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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Defence
MEDIA RELEASE

 
23/03/2003Departmental 303232003/03
 

Operation Falconer Media Brief Sunday 23 March

Good morning ladies and gentlemen

Just before I start today's brief, I'd like to just follow up on answer to a question asked at yesterday's conference.

As to whether or not any female sailors were involved in the boarding parties involved in the operation to apprehend a number of enemy vessels carrying a large number of mines.

The answer is "no" - but the reason for that was simply a matter of the make up of that particular boarding.

Our Navy boarding parties are made up of male and female sailors - as many of you have seen for yourselves in imagery we have provided from the area of operations in the past.

I might also add, about 20 percent of KANIMBLA's crew are female and they get involved the whole range of the ship's activities, including boarding parties. So I hope that clears that up.

Just while we're discussing this action, I'll use this opportunity to provide you with a few more specifics that may be of interest that here come.

In all, our boarding parties apprehended a total of three enemy vessels carrying a total of 86 mines and a wide array of military weaponry during the operation. These mines were destined for the waterways where our and other coalition ships are currently operating.

The types of mines captured were the Manta seabed influence mine and the LUGM 145 buoyant contact mine. The Manta mine is a fairly sophisticated weapon that is laid on the ocean floor and is set off by a ship's magnetic, acoustic or pressure signature. The LUGM 145 is a more conventional sea mine that is moored on a chain or drifts on the surface and is set off by contact with a ship.

Both these mine types were used extensively by the Iraqis in the 1991 Gulf War and were responsible for damaging at least two US ships. So all in all, a very significant catch by our sailors.

O K. Now to today's update - and let me say up front that in terms of significant actions or incidents, it has been a quieter time for our forces over the past 24 hours as they have continued working away at their respective missions.

The Weather has been variable with haze and some dust storms expected over the next few days. As you can see the nights are getting progressively darker.

Starting with maritime operations:

Coalition naval forces under the command of the Royal Australian Navy's Captain Jones continue their efforts to clear the KHA-AB-ALLAH - or K-A-A - waterway, following on from the successes reported yesterday. Captain Peter Jones remains in command of a task group comprising Australian, British and United States ships.

This is an important task for the coalition because the K-A-A is the main waterway from the Northern Persian Gulf up to the port of Umm Qasr which will be a major entry point into Iraq for humanitarian aid.

Meanwhile, HMAS ANZAC has been in action again overnight, providing Naval Gunfire Support to British commandos on the AL FAW peninsular. We don't have any details of this action at the moment but we may be able to provide those in the future.

 

Now turning to land operations:

Our Special Forces continue with the deep reconnaissance missions within Iraq.

These missions are proving highly successful, providing valuable information for the Coalition effort.

I can report this morning that they have not been involved in any contacts - or fire fights - since those briefed to you yesterday, however one element did call in a close air support mission against an enemy target. I understand that the target was a small military installation. The early reports indicate that a range of equipment was destroyed but we are still waiting for full clarity of the damage from the strike.

The supporting land force elements including our commandos from the 4th Battalion, the Incident Response Regiment, the 5th Aviation Regiment and logistics troops all continue with their assigned tasks.

And lastly to air operations:

Our RAAF F/A-18 Hornets continue to conduct round the clock combat operations in support of ongoing operations in Iraq. The Hornets' primary tasks continue to be Defensive Counter Air missions - providing protection to vital air assets including airborne early warning aircraft and air-to-air refuellers.

Throughout these missions, the Hornets remain armed and prepared to attack targets with air-to-ground weapons if required - although no aircraft have been required to do this since the mission conducted - and briefed to you - yesterday.

Whilst conducting DCA, the aircraft were rerolled for a strike mission and they were allocated a target. However, the crew chose not to complete the mission because they could not positively identify the target.

The crew's decision reflect the ADF's strong commitment to the laws of armed conflict and support to the Governments targeting policy right down to the lowest level.

There has been no significant change to the on-going missions being flown by our P3 Orion maritime reconnaissance aircraft and C-1-30 Hercules transport aircraft.

That completes today's briefing. I can now welcome any questions.

Before taking questions, I might say the Chief of the Navy is here this morning, so I will defer to him on technical matters regarding those two types of mines, and other naval matters.

QUESTION:

Brigadier, Fran Kelly from ABC Television. Just in terms of the air strike, or the aborted strike, can you tell us any more about what the target was, or what their concern was in terms of the ADF and the Government target policy?

BRIGADIER HANNAN:

We certainly - we certainly couldn't go into detail about the type of target or the nature or our target, and the details of our policy are also matters that we keep protected from our enemies. What I can say is that there is a - there is a policy, and there is a procedure for the pilots, which requires them to take a range of steps to identify that the target is the appropriate target, and that it is correct and in accordance with the rules to engage it.

