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BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Thank you for attending our regular update on Operation Falconer. Unfortunately today we won't have any take-away of additional vision for you, but we may have some new stuff in for tomorrow.
At the outset of today's briefing I'd like to reinforce that the briefings we do here in Canberra will focus only on the Australian Defence Force operations. I'm not here to provide a commentary on the coalition campaign. That information, of course, will be provided by the various coalition commanders, including the ADF commanders in the Middle East.
As you can imagine our activities in the Middle East area of operations are now fully transitioned from the preparatory deployment phase of the past weeks into active military operations, as part of the United States-led international coalition to disarm Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction.
As indicated by the Prime Minister yesterday, our forces have now been engaged in combat and combat support operations over the past 20 hours or so. I'm pleased to report that at the moment all ADF personnel are okay.
Our environmental conditions in the Middle East remain demanding and challenging for our troops. The windy and dusty conditions are continuing, and work conditions remain tough, particularly for the maintainers.
On this slide you'll also see some additional information about the phases of the moon in the area. And, of course, the areas of black represent the percentage of dark in the particular night.
Now, following US missile strikes against the Iraqi leadership, the Iraqis have responded by firing a number of scud missiles from around the Basra area into Northern Kuwait. We know that two missiles were successfully intercepted by Patriot air defence missiles and destroyed. Others landed in the desert near Kuwait City.
There were no Australian casualties, and we're not aware of any other casualties.
I'd like to turn now to maritime operations. HMAS Anzac, Darwin and Kanimbla continue their interception operations in the Northern Persian Gulf. Now the ships have been closely involved in the operation to clear a large number of Iraqi Dhows, which are the small merchant trading craft, which have effectively been bottled up for some time in the Coh op de allah [phonetic] waterway in the very top of the Gulf area. And they're also very keen to depart that area right now.
You'll recall from previous briefings that these dhows have been used to smuggle contraband items, such as oil and dates from Iraq, and are frequently attempting to get past the international blockade.
At this stage of the operation, our ships are less concerned with contraband than they are with the movement of people who may wish to leave and who we may wish to detain, or with the use of the dhows as part of a mining campaign in these narrow waterways.
The dhows need to be checked for explosives processed out of the narrow waterway, and that needs to be done as quickly as possible.
Now, these operations involve a lot of boarding operations, and this is the type of work that our people have been doing for some time, and it's the type of work in which we've developed considerable expertise.
Now, these ships also remain prepared to move on from this duty to other tasks as required.
Meanwhile, the Navy's clearance diving teams continue their preparation for likely tasks, and their tasks would be the clearance of mines and the clearance of port facilities once the waterways are clear and it's appropriate for those tasks to get underway.
Our Army LCM8 landing craft have also been busy in the Northern Gulf area. Over the last period they've been placing navigational markers which assist with the control of traffic in the area.
I'd like to turn now to land force operations. While I'll obviously not go into any detail about our current or future operations, I can tell you that our Special Forces Task Group has transitioned from the battle preparation phase we briefed in detail yesterday and is now undertaking active operations inside Iraq.
The tasks they would likely be undertaking have been well briefed in the past, but just to recap they would include long-range reconnaissance and surveillance operations where they would be seeking detailed information on such things as enemy troop movements, identifying targets such as key military installations and so on.
Turning now to air operations. Our F/A-18 Hornet aircraft have been flying combat and combat support missions from the outset of hostilities. The type of missions our Hornets have been involved in to date have been what is described as defensive counter-air operations, in military parlance.
In defensive counter-air operations our aircraft fly missions that are designed to provide protection against any possible threat posed by enemy aircraft.
Now, although the principal mission of the Hornets in this period has been defensive counter-air, it's important that you know that these aircraft go into each mission armed to deal with both air threats and ground threats. This allows them to respond to a wide range of tasks, including defending against aircraft seeking to attack our forces or striking a target of opportunity on the ground.
Now, they're able to achieve this level of flexibility because they operate as part of an extensive system of air operations that includes coverage from airborne early warning control aircraft, or AWACs as you may have heard them described, electronic warfare aircraft, and air-to-air refuellers. Working together, these capabilities provide complete and responsive air cover over a wide area.
These are demanding missions and they've seen our aircraft flying well into Iraqi territory. They can be between five and six hours in duration - I'm sure pilots have much better bladder control than I do - and they involve the Hornets undertaking a large number of refuelling operations.
