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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


30/03/2003Departmental 300303/03

Sunday, 30 March 2003 300303/03


Media Briefing - Australia's Contribution to Global Operations

Sunday, 30 March 2003


Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to our Sunday update for Australian operations in the Middle East.

Fortunately I'm able to report that all our people are safe and well. Before I start this morning, I just note some reports in the press about RAN ships preparing to deploy to the Gulf. I can tell you this morning that the Government has made no decision on this matter, and there has certainly no decision been made regarding the deployment of further assets, or the rotation of those that are currently there.

On ships, I'll start with maritime operations. As we briefed yesterday, some of our clearance divers cleared the grain-handling facilities of the port of Umm Kasr, and these'll be used to handle the aid grain waiting offshore for delivery, and of course much needed at the moment.

The clearance diving team is now continuing to clear more berths in the port, and there's still plenty of work to do in this area to render all of the port safe for use. HMAS Darwin and ANZAC continue patrols in the south of the KAA waterway, while the HMAS Kanimbla continues to provide the command and control support for the boarding parties clearing out the waterway.

I'll also mention today our LCMA army landing craft - they've now moved back up the Kwar Abdullah and have joined the clearance diving teams and will be assisting with the port clearance.

At this stage the channel into the port is about 60 to 200 metres wide, well, varying between 60 and 200 metres wide, and there have been mines discovered on the edge of the channel, so there is still plenty of work to be done to fully open this port for operations.

Turning to land operations, our SAS carry out their task of long-range reconnaissance and surveillance inside Iraq, and there have been no significant issues or matter to report over the last period.

In air operations, we note this morning that US Major-General Gene Renuart, who's the director of operations at Central Command, earlier this morning praised the FA-18 aircraft for the role they are playing in the coalition missions. He went on to state that Australian, American, and British aircraft are working together through some pretty rotten weather to engage ground targets with great success.

General Renuart went on to add the Australian fighters have been working through very difficult conditions in the southern portion of Iraq. These conditions, which have been experienced by all of the coalition fighters, include thunder storms and extreme dust conditions. He also praised the Australian fighters' ability to swing from defensive counter air missions to strike missions and back again, and saw this as a credit to the pilots, their aircraft, and of course the RAAF as a whole.

Now, in the past 24 hours our RAAF FA-18 aircraft have been part of a coalition strike formation involving aircraft from all three nations, and they've been engaging important military targets to the south of Baghdad. This formation, or 'package', as it's called in the military jargon, was made up of United States aircraft, UK aircraft, and of course our own FA-18s.

The type of mission, its general success indicates how well the force elements are integrated into this combined air action.

Meanwhile our P3-Orion aircraft have been providing maritime surveillance to the coalition maritime forces in the Gulf. And there've been no significant issues to report there, and our C-130 aircraft have continued their hard work, once again without significant issue.

That concludes our report for today. I'd be happy to take your questions now.

QUESTION: Mark Forbes from The Age, Brigadier. I mean, as you referred to there - I mean, yet again we seem to be getting more information from US commanders about what our planes are doing over there. When are we going to start getting some specific information, as the Americans have been given out, on what precisely we're hitting, and why aren't we seeing some vision, which should exist, of those targets, both before and after. Why this coyness about what the Hornets are actually doing?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, I think if you go back to yesterday's reporting you'll find that Colonel Elliott gave a briefing in the AO yesterday, on the missions for our aircraft overnight, and he provided a little bit of specific detail there. That's about the level of detail we have available to us here. I'm certainly not going to be going over his - his utterances again this far away from the front.

In regards to issues of photography of the missions, we keep those as - as intelligence documents, and they're not for general release.

QUESTION: Samantha Armitage from Sky News, Brigadier. Any more comment on this pause, or consolidation by the coalition outside Baghdad at this point in time?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Yeah, I'm not sure that we've seen a pause in operations. I think operations are going ahead pretty much as - as planned. What you're seeing is a lot of operations that are not being readily reported, because we don't have journalists on the spot to do that reporting.

Over the period there's been substantial activity to - to attack the two Republican Guard divisions to the south of Baghdad, and to weaken those positions in preparation for the next part of the ground war, and I think that - that can be seen as a pretty aggressive continuation of operations. Hardly a pause.

