border. To this end deniability rested on the inability of the Indonesians to prove that the border had been crossed. Actions that took place before the eyes of villagers or in which civilians were killed would have been difficult to refute but encounters involving, and seen, only by soldiers made it difficult for the Indonesians to substantiate.
As deniability was essential to Claret operations Major General Walter Walker, Commander, British Forces Borneo, devised a set of rules. The earliest Claret missions had to be personally authorised by Walker and only experienced troops were to be involved. Claret’s first participants were therefore Gurkha units, the SAS and the SBS (Special Boat Service). From this group only those troops on their second tour of Borneo were able to participate in cross-border operations. Civilian lives were not to be risked and the distance covered on the Indonesian side of the border was limited. Soldiers were ordered to neither become, nor to take prisoners. Nor were any dead to be left to the enemy. So successful was the strategy that cross-border operations were not disclosed during the Confrontation and they remained secret for years afterwards, not being publically acknowledged until 1974.
By January 1965 the radius of Claret operations had been extended to 10,000 yards and the number of contacts and enemy killed in action increased dramatically. Australian units did not experience a contact on a Claret Operation until a patrol of the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR) engaged Indonesian troops in May 1965. 3RAR carried out 32 Claret operations during its four months in Borneo. Contacts were rare but elements of the battalion were involved in four major clashes with Indonesian troops. Each resulted from platoon ambushes and in one case, when the Indonesians launched a counter-attack, artillery was needed to cover the Australians’ withdrawal.