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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


01/04/2003Departmental 10403/03


Media briefing Australia's contribution to Global Operations

Tuesday 1 April 2003

SENATOR ROBERT HILL: I thought I should participate in the briefing today because it's 14 days since we announced an Australian commitment and I think it's appropriate that in this format that I participate and be available to answer questions at least once a week.

General Cosgrove will obviously cover the military issues.

The first point I want to make is that on the basis of the advice that we've received from our military advisers, the government's view is that the progress of the military operation has been good. As you know, forces are on the outskirts of Baghdad at the moment. There's been a period in which the Iraqi divisions between those front line forces and Baghdad have been degraded through Coalition bombing and attacks from other aircraft.

Towns and cities behind the front line continue to be consolidated. We've demonstrated that the port is open for use by the Sir Galahad being able to provide supplies. The oil wells in the southern oil well district are safe. The last report I had was that there were only two left burning. And to safeguard that huge oil field, in the first instance I think with either nine or ten fires, was a huge achievement. We're pleased that the Iraqis have been unable to use their scud missiles.

And while humanitarian challenges remain, there has been no mass exodus of refugees and those challenges are being addressed. Progress has also been made now in the north of Iraq.

So, on that basis and bearing in mind that it's only 12 days since the conflict started, and really even less than 12 days of an intense military operation, the advice to us has been, as I said, that progress is good. And I think that's a point worth making. Because a lot of the media focus has been on particular incidents and that tends to get portrayed as the overall outlook for the day. And I think, in some instances, that's been somewhat misleading.

In relation to our own forces, of course their contribution has been most impressive. I don't think there's any doubt about that. And highlights of it have included, for example, the interception of the mines by the crew of Kanimbla. And if they had of got into the waterways the consequences could well have been catastrophic.

The C-130s haven't had a lot of public acknowledgment, but it's a good sign, not only in terms of their capability and capability of their crews, but also indicative of the overall progress of the campaign that they are now operating into Iraq itself. It shows that airfields are now open for that sort of contribution. The General might say more about that.

The F/A-18s, the flexibility of their operations has been - demonstrates great credit to their crews.

I particularly wanted to take the opportunity, however, to acknowledge in the same terms the support staff, both those that are operating within the operational area, but also those back here in Australia that are supporting the combat forces.

They don't always get the public recognition that they deserve, but without their very professional and dedicated contribution our front line forces wouldn't be able to do the job that they're doing so well.

Thirdly, I wanted to say in relation to forces in the future structure and composition of the force. I mentioned this morning that the government has decided that the two frigates that are in the Gulf at the moment, the Anzac and the Darwin, should start their trip back to Australia by the end of this month. It's been quite a long period of operation for them.

They were, of course, in the Gulf for some months as part of the multi-national interception force before the war started. They were extended to enable them to fulfil the very important tasks that they've been fulfilling and we think that it's appropriate that they be withdrawn, as I said, from about the end of this month.

The Government, at its National Security Committee meeting this morning, has decided that they'll be replaced by the Sydney. We don't at this stage think that the workload that will be appropriate - the workload that will exist at the end of this month would require replacement by two ships.

The work is obviously changing and reducing. I mentioned the securing the port, the bombing task of the peninsular has been completed, mine clearances work. The channel is open but the channel's been widened, but within a few days, possibly a week or so, that task will be complete.

Obviously the task for which the two ships went there in the first place, enforcing the sanctions, has now been overtaken. So we think that, taking advice from the military as to the possible workload for our ships in the future, that it's more appropriate to send one ship rather than two. So we've made that decision. And the Sydney will depart within the next couple of weeks and we'll provide further details of that in due course.

The second last thing I wanted to mention is we're spending a lot of time working on what we refer to as Phase Four Issues. As you know my colleague Alex Downer is in the United States discussing post-war issues at the moment. Whilst we don't see a major role for the ADF in the post-war environment, Australia is committed to playing a worthwhile part in the rebuilding of Iraq and ensuring that the Iraqi people get full benefit from this conflict and the removal of Saddam Hussein and his regime.

