Mattis Got A Kick Out Of Indonesian Soldiers Drinking Snake Blood During Bizarre Display

In what was surely a “unique” departure ceremony for visiting U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Indonesian Special Forces, known locally as the Kopassus, put on quite a display. During the over-the-top exhibition the fatigue-clad operators showed off some of their unique skills, including breaking concrete blocks with their heads and wrangling snakes, killing them, and drinking their blood. 

Clips of the intense spectacle started making the rounds on the social media last evening, resulting in an interesting mix of reactions. But for the guest of honor, the spectacle was all in good taste. 

While flying on aboard his E-4B aircraft to Vietnam, the next stop on his week-long Southeast Asia tour, Mattis told reporters:

“The snakes! Did you see them tire them out and then grab them? The way they were whipping them around, a snake gets tired very quickly… You could imagine how much training went into each individual there, that they were able to do that… When you watch a force do that, many small things, perfectly, you can imagine that they can also put the bigger things together.”

JANUARY 23: U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis (front) is welcomed by Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu (rear) during an official ceremony at Ministry of Defense Office in Jakarta, Indonesia on January 23, 2018. Mattis’ trip to Asia aims to improve cooperation in regional defense and security. , (Photo by Anton Raharjo/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Although many back in the USA will take issue with his enthusiasm for the display, the Indonesian military’s fascination with killing snakes and drinking their blood certainly isn’t new. For American forces that deploy for training with their Indonesian counterparts, namely the country’s hardened special operations forces, the act is a rite of passage of sorts. Also, snakes are extremely common in the jungles of Indonesia, many of which pack a venomous bite. So being able to deal with them isn’t just for show, there is a harsh reality to such training. But let’s be clear, snake handling and drinking fresh snake blood are two different concepts altogether. 

Mattis himself is no neophyte when it comes to the somewhat barbaric customs of foreign cultures, having spent his life as a Marine deployed all around the globe in a combative role, and later on, in a partially diplomatic one as a general. With this in mind, the snake display in Jakarta was probably not all too surprising to him. 

Almost comically outrageous military spectacles are in no way proprietary to Indonesia. Many countries, from the poorest to the richest around the world, put on garish military reviews for various occasions. The traditional large-format military parade, used to show off a country’s overwhelming might and combat prowess, is most common, but more creative and lively demonstrations aren’t that rare either. 

Maybe the most outlandish example in recent memory was this one that took place last year in Saudi Arabia. President Trump has floated the idea multiple times of executing elaborate military displays in and over Washington DC, and even though many deride him for the idea there is a historic precedent for such a thing. 

Mattis’s trip to Jakarta and the emphasis on the country’s controversial but brutally effective special forces could result in deeper ties with American special operations units. Cross-training and direct support has been limited since 2010, and between 1999 and 2010 it was largely embargoed due to human rights abuses by Indonesia’s special forces in the 1990s. 

Indonesia’s defense minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said the following during Mattis’s visit:

“For a while there have been sanctions against Kopassus … he (Mattis) will try to remove this… One of the sanctions is clearly that they are not allowed to go to America. They can’t do training together, and he will reopen this.”

James Mattis left on his week-long tour of Southeast Asia shortly after releasing America’s new military strategy last Friday, one that declared the days of focusing on counter-terrorism operations are over and a return of peer-state power competition is upon us. As such, the trip to the increasingly contested region will focus on building alliances to counter-balance China’s growing regional might and its claims on nearly the entirety of the strategic South China Sea.

On his trip to Jakarta, Mattis told reporters

“What we’re looking for is a world where we solve problems and we don’t shred trust, we don’t militarize features in the middle of international waters, we don’t invade other countries—in Russia’s case… Small nations should get the same respect, the same regard, as larger nations. Every nation matters and there should not be any bullying or shredding of trust toward others… What we want out here [is] a peaceful, prosperous, and free Asia, with a free and open regional order defined by the rule of law.”

I guess in the Secretary of Defense’s mind, if a little snake blood gets spilled in achieving those goals, so be it. 

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Tyler Rogoway


Tyler's passion is the study of military technology, strategy, and foreign policy and he has fostered a dominant voice on those topics in the defense media space. He was the creator of the hugely popular defense site Foxtrot Alpha before developing The War Zone.