The F/A-18 Hornet aircraft can be equipped with precision weapons, including a wide range of air-to-air weapons, surface missiles, laser guided and conventional bombs. They're also armed with a 20 millimetre nose-mounted cannon for ground to airborne targets.
And, of course, you're all aware that they fly at speeds up to Mach 1.75.
Our P3 Orion maritime surveillance aircraft have been continuing with surveillance missions over the Persian Gulf. Our C130 Hercules aircraft are still flying regularly to equip and to maintain our forces in the area.
The C130s have lifted, at this stage, more than one million pounds of stores equipment and personnel since they arrived in the area a few weeks ago.
It's worth reminding also that this is the largest deployment of the Royal Australian Air Force on operation since the Vietnam War. With Hornets, P3 Orions, C130s and supporting elements.
It's also worth noting that the Middle East area of operations holds a significant historical link for the Australian military aviation. It was in the Middle East during World War I that the very first deployment of Australian combat aircraft took place in Mesopotamia, and of course that is now part of modern day Iraq.
A little supply news also today. The Defence organisation has a responsive and effective logistics organisation, which is working hard to support our troops in the Middle East. It operates 24 hours a day seven days a week, and it provides clothing, equipment, repair parts, medical supplies, rations, ammunition and all the other requisites that our forces need.
To give you an idea of the effort required for this force each week approximately 2,000 demands are actioned and 50 tonnes of supplies are freighted from Australia. The operation involves about 1,500 Service personnel, defence, civilians and contractors and Defence logistics sites and bases all around the country who ensure that the required support is provided as quickly as possible and when needed.
I'd like to turn for a moment from operations and give you a brief outline of our support programs for families and deployed personnel.
As you can appreciate, this is a demanding time not only for our personnel deployed in the Middle East, but also for our loved ones here at home. We are always concerned to ensure the well-being of ADF families back here in Australia, and ask that the Australian community understand their need for privacy.
Defence Community Organisation provides the highest level of support to all Defence families. This includes a range of services including social work, welfare, educational support and special needs assistance.
For families of personnel actually deployed on operations, a key agency in this support structure is the National Welfare Co-ordination Centre. That provides a 24-hour welfare and family services facility, specifically for families of members who are deployed on operations.
The Government announced yesterday the conditions of service package for the deployment to this area, and it underlines the level of support being given to families. In terms of communications with the troops and their families, you may be aware that the Prime Minister has recorded a video message for deployed personnel which will be delivered to the Middle East area of operations as quickly as possible.
The Minister for Defence and the Chief of the Defence Force have also written to all deployed personnel. The CDF and service chiefs have written separately to the service families. Any expressions of support to the ADF have also been received from the public over recent days and are very welcome.
That concludes today's brief and I can now take any questions.
DOD OFFICIAL: Just before the questions start I want to explain with the microphone. Could everyone please use this and I'd just like your name and your organisation for [indistinct].
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Just before I start there is a slight correction. I actually said that they were Scud Missiles that were fired into Northern Kuwait. That's not correct. We don't know that, and we're not sure of the missile type.
QUESTION: Mark Forbes from The Age, Brigadier. Now that operations are under way, can we have outlined for us in more detail the rules of engagement for Australian Forces operating, and could you also address the issue of whether those rules would enable a campaign to target Saddam Hussein or support for such an operation.
BRIGADIER HANNAN: There's been a lot of discussion of the rules of engagement in the last couple of weeks. And I might say that on the public record there's extensive information about how the targeting system works, how the decisions are made and about how the rules of engagement are developed.
I don't really propose to say anything much about that today except to say that we have a very robust system which ensures that all of our Australian rules of engagement or our Australian rules of engagement and orders to our troops required the compliance with all of our international conventions, with all of our international agreements with Australian law and with international law and the law of armed conflict.
But I think there's probably something else that we should take in this debate and it's probably to take it one step beyond the work of the lawyers and the important work of the staff in preparing detailed orders.
The rules of engagement provide the basis on which sailors, soldiers and airmen's orders are actually derived. They provide the capstone key guidance that allows commanders to give the detailed orders to their people.
Those orders are carried out by very ordinary, young Australians who are doing a very, very difficult job. At the end of the day, the decision to engage or not engage is made by a person, not made by a lawyer in Canberra or a lawyer advising a commander in the field. It's made by a young sailor, soldier, airman, flying an aircraft, operating a weapons system. And the quality of those decisions reflects the quality of the people on the ground.