The last thing I wanted to mention was that Coalition relations remain very good, both at a military level and a political level. Certainly in relation to the jointness of this operation, it's worked exceptionally - exceptionally well. And we appreciate that it's been able to be managed in a way that keeps us properly informed to ensure our forces have proper notice of suggested tasks that we - that we are enabled [sic] to implement our rules of operation and our targeting directives as has been determined by the Government and in relation to those technical details the operation has gone exceptionally well.

Now I pass over to General Cosgrove.

GENERAL COSGROVE: Good morning, everybody, and my welcome also to our regular update on operations in the Middle East scenario.

I'm happy to start by reporting that, as I speak to you now, all our forces are safe and well.

Now, let me begin by making some general remarks about the war and how I think it is going from a military standpoint. I and other Australian officers have had access to the war plans for Iraq during the development, and we've seen most of those plans evolve and mature to accommodate the political and actual realities of events on the ground.

Those carefully drawn up plans have always recognised the nature of the task ahead and the size of the enterprise that was being undertaken. It's clear, from where I stand, that notwithstanding some of the unexpected or unusual events that have occurred, the war is right on its timeline. And well within the success parameters that the plan envisaged.

After less than two weeks, large sections of Iraq are under Coalition control, and the Iraqi Army has been severely weakened. The regime has been hit precisely and hard.

The south of the country will be progressively secured and cleared of Iraqi forces of all types over the coming days and weeks, allowing further humanitarian relief to flow and the liberation of the Iraqi people to begin, setting the stage for the decisive defeat of a regime that harbours weapons of mass destruction.

So far this has been a great success for what has been a relatively small but highly capable force on the ground, compared with say 1991. And it has been achieved with a concern to avoid civilian casualties and damage that is unique in war.

And I stress again something the Minister said to you, these are obviously very considerable political objectives. They are also very considerable military objectives. The southern oilfields are secure. There have been no ballistic missile launches against Iraq's western neighbours. The situation in northern Iraq is much more stable than people feared it might be.

Many of the pessimistic predictions haven't eventuated.

Of course the war planners had to take into account the possibility of rapid success should that eventuate, but that eventuality and its possibility has never been the basis of the plan for the defeat of Iraq.

War is full of surprises. This conflict has had a few already, and there are probably more ahead. That's just the nature of a battle. But those events that have been unanticipated have not thrown the plan off track, and the Coalition forces had built in the flexibility and stamina to adapt and to adapt quickly.

Correspondents at the frontline have done much of the reporting of this war, and this has given the public an unprecedented view of the battle, but it's also focused our attention, inevitably, on sometimes the minor details of a skirmish here or an action there. And, in that regard, sometimes have helped to obscure a view of the bigger picture.

My view is that the bigger picture is one of dramatic success and a plan on time and achieving the goals it set for itself.

Let me turn to a little detail about the Australians in this enterprise. Starting with maritime operations and turning to those marvellous Navy divers. They continue their efforts in clearing unexploded ordnance in and around the port facilities of Umm Qasr.

Now, the specialist skills of the divers are proving extremely valuable to the Coalition effort in assisting primarily with opening up more of the port for shipping, but you will see that they've acted in a little jack-of-all-trades manner in dealing with some ordnance found on land.

As part of the clearance operation, the divers are working hard to make safe a sunken Iraqi naval vessel containing a number of sea mines, which is near the new port facility where Australian grain would be unloaded at some hopefully new term future date.

Other tasks underway include clearance operations around the grain wharf - so that's on the wharf itself - and the disposal of that sea mine stockpile discovered by British commandoes, and I referred to that a couple of seconds ago.

Our landing craft operated by the Army are working with the divers to support their mine clearance operations.

Meanwhile, the ships Anzac and Darwin continue their operations in the Gulf region. HMAS Kanimbla continues in her role as a command platform for the maritime security operations in the Northern Persian Gulf.

And in discussion that our Commander Australian Theatre had with Admiral Keating the Commander of the Fifth Fleet yesterday, he laid heavy emphasis on the admiration he has for our command element, led by Royal Australian Navy Captain Stephen Jones, who's been in command for a number of months now and thoroughly understands how to get best effect out of a multi-national force in those tight and sometimes dangerous waters.

