Media Briefing Australia's contribution to Global Operation
Wednesday 26 March 2003
Good morning everyone, and welcome again to our regular update on operations in the Middle East.
As you are probably aware from media reporting, there have been rather severe weather conditions in the area of operations.
This includes fierce sandstorms, which have significantly reduced visibility and is making life pretty uncomfortable - particularly for those operating on the ground. As we said yesterday, our equipment and training are excellent and the poor weather has had a minimal impact on operations.
Starting with Maritime operations . . .
Our Navy clearance divers are well into their clearance operations in and around the vital port of Umm Qsar.
As briefed yesterday, these are demanding and dangerous operations. The divers work closely with their United States coalition partners locating, rendering safe and disposing of mines, other explosives and other obstacles in and around the port.
While I have no details as to what the divers have come across at this early stage, we hope to bring you some of these details in the coming days.
However, what I can say, is that our clearance divers are safe, and are busy with their mission of opening up the port in order to get much needed humanitarian assistance in for the Iraqi people.
Regarding our ships - there have been no significant issues or changes to their operations since yesterday to bring to your attention. They remain busy with multinational interception operations in the north Persian Gulf.
These operations remain under the Australian command of Captain Peter Jones.
The rush has now reduced to a trickle, with only a small number of vessels remaining in the area.
These will be progressively cleared over the next few days as the port is cleared of mines.
Our special forces continue operating deep inside Iraq.
Over the past 24 hours, I can report they have continued to conduct reconnaissance on Iraqi fences. Further details of the SAS operations will be released when they are available.
As you know, our Special Forces troops remain closely integrated into the coalition effort, and are performing their primary role of long-range reconnaissance. They will also continue to undertake "direct action" missions against various targets as the opportunities arise.
Obviously our troops will also be contending with the severe weather conditions like everyone else, but that's very much part of life for the troops on the ground.
Our FA-18 Hornet aircraft have again been involved in Defensive Counter Air missions overnight.
The missions have been routine, and all of our Hornets have returned to Base safely.
Now, I'd just like to take this opportunity to mention a new Defence initiative announced yesterday regarding support for the families of our deployed folk.
Yesterday the Chief of the Army reported that our troops greatly appreciate getting mail and packages from their families. Since then, there have been many offers of packages for the troops from generous people.
Unfortunately, we don't have the capacity to process packages from the public, and our deployed forces are well provided with their needs.
The very best support that people can provide is a message of support by email, fax or letter.
A selection of the messages will be posted to the Defence web site where families will be able to access and read them.
Well, that concludes today's brief, and I'd now be happy to take any of your questions . . .
QUESTION: Yesterday in parliament, Defence Minister Robert Hill said that there was planning for rotation for the troops. Are there any plans to rotate troops?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well the government has made no decision on rotation of the troops, but clearly we have contingency plans that would allow the ADF to do that, should it become necessary.
QUESTION: Mark Forbes from The Age. I was actually going to ask a similar question, but in those contingency plannings, given that the shape of the war is emerging into what looks like more of an urban anti-guerilla campaign, in those contingency plannings for rotation are we look at altering possibly the elements that are making up our deployment?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: The contingency plans for rotation obviously deal with rotation of the current force. A change to force structure of any type would be a matter for government, and I'm not aware that any decision has been made in that regard.
QUESTION: Brigadier, yesterday was, saw the release of the Gulf War Veterans Study that found that returning soldiers had higher rates of psychological disturbance, and one of the recommendations was the findings of that study be distributed as soon as possible. What measures are being taken to get that information to the troops that are currently deployed? And can you tell us a little bit more about what the additional measures that have been employed since that, to particularly prepare soldiers for the exposure to chemical weapons, and also obviously the fear of exposure to chemical weapons?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well let me begin by saying that we're very pleased to see the study released, and we hope that the generally good findings in the study for the health of veterans of the Gulf War provides some reassurance and some much needed balance to the debate.
In relation to the finding in the study that there was a slight increase in susceptibility to post traumatic stress disorder for veterans in that war, I'm pleased to be able to tell you that since the Gulf War there've been outstanding and substantial changes to the way we deal with the mental health of our forces.
Preparation for operations, during operations, and after operations, the health care is exceptional. In fact it's leading edge.
Before any sailor, soldier, airman or airwoman deploys to operations, they're given extensive briefings to prepare them for what lies ahead.