Now we've got the best people on the ground. They've got the best training, the best advice. At the end of the day, they're making a decision often in a split second, often in a split second, that they will have to live with for the rest of their life, and that may be a life and death decision for others.
So when you talk about the rules of engagement, it's not a theoretical exercise on paper here in Canberra. That's important. It's important and it's necessary but it's not sufficient. The other half of the equation is that, on the ground, there are the best people available, people in whom the Government, the CDF, and I think the Australian public should have great confidence in their ability to act with great compassion, with great commonsense and to apply those laws in a way which would make us all proud of their actions.
QUESTION: [Indistinct] from the Financial Review. Can you tell us more about the Scud Missiles? How do you [indistinct], and are they more sophisticated than the Scud Missiles that were used in the previous Gulf War?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Yes, I made a mistake with that. I said they were Scud Missiles. That was an error on my part. We don't know what sort of missiles they were.
QUESTION: The US media is reporting that they were Scud Missiles.
BRIGADIER HANNAN: I'm sorry, but I don't have that information confirmed to me so, if you take it that I'm not sure of what sort of missiles they are.
QUESTION: Well you do know anything about the Iraqi arsenal?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: I can get you some tabulated data on Scud Missiles after the brief.
QUESTION: Fran Kelly from the ABC. Can you tell us about the - there seems to be different views on the casualty count coming from both sides of this. Can you tell us about the casualty count? Can you tell us about the rumours, for instance, that the Republican Guards, some members of that, are already wanting to surrender or emailing commanders? Can you give us any kind of that information?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Yeah, I'm really only going to talk about what the Australians are doing and not give a running commentary on the Coalition. And I don't have any specific information on those incidents which have been reported in open sources, at this time.
In terms of the casualty count, we have no specific information on that, other than know what's in open source. And of course, as I said, there have been no Australian casualties over the period.
QUESTION: Leonie [indistinct] on Network 10. Of the FA-18s that were involved, no missiles fired from them at all?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well as I've said many times, we don't give a running commentary on current operations or discuss them. After we've passed beyond this stage, we might be able to talk about the incidents that have occurred.
QUESTION: With - there have been none fired from Australian involvement at this stage though?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: I've got no comment on that. We're not discussing current operations.
QUESTION: Gemma Haines from Seven News. What role are our troops playing, if any, on the advance on Basra?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well as I said, we're not - we won't be talking about current operations, but what you can take from the briefings that have taken place to date and from the things that we've said is that our troops operating in the area are all specialist troops. They're niche capabilities and we'll be keen to see them operating within their capability niches. So that, if an organisation like the Special Forces are there for long-range reconnaissance, you can assume that that's pretty much the job we'd want them to be doing and understand the sorts of tasks that might be involved in that.
As for specific operations that are under way, we certainly don't talk about that.
QUESTION: Well if you can't comment on the specific operations, then why are we having these daily briefings?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well it gives you an opportunity to ask questions about the background and of course, once operations become past operations, then we can comment on them.
QUESTION: So do you know when that will be?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well as I said in yesterday's briefing, we'll comment on operations once they're sufficient behind us that commenting on them won't affect current or future actions.
QUESTION: Will that be at the end of the conflict?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: I don't know the answer to that question. We need to pass on from that I think. Sorry.
QUESTION: Paul Sterrick from The Advertiser in Adelaide. In the previous operations that have already finished, have Australian troops fired any weapons?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: In the operations that have already finished: Well I think we've just started on this operation. I'm not sure which ones you're referring to.
QUESTION: Well in - presumably the Hornets have landed after their initial flights. Did they fire any weapons?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well that round of operations is still continuing, and we won't be talking about it until the end.
QUESTION: Peter O'Connor from the Associated Press. Senator Hill has said that the Australian rules of engagement are more restrictive than the US rules. And I think, is it General McNarn, has said that they're more conservative. Could you explain how the differing rules affect co-operation in operations?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well firstly I'd be pleased to pass on my congratulations to Brigadier McNarn on his promotion.
QUESTION: Well I'm sure it will happen afterwards.
BRIGADIER HANNAN: I think the main difference here is a theoretical one. You're aware that Australia is a signatory to a number of conventions including the Additional Protocol 1 to the Geneva Conventions and the Ottawa Conventions dealing with land mines. And they do bind us legally. But because the United States isn't a signatory to the Additional Protocol 1 doesn't mean that they don't apply the provisions of that Protocol in their actions.