All ships remain alert to any possible waterborne threat, including suicide attack. And have appropriate tactics and techniques to cope with it.

Turning to land operations, our Special Forces remain deep within Iraq conducting reconnaissance and surveillance missions in support of the Coalition effort. These missions continue to gain good results.

Air operations. Our Air Force aircraft have continued their missions overnight without incident. The P-3 Orions flew long duration surveillance flights in support of a Coalition fleet in the Northern Gulf, while our F/A-18 Hornets flew more close air support and strike missions over southern Iraq.

Of note, as the Minister mentioned, our C-130 Hercules have completed their first two missions into an airfield in Iraq, delivering supplies and equipment for the Coalition forces. The missions were flown at night to maintain the security of the aircraft.

Our crews there have special training, which enables them to fly close to air surface, using night vision goggles at night, into constrained airfields. So that's an excellent performance of mission by them.

As announced by the Minister yesterday afternoon, let me remind you that the Australian Defence Force is deploying six imagery specialists to the Middle East. These are young men and women from the Royal Australian Air Force. Their job will be to examine and analyse photographic imagery taken over Iraq to assist commanders to select targets and to assess the outcome of strikes. This imagery and intelligence work ensures that Coalition air forces can maintain their level of target accuracy, avoid duplication of effort and continue to minimise civilian casualties.

Now, analysis of this nature is a niche capability maintained in only the most professional of air forces, and it will compliment Australia's existing contribution to disarm Iraq. And, of course, those small numbers of these specialists fall within the cap we established with government at the outset of this operation.

The current focus of the air campaign is to continue to strike high-level military and Iraqi leadership targets. And our F/A-18s will continue to play an important role in the campaign.

That concludes the formal part of today's brief, and the Minister and I would be now happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Minister, Lincoln Wright from The Canberra Times. On Sunday you painted a slightly different portrait of the campaign when you said that it would have been good to have avoided a battle in Baghdad. Today you painted a very rosy picture.

QUESTION: Surely one of the aims of the war plans which General Cosgrove has seen must have been to intimidate the Iraqi leadership into capitulating very quickly so we wouldn't have a battle in Baghdad. Isn't it therefore - isn't that therefore a glitch in the campaign strategy?

SENATOR HILL: I think it's probably more a military question but we were advised from the outset that there was a great deal of inbuilt flexibility in the plan. And from what I've read and listened to and see, and I don't think that's been well appreciated. And that was demonstrated by the decision that was taken to launch those initial Tomahawk missiles on leadership targets in Baghdad.

And if they had have been successful, of course, the goal was to short-cut the war and save civilian casualties and all the other benefits. Now, if you're saying to me that was a glitch, I don't think that was a glitch. That was clearly assessed as an opportunity worth taking at the military level. And from a political level, it seemed sensible to me as well.

And then the land forces moved a day earlier than some had have expected because of information that the southern oil fields were going to be fired. They moved and they succeeded in avoiding that. Now I don't regard that as a glitch. I regard that as a success. And so as it's progressed, you know if the war can be won, if we can achieve our goal of removing the weapons of mass destruction without street fighting in Baghdad, obviously that still is preferable.

But whether it can be achieved without that part of the operation is still yet to be seen. I don't know whether...

GENERAL COSGROVE: I wouldn't have anything to add. I think that sums it up.

Obviously you have the whole range of possibilities within a military plan. And in the case of the early resolution of the war by either a vacuum at the leadership level or the possibility that the regime forces would disintegrate, that's a hope. Hopes can lead to expectations, but the military plan for all eventualities. And that has always been acknowledged too by the political leadership of the Coalition countries.

A careful examination would show that, while political leaders hoped for a quick outcome, they were also careful to say that it could take some time.

QUESTION: General Cosgrove, Fran Kelly from the 7.30 Report. More on that sort of questioning really. You say that war is always full of surprises. What do you count as the major surprises we've encountered so far in this battle? And in terms of the war plan, which you've said seems to be on track, how much did that factor in the prospect of guerilla style tactics, suicide bombers and the need for the troops to quote, to cope with them? And also did it factor in the fact that the movement to Baghdad might be quick, but then there'd need to be such a pause while new ground forces joined?