Now the briefings are tailored for the operations - that is, they deal with the specific threats and issues that are likely to be encountered on that particular operation. And that can include threats from various weapons and the fears that those weapons can engender in people.
They're also given literature - written material that they can keep with them as a ready reference - and that advises them of the actions and so on that they need to take once symptoms or signs become identified in themselves or in others around them.
Once they're on operations we can support them on operations in one of two practical ways. Firstly, most deployed forces take with them psychologists who are part of the medical team and are able to provide support in-country as required.
In cases where the forces are dispersed over very large areas and the medical support systems don't support it - such as this operation - we have fly-away teams of psychologists who are able to be deployed quickly to deal with significant traumatic events or for specific problem areas as they arise.
In the area of operation, the commanders are highly sensitised to the need to maintain the mental health of their troops, and of course the medical system these days has a number of trip wires in it so that we can respond with good psychological care.
Now people don't just come back to society from the war zone these days. It's much more carefully planned than that. Troops are given extensive debriefings and also individual screenings before they come back.
In places where their return is sudden - that's done within the first 72 hours of return. But obviously for the sailors coming back on the ships, there's ample time for screening to be done in the transit time. And for others we try and do it in theatre before they leave.
This allows us to identify any need for treatment or special care, and we then follow up some three to six months later with additional screening which allows us to make sure that the integration back into normal society has been successful.
Overall we're very proud of our mental health strategy. We think that it's leading edge - certainly world's best practice. We're trying to improve it all the time obviously, but I think it provides some reassurance to those veterans of the Gulf War that their successors in this war will have a much better support system available to them.
QUESTION: Brigadier, I just want some clarification about ballistic missile sites. You said on Monday that our SAS had called in air support to destroy a ballistic missile site. Yesterday, at the Pentagon, when General McChrystal asked about the same kind of question about ballistic missile sites, whether there was any in Iraq, he said 'to my knowledge there's been none detected at this point'. So can you clarify that for me?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Yeah. I think if you go back to our reports of the SAS incidents, they found installations which had equipment such as cranes, generators, fuel tanks and so on, which were consistent with having been used to move and deploy missiles at some stage.
There's certainly been no missile sites found and no missiles found and no weapons of mass destruction found by our forces at this stage.
QUESTION: I think the question to General McChrystal was, was there any evidence at all.
QUESTION: Brigadier, Keiran Gilbert from SKY News. With the traffic decreasing through the Kha Ab Allah has there been any more Iraqis detained, and any more POWs on Kanimbla?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: No there have not been at this stage.
BRIGADIER HANNAN: That's right.
QUESTION: Right. And can you tell us what is the status of the UN interception force now? Are those operations still happening as, at the same time as what the operations in the Gulf are happening?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well the, the force under Captain Jones is carrying out, you know, the interception operations obviously now as part of the Falconer, the Falconer operations. That is, it's still necessary to ensure that the vessels coming out of that port are properly screened and dealt with. Obviously there's a slightly different focus, as we've mentioned in previous briefings.
QUESTION: Sorry one more supplementary question. So there are other non-coalition ships still operating as part of the UN interception force in the Gulf at the moment?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: I'm not aware of any. As I understand it, the forces under Captain Jones' command are Australian, British and US ships only.
QUESTION: Brigadier, I just wanted to ask you a bit about the, the American strategy of 'shock and awe'. A lot of people are beginning to think that maybe either it didn't work or that it wasn't used. I was wondering whether we have a position on that? I mean I know we weren't part of the planning, but do we have a position on that overall strategy now that we're at the gates of Baghdad?
And secondly, I was just wondering about the perception of what Australians are doing in Iraq. I think Israel has thanked us for our support, but I'm wondering whether that might be a bit sort of unwise for us, given that the Arab world sees Israel as a problematic nation in itself, and Australia defending Israel is politically, politically not an astute image for us to have.
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Yeah. Now your first question regard, just to set your first question in regards to 'shock and awe'. I mean, I think when reporting on a conflict of any kind, what you see depends very much on where you're standing. And I think if you were standing with some of those Republican Guard units that are the recipients of the 'shock and awe', that you might see a slightly different view of the effectiveness of those attacks.
If you were a civilian or a reporter amongst the civilian community, then hopefully you'd see very little evidence of it because of the way it's been planned and executed, and I think that's probably the way we would want it to be.
In regards to its effectiveness - well I think you've given us the answer to that yourself. We are at the doors of Baghdad and that's happened in an amazingly short period of time.