And so in practice in terms of actual practice on the ground, there are very few differences and conflicts caused. Where those do arise on those odd occasions, then it's the job of Brigadier McNarn, as the Australian National Commander, to resolve those issues and to determine what Australians will and won't do, in terms of the operation.
So the answer is simply that there is little area for debate because, notwithstanding signatory to conventions, most of the components of that are part of customary law and are obeyed by the United Nations.
QUESTION: Just one other question on the - you mentioned that there were dhows coming out. Has there been a significant increase in the number of dhows coming out?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: There has been, yeah. There has been a significant increase and obviously, I think, it would be commonsense that they'd be wanting to get out of that area at this stage.
QUESTION: And can you give us any idea of numbers? Are we talking like hundreds of boats or dozens of boats, or.?
BRIGDAIER HANNAN: I don't have any exact numbers. I'll have a go and see if I can find some estimates for you for tomorrow.
QUESTION: And when you talk about oil, are you talking about food oil or are you talking about petroleum oil?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: No, petroleum oil.
QUESTION: Petroleum oil, right.
QUESTION: Don Walfred* from AAP, yes. I wanted to talk about - ask about the dhows too. Can you say if there's been any change in the sort of stuff they're carrying? I mean more people, few dates, or whatever?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Yeah, no there's been no significant change noticed over the last couple of days. Yesterday we released some footage of the Navy conducting a boarding on a dhow and it was full of contraband dates. Now at this stage I'd suggest that we're probably less interested in contraband than we are in other things they might be trying to get out of Iraq.
QUESTION: Have in fact any land mines been found or mines, I should say?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well I'm not aware of that, and that would be something that would be part of current operations.
QUESTION: While I've got you - can I just ask you about the word current? I mean I would have thought a plane goes out and comes home, and that operation ceases to be current. I mean what do you mean by current?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well a plane doesn't go out and come home in isolation. It's part of an air tasking program that might run in a serial running over many days or even weeks and be supporting a campaign on the ground that might run over the same period or longer.
So we just need to understand that this is all small cogs in a huge machine and, although that little part of it might seem insignificant in isolation, when it's taken by experienced intelligence analysts and looked at in terms of the way the whole machine works, then it can provide significant clues to what's happening in other areas.
So for instance, advice by me that there'd been a shift in the type of ordnance being carried by aircraft or the type of role that they'd been flying over Southern Iraq or Northern Iraq or Central Iraq would provide key clues to what was happening on the ground to be supported by those particular changes.
So that's the reason we don't talk about the bits of the wheel, the little wheels in the big machine because they are all indicators to what the big machine is doing.
QUESTION: Maria Moscoredal*, News Limited here. You mentioned that you were less interested in contraband, more interested in people. Are you referring to people being smuggled out, as in refugees? And what is the Navy tasked to do if it does actually come across.?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: No, I don't think I was really referring to refugees. I was referring to members of the Iraqi leadership who might be seeking to depart.
QUESTION: But further to that, what would the Navy do, I mean if these boats are actually engaged in smuggling people out of the country.
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well it would depend on the circumstances on the ground. The Navy have their clear rules of engagement and they have their clear understanding of the laws of armed conflict in relation to prisoners of war and others, and they would act according to those.
Now I'm not going apply the 15,000 kilometre screwdriver and try and describe how a Navy tactical commander might deal with those circumstances. That's something that they would do on the ground or in this case on the sea. But they would act in accordance with their orders and either detain or allow the people to go through.
QUESTION: Brigadier, Fran Kelly again, just two quick questions, a follow-up on that. Have they found any military, Iraqi military trying to get out in those ships?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: I'm not aware of any.
QUESTION: Just following up on the questions about what's current and what's not current operation. You know, you say you can't - it could take days or weeks. But surely yesterday there was a distinct operation. It seems to me from watching CNN, etcetera, that the US military have given some more information about what kind of ordnance was used, what targets were hit. Why can't you at least say as much or go as far as the US and the British military seem to be going in terms of putting out information?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Yeah, well as I said, the information that you're receiving depends upon where it's coming from and who's releasing it. With all of our Australian Forces, they are specialist, highly specialised groups, working in fairly close niches.