As I said the other day, the rules are all well and good, and they are important and necessary. But they are not of themselves sufficient to ensure that the laws of armed conflict are upheld and that our targets - targeting policy - is implemented.

At the end of the day these decisions are made by a young pilot flying the aircraft at very high speed, often in difficult conditions at night, who must make an assessment of the information available, and then make the decision to release the weapon. Now in this case the pilots made that assessment, decided that the information didn't support the justification for the use of the weapon, and aborted the mission.

And I think it just reflects the fact that at the end of the day this is a matter about people as much as it's about rules.

QUESTION:

Just a quick follow up on that, though. Did the pilot get advice - seek advice - from back at base, or, you know, how far up the chain did the pilot have to go before making the decision to abort?

BRIGADIER HANNAN:

Obviously there are communications available to the pilots, but at the end of the day the pilot makes the decision.

QUESTION:

Leonie Mellor, Network Ten. You mentioned that he was allocated this target. Did that allocation come from US or Australian command? What was the feedback from the US, and did another force follow up that target - for example, did the US then go in and carry out that mission?

BRIGADIER HANNAN:

The target would have been allocated as part of an overall coalition plan, as we've briefed in previous missions, the aircraft don't fly in isolation - they fly with the support of airborne early warning and control aircraft - with the support of EW aircraft and tanker aircraft, and they form a network of support, with different types of missions being flown over an area.

So they're part of a big system, and that system, of course, is essentially US controlled. So it would have been allocated to them as part of that system.

In terms of any reaction to the Australian decision, all of the coalition air forces have rules like this. And all of the coalition pilots are making decisions like this all the time. I haven't heard of any response. Nor would I expect any.

QUESTION:

Sorry, can I just follow up. What happened with that target - did a US air force go in and then complete the mission as allocated? Do you have any information on that?

BRIGADIER HANNAN:

We don't have any information on that.

QUESTION:

Brigadier, Jo Ball from Channel Seven. Just wanted to find out, were our SAS involved in collecting information that led to the first strike on Iraq - on Baghdad?

BRIGADIER HANNAN:

Our SAS are in the business of deep reconnaissance, and the provision of information. Beyond that we wont be specific about their - their particular tasks in this case.

QUESTION:

Brigadier, Kieran Gilbert from Sky News. Are you able to tell us how many SAS teams are operating, just in terms of number, or is..

BRIGADIER HANNAN:

No.

QUESTION:

Okay. That's pretty clear.

QUESTION:

Uh, Brigadier, [indistinct], from Radio Free Asia. Foreign Minister Downer made some - a brief comment about this Insallah Islam [phonetic] organisation, which is allegedly responsible for the killing of Australia - and injuring of Australian journalists. How much do we know this terrorist organisation? How do they like with al Qa'eda?

BRIGADIER HANNAN:

Look, I don't have any specific information on that beyond what the Foreign Minister has already stated. I think this is a matter which would be a matter dealing with our intelligence and security organisations, and therefore not a matter we'd comment on publicly here in Defence.

QUESTION:

Brigadier, Samantha Maiden from the Advertiser. We've heard conflicting reports Uum Qasr. Can you tell us what you know about what the situation is there now, and as you head into that area, how much is it a danger that a lot of these mines have been left there along the way? You're obviously in the process of clearing them out, but how dangerous is that situation at the moment?

BRIGADIER HANNAN:

Well, the mines are obviously a considerable danger, and a considerable danger to our naval forces, and before perhaps asking Chief of Navy to expand a little on the issue on the danger of mines, I just point out that as part of the overall mine clearing effort that we have our clearance diving team, who are standing by to begin the process of assisting with the clearance of that port, once it's appropriately secure to do so.

In relation to the security of the port, that's part of a coalition operation, in which we're not involved beyond the parts we're speaking about with our naval component, and those other parts are coalition matters we'd rather not address at our Australian-only briefings.

QUESTION:

Matt Wade, Sydney Morning Herald. Just going back to..

BRIGADIER HANNAN:

Just beyond that.. Sir, would you like to add something on the mine - the mine issue?

VICE-ADMIRAL CHRIS RITCHIE:

Yeah, only to expand on what the Brigadier said, when Um Qasr is secure enough, the port itself will be clear. Clearly from where we're operating at the mouth of the Khawr at the moment, from there upstream to the port of Um Qasr will be cleared by mine sweepers before any other shipping goes into that area.

Part of the purpose in what we're doing in the mouth of the waterway at the moment is to clear out other shipping to allow that mine countermeasures effort to take place.

QUESTION:

Vice-Admiral, Kieran Gilbert from Sky News. Which ships were involved in the interception of the three Iraqi vessels? Was it the Kanimbla solely?