In terms of the effect that it has on our forces, we're continuing with our missions and our specialist roles unabated. There's been no pause for us.

QUESTION: Brigadier, Paul [indistinct], from the Advertiser. We've seen reports of suicide bombers targeting coalition forces. What degree of threat do we think is posed to Australian forces by suicide bombers, and what steps are we taking to prepare for that threat?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, this isn't a new threat, and it's - it's not one that doesn't have plenty of exposure in all sorts of military operations. Clearly there is a threat posed by these types of actions, to all of our forces. But we have tactics and techniques which are designed to ensure the safety of people while still allowing us to get on with the mission, and I can be reasonably sure that the commanders in the field are making sure that those tactics and techniques are in place.

For those elements of the Force that are probably less exposed to this in the past - the more conventional forces - I'm sure that they'll be quickly instituting tactics and techniques to help them secure the safety of their people.

This might mean that operations are conducted in a slightly different way, at a slightly different pace. What it doesn't mean, however, is that there'll be any lessening of the commitment of the coalition to conduct this operation in accordance with the laws of armed conflict, with the full protection of civilians.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up to that. You mentioned that operations might be conducted at a different pace. What sort of problem does that pose for coalition operations? How much will it put a brake on coalition operations?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, in the - in the overall sense, I think it makes very little - it will make very little difference. Down at the ground - at the - at the individual soldier level - then clearly there'll be some changes in the way business is done to accommodate these kinds of threats.

But these are not unusual in war, and there are - there's plenty of experience in all of these coalition forces to deal with it.

QUESTION: Brigadier, John Kerin from The Australian. Just to follow up on that, what sort of impact do those kinds of attack have on troop morale? Again, commanders see the opposition using any and every means available to them, and their hands are tied to some extent.

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Yeah. Look, I think that there's clearly an effect on moral from all sorts of activities that happen that are adverse in the battle field, and every commander recognises this. But the expectation from commanders is that we have a professional force, they understand - they understand the way operations are conducted far better than any forces we've ever deployed in the past.

They're much better prepared and trained for that, and we think that overall, the - the impact on morale will be fairly minimal.

QUESTION: You were mentioning the mental health aspect. Would they have been told to expect suicide bombings? That that might be one of the methods that the Iraqis might use?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: John, I'm not sure that that would have been part of the mental health briefings - I don't know what was included in the detail of those briefings. But I'm - I am sure that they would have been included - that information about that or the expectation of that would have been included in the operations briefings for troops going over.

The issue here is one of using the appropriate tactics and techniques, if I can come back to those two rather interesting military words. By doing the correct things on the ground to ensure the safety of our people. And this is really a matter of just getting the procedures right, making sure that our people are safe and secure, and that the exposure of these people is minimised.

QUESTION: Brigadier, Gemma Hayes from Seven News. I know you said that no decision has been made about..


QUESTION: ..any rotation. But would HMAS Sydney be one of those ships that could be part of any rotation if that was to happen, months down the track?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: I'm not sure of the status of Sydney directly, but there would have been prudent contingencies put in place, and - so that any Government decision could be reacted to. But I can only restate the basic position, and it's one that the Minister himself made this morning on television, and that is that the Government hasn't made a decision yet - that these are matters that will require careful Government consideration, and that's still in the future.

QUESTION: Mark Forbes again, Brigadier. Does the ADF concur with the view of our Defence Minister, expressed this morning, that the initial expectations about this conflict were wrong, and that it is going to take longer than your plan has envisaged?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, I'm not sure that that's exactly what the Defence Minister said. I think he said that - that probably there was some surprises, in some ways. And I think that's probably true, but in terms of whether it's going to take longer in the overall scheme than what was planned - I think that perhaps there's been some pundits that have had some pretty unrealistic expectations. I mean, the Gulf War..

QUESTION: Like Donald Rumsfeld?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: The Gulf War took well over 40 days, and that involved a very small patch of land, with very little in the way of built up areas. We're talking about the invasion of a country with a substantial population and substantial cities. Clearly this is a greater enterprise.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Do we have any more questions?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Thankyou ladies and gentlemen.

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