Now we don't have the capacity to release information about a lot of those, and that's just a simple fact of life. There's been a lot of discussion about the British and American release of information. But if you look closely at it, it's all coming from - mainly coming from one area and it's coming from the conventional forces. You're not seeing anything about their close, niche capabilities being released out of the area of operations.
QUESTION: But if we accept you.
BRIGADIER HANNAN: And the reason for that is that they have the same operational security restrictions that we do on those capabilities. Unfortunately we just don't have conventional forces there to provide you with the movement, light and colour that you might like.
QUESTION: So even, for instance, what the Hornets are doing and we have heard information about those bombing raids yesterday, isn't that a similar platform, whereas they've spoken and you haven't?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well I've given you a run down on what sort of operations they're conducting and told you what sort of armament they were doing, how long the mission was. I'm just sort of wondering what additional information you'd like.
QUESTION: I guess, just that the obvious question is did we drop any bombs, I suppose.
BRIGADIER HANNAN: I think the point, Fran, I think the point I'd like to make here is that we will provide you with as much information as we can consistent with the operational security restrictions that we have to work within.
QUESTION: Brigadier, could I go back to the engagement and targeting issue. Is it legal for Australian Forces to seek to take out a Head of State or support such an operation?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: In relation to the narrow legal definition of your question, I'm not sure of the precise answer. But it's certainly legal for Australian Forces to target the leadership, the military leadership of an organisation.
QUESTION: Brigadier, Kieran Gilbert from Sky News. Do you have to clear the information that you disseminate through Qatar and the Central Communications Centre there? Or do you have autonomy before your briefings?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: I'm not sure I understand the question. Are you saying, do we here in Canberra clear things through a media centre in Qatar?
QUESTION: The US-led Command, like the rest - do you have to clear it through the US-led Command like the rest of your Forces?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: The answer is no. Australians speak about Australians and we say what Australians want to say about Australians.
QUESTION: Don Gamm* from Radio Free Asia, General. My first question is that, what sort of weapons would the Australian Troops expect the Iraqi troops to use to fight the Australians and Coalition and the worst, the most lethal weapons. And what sort of countermeasures have the Australian troops taken to deal with those weapons and troops from Iraq?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: I can get you a more detailed answer later. But in general the Iraqis have a large conventional army with a full range of capabilities, from armed forces to light forces, commando and special forces. Probably the weapons that are of most concern to our forces are the weapons of mass destruction, particularly the biological and chemical weapons. And we've taken great care to ensure that our troops are fully prepared and fully equipped to deal with that eventuality should it arise.
QUESTION: And the next question is, General, is that - does the Australian troops involved in the future reconstruction of Iraq promised by the Prime Minister?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well look, I think that if you look at the nature of the Australian troops there, as I've said a couple of times this morning, they are highly specialised troops and they have highly specialised combat roles. I think that they would probably not be suitable for reconstruction tasks, or certainly are not the best option for those sorts of tasks. So I would suggest that the ADF would not seek to be involved in that with what we've got currently deployed.
Now that's very much a matter for Government, for our involvement and at this stage there has been no decisions made that I'm aware of in that regard.
OFFICIAL: Last question.
QUESTION: Brigadier, Jason Gatsoukis* from the Fin Review. Just, I wondered if you could just take me back to your preparedness for the chemical or biological weapons attack. The troops there have been vaccinated for anthrax. That's right. Are you preparing any other sort of defence against such an attack, like.
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well in terms of vaccinations, let me say that, if there is credible threat and we have a reliable vaccine for it, then our policy is that we'll vaccinate our troops for that threat. Now as a matter of policy, we don't talk about what we're vaccinated for. The fact that anthrax has ended up in the public arena is something that's not to our liking. And the reason we don't talk about what we're vaccinated for is because it immediately provides our enemy with some advice on what agents are suitable to use against Australian obviously.
In relation to the wider issue of preparedness for chemical and biological attack, you'll be aware that we've deployed to the Middle East troops from the Incident Response Regiment and that part of their role is to help with the defence and with the defensive measure for these particular types of attack.
These are highly specialised troops. They include scientists and others who are able to, firstly, provide early warning of attack using censors to detect attack. They are then able to decontaminate our forces and our equipment quickly so that we can get back to operations as quickly as possible with the minimum disruption caused by an attack.
They are located there specifically to support our Special Forces Task Group.
OFFICIAL: Ladies and gentlemen, thanks for attending today.
* * End * *
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