VICE-ADMIRAL RITCHIE:

The Kanimbla. Yeah. The boarding party was from the Kanimbla.

QUESTION:

Peter O'Conner from The Associated Press. Vice-Admiral or Brigadier, whichever can answer the question, I think about two briefings ago you talked about some of the people that were being picked up on the ships might have been Iraqi - senior Iraqi members of the regime, or officials fleeing. I just wondered, now that we've had 50 prisoners, do we have any more information on who these people were? Were they soldiers, or were they people fleeing, or what?

VICE-ADMIRAL RITCHIE:

The people who've been picked up and passed on are a combination of soldiers, Iraqi Navy, I think even some sort of coast guard personnel. But none of them particularly senior.

QUESTION:

Do we know that they're people that were actually involved in military operations, or..

VICE-ADMIRAL RITCHIE:

I think they were people who were tasked to try and go and do this mining operation.

QUESTION:

Right. Ta.

QUESTION:

Just a quick one for the Admiral and then one for the Brigadier. Are there any more POWs still on the Kanimbla, Admiral?

VICE-ADMIRAL RITCHIE:

There are no more on the Kanimbla at the moment.

QUESTION:

Okay. And then, if I could just ask Brigadier Hannan a bit more about that SAS - well, not a contact, but activity overnight with the small military installation for launching missiles. Are you saying there weren't any Iraqi soldiers still at that point, and was there any evidence that it was there for launching missiles that had anything to do with weapons of mass destruction, or have our SAS come across anything - any hints of weapons of mass destruction yet?

BRIGADIER HANNAN:

We don't have any evidence of weapons of mass destruction in this case. The issue to do with the missile site was simply that the equipment there indicated that that was a possible use of the instillation. There were cranes and other equipment there that indicated that purpose. But it was also - had, you know, clear command and control purpose as well.

You know, beyond that we don't have a great deal of detail about this. Those folks are still out there, and the information pertaining to that's still coming back. We might have some more on this in future briefings.

QUESTION:

But Brigadier, and no knowledge of whether there was any Iraqi soldiers there, and there was no contract between their soldiers and SAS?

BRIGADIER HANNAN:

There was certainly no contact between their soldiers and SAS. As to Iraqi casualties, we don't have that level of granularity at the moment.

QUESTION:

Question for the Vice-Admiral. Can you tell me any more detail about the gun battle that HMAS ANZAC was involved in, and did they hit their targets?

VICE-ADMIRAL RITCHIE:

They certainly hit the target, yeah. ANZAC's now been involved in a number of incidents in support of land forces ashore on the Al Faw Peninsula. On each occasion there's been a spotter from the US Royal Artillery, who's designated the target to ANZAC, and on each occasion, yeah, the target's been hit.

QUESTION:

Brigadier..

VICE-ADMIRAL RITCHIE:

The system's been very successful.

QUESTION:

I'm sorry. Brigadier, Andrea Hopkins from Reuters. I'm just wondering, we're a day further into the war, if you can give a statement at this point regarding the relative success and the relative ease of the operation so far, and maybe an assessment of what you think you may still face in terms of Iraqi military might, given the success you've had so far?

BRIGADIER HANNAN:

I restrict my comment to the Australian forces only. I think matters on the overall coalition are matters that are best directed elsewhere by others. In terms of the Australian activities to date, the overall assessment would be that it's going according to plan, but there is still a long way to go, but that we have great confidence in the confidence and capability of our people, the usefulness and the value of our equipment, and the preparation that's been done to get us into this - to this stage, and that we're confident that we can go forward and complete the missions we've been given.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER:

Last question, thanks, ladies and gentlemen.

QUESTION:

Brigadier, are you able to give any assessment or information on the humanitarian fallout to date? Are refugees leaving their homes and towns, or are people largely staying in their homes and the cities?

BRIGADIER HANNAN:

In relation - specifically in relation to the Australians - the Australian experience to date would not provide any additional light on that particular matter beyond what's available from open source reporting, so..

QUESTION:

Do you mind just taking one more question?

BRIGADIER HANNAN:

Sure.

QUESTION:

Just going back to the aborted mission that you talked about, what happens now?

BRIGADIER HANNAN:

This is the - this is the fighter mission?

QUESTION:

Yeah. What happens now? What happens to the pilot - is there a debriefing on that? What's the process from here for that particular.

BRIGADIER HANNAN:

Yeah. Of course. Yeah, the pilots are fully debriefed after every mission, and there are lessons learned from every mission, and those need to be learned very quickly in any new operation, because the situation on this operation will be very different to the last, and very different to the next. So it's very important that - that pilots come back, share their experience and their information quickly - get it back so it can be turned into better guidance for the next missions.

Thankyou.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER:

Ladies and gentlemen, thankyou

END

 
 



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