QUESTION: Wasn't the aim of 'shock and awe' to get the regime to capitulate before you had an urban warfare?
QUESTION: [indistinct] that Dr Harlan Ullman says that the whole aim of the strategy was to do that.
QUESTION: And the Israel question?
QUESTION: Brigadier, Dung Giem* from Radio Free Airshow. President Bush said before the start of the war that the United States is going to hold those people who harbour terrorists accountable. Now with the start of the war, is the coalition government prepared to hold those civilians who were helping Iraqi soldiers and troops and the regime accountable? And with the blur of the difference of it being, the civilians and the Iraqi troops, how does the coalition government deal with the civilian disgust of Iraqi troops?
And the other thing is that, I understand the coalition troops have met some resistance in some of the cities due to the guerilla warfare adopted by Saddam Hussein's regime. Any new, any change of strategies on the part of the coalition, coalition troops?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well firstly you mention a coalition government. I'm not aware of any coalition government that exists at the moment. And I certainly couldn't comment on a hypothetical one for the future.
In relation to the effectiveness of the, or the use of civilians and civilians role in the war, I think the important point, from our point of view as Australians, is that there are significant laws - both customary and as part of the Geneva Conventions - which deal with the roles of civilians in war - and the rights of the military to use civilians in war - either as shields, as part of deception, or in other ways.
Now we would expect that the Iraqi regime would uphold their signatory to those conventions. That would ensure that civilians are kept safe and kept out of, out of battle.
Now there are other protocols which deal with the issue of how we behave and respond to civilians in those circumstances. And the important point from Australia's point of view is that we are signatories to these conventions and we uphold those laws throughout.
In relation to guerilla warfare in the, in the suburbs and in the built up areas, I'm not sure that we're seeing a guerilla warfare taking place. I think what we're seeing is a bit of fighting in built up areas, and it's always going to be scrappy, it's always going to be difficult, it's always going to be house to house, and it's always going to be very tough.
I think that's a long way short of the sort of campaign that you're describing to me.
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Oh I think that that's all part of normal operations Mark, and that's all part of the sorts of operations that are conducted at all levels in conventional operations in war of any kind.
If you're only fighting in one dimension, then you're not doing yourself any favours.
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Overnight the, overnight the FA18 Hornets were involved in defensive counter air tasks only. There were no strike missions involved. And they weren't called upon to engage any targets of opportunity. So there was defensive counter air missions only.
As to the SAS role, we don't have any information for you at the moment on contacts with them overnight. Their role is a highly specialised one, and I would suggest that they will be employed within their role throughout their deployment to the extent that we can ensure that that happens. Things do change in war, but to the extent that it's possible, they'll be employed within their role.
The location that they work, and their targets and the types of information they're collecting, that of course may change and they may be redeployed to different areas.
QUESTION: Samantha Maiden from The Advertiser again. What role, if any, would the SAS have in the battle for Baghdad in terms of a direct role? And could you also give us an update on the activities of the Orion's that are of course based at the RAAF in Edinburgh in South Australia?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well as I said, the SAS role is quite a specific one of special reconnaissance, and the role for that in the battle for Baghdad would be not something that you could envision, envisage as a normal part of operations. It's more likely that the SAS would have been employed within their role in other areas - that is further behind enemy lines, conducting their reconnaissance, looking for installations.
In regards to the P3 Orion aircraft. You saw two images come up in the presentation this morning. Those images were taken by senor cameras on the Orion's, and they actually showed an image of the port of Umm Qasr and part of the Kha Ab Allah waterway.
That's just a small sample of the imagery that's being produced by them, from a wide range of missions they're undertaking to provide back information to support the coalition effort. So they've been very busy. They've been flying every day, and they're not perhaps quite so glamorous as the others but the information they provide is absolutely essential to our effort, and their availability - that's their reliability, mission completion and the accuracy of the information has been quite fantastic.
QUESTION: Brigadier, can you comment about the, Minister Hill's comment that Australia is not going to send any troops, or keep any troops in the Middle East to do the peacekeeping job and the future, possibly future conflict elsewhere in the world?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Yeah. Well I think the Minister's, the Minister's statement was fairly self-explanatory. That's, the government policy is that we will not aim to maintain forces in the Middle East beyond our commitment to the operations, and that is very much a matter of government policy and a matter that perhaps should be commented upon by government.
CHAIR: Ladies and gentlemen that concludes today's briefing. Thank you and have a good day.
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