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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


22/03/2003Departmental 220303/03



Ladies and gents what I'll do is just go through and take a few questions and then I'll bring you back to the operations room. I appreciate very much that you're keen to know what's going as is everyone at home and we are in a fairly busy stage of the operation and we're very conscious of that.

I'd like to say for the moment we've been working all the hours that God gave us in the last couple of days; if we have any spare time we put our heads down and wait til someone turns the lights out. I intend - all things being equal for the next 24 hours - to be a little more available as things settle down to give you more of an overview.

Our SAS have inserted into Iraq and have been there for a couple of days. Any suggestion that they have been there previously is nonsense - in the last couple of days they were given the EXECUTO by the government.

They are now deep inside Iraq. Their primary role is strategic reconnaissance though in some cases we are a command and control node which are used to detect communications control in WMD. We will in some cases have taken direct action against those.

They are in as far or more so as anyone else at the moment playing a strategic reconnaissance role. They are probably the best in the world at their roles. That's all we do, and we do it very well, as well as a range of other tasks. There have been a number of contacts since they've gone in there, we have in some cases killed Iraqi military, although one case during a contact going in there are a number who dropped their weapons or attempted to run away, they [SAS] stopped, treated the wounded Iraqis and moved on.

We are not looking for a fight in this particular role, although if someone brings a fight to us we are more than capable of (inaudible) ourselves as we have shown in the last couple of days. I am not willing to go into any more detail on that operation at the moment because it's still running and as I said before I won't give anything that's going to compromise the safety of our people.

I'll just run through the other forces.

The Air Force has been running combat air patrols over the last couple of days over Southern Iraq. Their primary task has been to protect the high-value assets such as the AWACS, air-to-air refuellers, some of the key strategic reconnaissance aircraft. In addition they are also being equipped with air-to-air missiles, and are carrying a 500- pound bomb - some or all of the aircraft depending on the mission and that enables us, if necessary, to take on time-sensitive military targets.

The C130s continue their tasks, they've shifted over a million pounds of cargo and had an impact well out of proportion to their numbers.

The P3s in the lead-up to the operation in the last couple of days have been operating in the northern end of the Gulf along the (inaudible) straight, across Kuwait. They have particular skills and particular equipment which we use to get a good picture of what is going on in the KAA in the main waterway leading up to Basr. That was linked in, our P3s, with the coalition air (inaudible) to go into the KAA and that was actually commanded by an Australian naval captain within a headquarters of Australian naval officers and some British. That navy captain was commanding about seven or eight Australian, British and American warships. He is also commanding from the Kanimbla, our command and control ship, with two LCM8s, an army landing craft, they've been used to link in when the marines cross to the Al Faw peninsula as we clear the KAA sorting out the dhows and heavier ships.

In addition, they are commanding a mixed coalition group of about twenty RHIBS, that is the boats we use for boarding with again with British and American under Australian command and they've been picking them up as they come out and clearing up the KAA. That is not a simple task and they've just intercepted one tug with about 60 mines on board. So that's a good save. That's going on, I'm not going to cover more on that at the moment either because there's other elements of that operation. However I have instructed our people to put together a presentation that we'll get to you probably tomorrow depending on how far we are with the operation.

As things clear we'll give you a better picture of that coalition operation. That's going pretty well, the only other thing that I'll mention is we supported the Royal Marines last night with the assault on the L4 peninsula with naval gunfire support from the Anzac against Iraqi defence positions on the L4 peninsula. The marines called for fire support and the Anzac provided it. It was very accurate, all rounds were on target. We've gone through the bomb damage assessment and the reports from the Iraqis on the ground was that it was very effective. This is the first time we've deployed naval gun support and I think it's probably the first time we've deployed naval gun fire since Vietnam and it was highly accurate. A skill not a lot of navies have kept up - I think last night the Royal marines were very glad we had. There's a bit of a (inaudible). I'd be happy to take a few questions and then I have to get going.

Question: How does the involvement of as in the raid on Bagdhad sit with the rules of engagement in as law? It appears the Americans are trying to hide the fact that it's an assassination attempt and some of his family in the top positions.

Our FA18s are providing combat air patrols in southern Iraq not in Bagdad MEZ and have provided that combat air patrol to protect high-value assets such as reconnaissance supporting the current attack into southern Iraq and to protect tankers and AWACS from anything knocking them down. And (inaudible) value has been very good, because nobody's been keen to come up against them.

Question: Were they kept in that role because of concerns about rules of engagement?

No, we were asked to do that role because we're particularly well trained for it. The squadron that's here is multi-roled, it can turn its hand both to very precise and defensive actions to protect those high-value assets. We don't want any mistakes, there's no room for error. But [they] are also capable of carrying some limited bombs such as the GBE12 500-pound bomb for a time-sensitive target if it comes up. Not all aircraft can do that, it is something we were asked to do. It's probably a really good example of the way our system of training makes us particularly valuable for niche roles here. When you look at what the SAS have done and what the FA18s have done, even the amount the C130s are moving which is quite disproportionate in terms of the number of aircraft, and look at what the Navy's done, we have some particular niche capabilities at [which] we are the best in the world. That's been pretty important to the coalition.

There have been no Australian casualties to date that said I'll emphasise the guys deep in Iraq, that's what they do, that's why they are so highly trained and this is a large-scale conventional war. There are - it's high risk and there's quarter of a million people moving around there inside the wire, no Australian casualties. Our aim has been to defend ourselves when we come up against people and break contact and get on with what our primary mission is which is to keep our focus on what the primary mission is.

Question: Given the quick progress made by coalition forces to the south of Iraq today, what's the mood like in the operations room?

The mood's pretty much the same it's been for the last couple of days. It's sober, I don't see anyone who's jubilant or carefree about it This is early days yet, we don't take anything for granted, we don't take the enemy for granted - that's how you make mistakes. We take it very seriously and as I said to you my focus for the last couple of days has been on the couple of thousand people we've got out on the ground in harm's way. Everyone in all the headquarters, supporting areas and those who are out there on the frontline and we've been driving pretty hard

Question: Have the FA18s dropped any ordinance or come under any enemy fire?

The FA18 Hornets have not dropped any ordinance at this stage. They have the ability if we get a time sensitive target in terms of say a missile that's going to threaten the troop concentration of (inaudible). There is - areas they've been in have been triple A with anti- aircraft fire, there have been some missiles fired, at this stage we have not needed to engage anyone on the ground. Both the tactics and protective measures have been enough to protect us.

Question: So you're providing support then to the troops on the ground?

They have the capability in an emergency to provide support to the troops on the ground [but] their key role is in protecting those high-value assets.

Question: There've been rumours about reports today that SAS have been in a big firefight. Can you confirm or deny that?

Rumours are always good and I wouldn't want to destroy that. The SAS have been in a number of contacts over the last couple of days and their operations are still ongoing. I don't want to go into detail of it. Yes there have been a number of contacts, there have been no Australian casualties.

Question: You mentioned the landing craft, did they come under fire at all, were they taking part in sort of a -

No, what they were doing was making the link where the Marines crossed and where they wanted to start intercepting any shipping. Breaking out was one of our primary concerns, just to make sure that they were clean, they weren't going to slip out with mines on them into the northern end of the Gulf .

Question: So they didn't come under fire at all?

They didn't come under direct fire, they were down right on the lines where the Marines were going. They didn't come under any (inaudible).

I'll do all I can in the next 24 hours to make myself available to you for a little more time. As you'll understand, at the moment my focus is on those couple of thousand people we've got on the ground out there. Ladies and gents, thanks for your time.





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