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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


29/03/2003Departmental 290303/03


Brigadier Mike Hannan

Sunday, 29 March 2003

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Good morning everyone, and welcome again to our regular update on operations in the Middle East.

Fortunately, I am able to report that all our personnel are safe and well.

Starting with Maritime Operations.

As you are probably aware HMS Sir Galahad docked early this morning at the Umm Qasr port. This represents a considerable milestone in the coalition effort to free the Port of mines and has now enabled the flow of urgently required stores to commence. Now this achievement is due in no small part to the efforts of Our Navy Clearance Diving Team, 3. CDT3 has played a significant role in clearing the first berth at the Port of Umm Qasr. This was the same team that located a sunken vessel with live mines aboard and rendered it safe over the last few days.

Our clearance divers are now working, above the waterline to clear grain handling facilities essential for the offloading of aid enroute to IRAQ. They will be assessing the handling facility and the grain lift to ensure it will be able to transfer the Australian grain currently waiting on ships without delay.

Meanwhile, HMAS Kanimbla continues to conduct patrolling duties, as well providing essential logistic support for our LCM8s and RHIB boarding parties. Clearance of the KAA shipping is largely complete at this stage.

HMAS Darwin and ANZAC continue to work with coalition elements ensuring the security of the KAA is not compromised.


Turning to Land Operations. Our Special Forces elements continue to operate deep inside Iraq. There have been no significant incidents over the period.

And now to Air Operations. Over the past 24 hours our FA-18s have conducted Defensive Counter Air, strike and close air support missions. The strike missions were aimed at enemy military targets. Close air support was provided after aircraft were redirected from DCA tasks. Importantly, all our crew and aircraft returned safely to base. This has been the 7th day we have conducted air missions.

Despite the heavy workload and hostile environment our support personnel on the ground continue to keep our fleet of FA-18s serviceable and able to make a valuable contribution to the coalition effort.

Our P3C Orion aircraft have continued to provide maritime surveillance providing key information about enemy movements. There have been no significant incidents here.

And our Hercules aircraft and crew continue to provide essential logistic support. -also Without incident.

I'd now be happy to take questions.

QUESTION: Brigadier, Kerrie-Ann Walsh* from The Sun Herald. Could you please just go into a little bit more detail about the F/A-18 Hornets? There were reports overnight that they were involved in bombing attacks against Iraqi Republican Guards. And the report suggested they dropped two laser-guided missiles, is that correct? And can you just give us a little bit more information about the mission?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, they've been involved in a range of missions overnight, and they include defensive counter-air missions where they are in the business of protecting our air assets from - that's the important and valuable aircraft such as tankers and AWACs aircraft - from attack. And they've also had strike missions, which is where they go out to actually strike a pre-determined target.

Now, in the case of the strike missions, they would be attacking with - and I'm not sure of the details but I can make an assumption that they would have been attacking with laser-guided 2,000 pound bombs.

In the case of the counter-air tasking, they're predominantly there with the weapons systems for counter air work. But they also carry laser-guided 500 pound bombs, and that allows them to be diverted from their counter-air task to conduct a close air support mission or some other strike mission on the ground if a target of opportunity arises or a coalition unit needs support on the ground. And that particular incident occurred overnight, that is an aircraft was diverted.

So there were both strike missions where they dropped the large bomb, and a rediverted close air support mission where they used the 500 pound laser-guided bomb.

QUESTION: Brigadier, Paul Ham* from The Sunday Times. I was just wondering whether you could confirm reports that the SAS were monitoring the road from Iraq to Syria to confirm whether Syria had been delivering military supplies?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well no, I couldn't confirm that report. Our SAS are conducting reconnaissance inside Iraq, and their location is something that we would keep quite secret.

QUESTION: Brigadier, Jemma Haines from Seven News. Just back to the F/A-18s, who are they assisting and what can you tell us about the targets?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Okay, the only information I have at the moment is that they were military targets. The unit that they were assisting, at the time of the close air support mission when they were diverted, I don't have that information, I'm sorry.

At the moment, however, the main coalition air effort is dedicated towards attacks on the coalition [sic] guard units which are south of Baghdad, and I think it's a reasonable assumption that they were involved in that - in working against those targets.

QUESTION: Kerrie-Ann Walsh again, Brigadier. Overnight there were also reports out of the United States that there's quite a bit of surprise at the resistance of the Iraqi troops. Is that reflected in military thinking here in Australia? And do we believe that the allies are actually over-stretched?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, I'm not sure about other people's levels of surprise, but speaking for myself as a professional soldier, I'm certainly only surprised if there aren't surprises on operations. All operations take strange twists and turns, and this one will be no different in that regard.

The main point for the coalition is that they need to retain focus on the mission and not be distracted by, you know, reporting of minor setbacks and difficulties.

Overall, the plan is clearly well on timetable and pushing ahead towards the objectives.
Sorry, the other part of your question was?

QUESTION: No, it was just about the level of resistance.

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Oh, about the level of resistance.

QUESTION: Yes, whether that was expected, whether the allies or the Australian military is considering that perhaps our tactics may need to be reassessed, because that's the sentiment that's being expressed in the United States overnight.

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Yeah, well I can only speak for the ADF, and the important point here is that we have a view that we continually adjust and readjust our tactics to meet the requirements of the situation.

The important point is that if you aren't flexible enough to adjust and adapt, then that would be a significant disadvantage in any operation.

QUESTION: Brendan Nicholson from The Sunday Age. Apart from adjusting our tactics, is there any likelihood that if the war is longer and bloodier than expected, as some of the people are saying now, that we might have to add to our force or change people? Change the make-up of our force?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Yeah, look any decision to do so, that is to extend the force to increase the size or change its composition, would be very much a decision that government would make.

The ADF, of course, would respond to government's decision, but we really wouldn't be part of that decision.

QUESTION: [Indistinct] from Radio Free Asia. Brigadier, can you say something about the embedded 33 Australian soldiers in the American troops and where are they from? If they're from the Air Force, Army and Navy or if they're from specific sections of the Australian Defence Force?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Yeah, okay. Those 33 individuals are on exchange to both the British and the American forces. They are from all three Services and they work across a range of rank and trades. They range from aircraft mechanics through to pilots, Special Forces Soldiers, and various Navy trades. I don't have specific information, and we wouldn't be releasing specific information on the individuals or where they are. But each of them is in close contact with the Australian authorities as well as their American commanders.

OFFICIAL: We'll take one more question, ladies and gentlemen. No more questions? Thanks very much.


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