GENERAL COSGROVE: I wouldn't say there's any major surprises. Perhaps a succession of smaller surprises, human shields, people dressing in civilian clothes, mingling with civilians and then firing on Coalition forces. And it doesn't matter how you construe that, it comes down to acts of terrorism in that they involve innocent civilians as part of the victims of the action. That's a terrorist act under any definition.

So we're starting to accumulate the brutal way in which the political cadres are exploiting the population in Basra. That's repeated in Najaf and Nasiriyah. I think even people inured to 12 years of close study of Saddam Hussein and years and years of longer range experience of his actions before that, even those people could not understand how he would brutalise his own population in trying to cling to a presidential seat in a presidential palace in some mausoleum somewhere in Baghdad or Tikrit.

QUESTION: General Cosgrove, Paul Bongiorno, Ten News. There are reports today that elements of the Hezbollah and other Palestinian terrorists are on their way to Iraq. Could we foresee that maybe we win a war but we're then left with a Lebanon-type situation of on-going effective terrorism? I recall the 250 GIs killed by a terrorist truck in the early eighties. Where does this fit into the war plan, and could it be possible that Australian troops withdraw when the country in fact has not been stabilised or made secure?

GENERAL COSGROVE: There'll be plenty of security work for all those interested nations and those involved nations at the end of what might be called the full military campaign and during what we might call then the rehabilitation period after that. There'll no doubt be security challenges.

But on the issue of these non-Iraqi terrorists who come into act with Iraqi forces, it seems to me that no matter where or what culture we're talking about, people in the end want Iraq for the Iraqis. And it seems to me that, if violent murderers who are professional killers come in from other countries, Iraqis who are sick of oppression and who want to see development; they want to see a stable government; they want to see a future for their kids, aren't going to get it if you've got mad bombers running around from Hezbollah or any other organisation.

I think they'll get pretty short shrift when the Iraqi people understand that Saddam isn't coming back.

QUESTION: Philippa Quinn from ABC Television. I've got a question for both of you. General, since we're in Iraq because of the weapons of mass destruction, are you disappointed they we haven't found any? And when and where do you expect to find them?

And Minister, the polls are up for the support of the war. How long do you expect those polls to hold when there are inevitable high civilian casualties coming?

GENERAL COSGROVE: I'll do the weapons of mass destruction one first. Just, yes, of course disappointed because it would have been lovely to cross the border from Kuwait and stumble over the first bunker full of WMD. Disappointed but really that was hardly likely. I mean, you would only need to be a quite mediocre strategist to say that Kuwait would be an approach to Baghdad and therefore, with the quite lengthy notice that Saddam had that this was going to be an issue that would be resolved one way or the other, he'd had plenty of opportunity to squirrel away this stuff. And there's certain intelligence that it has been squirreled away.

There's lots of circumstantial evidence that this is a chemical warfare environment. I just don't believe that, you know, of all the bits of kit that the Iraqis have and have not got, these pristine chemical suits and these chemical training centres and these antidotes to chemicals that are being found in the battle areas are somehow unrelated to the fact that Saddam has a chemical warfare capability.

He used it before. He's, we believe, still contemplating using it against Coalition forces. And the fact that nobody's stumbled over a sort of bunker full of chemical weapons or biological weapons simply means that there's a lot more work to be done; hundreds of sensitive sites to be investigated that are not yet available to the Coalition.

SENATOR HILL: I think the polls went up a bit after the Government had made the decision because Australians want to support and to be seen to be supporting the forces in the field once a decision has been made.

Whether they stay up, I think might depend a bit upon how long the war continues. If it is a relatively short war, it's successful and our forces return safely to our goals, then it might stay up, I don't know. We can't be and we're not driven by that.

QUESTION: Do you think those images of children and people being killed that the Prime Minister was talking about last night, do you think that's going to affect how we think and how the populace thinks about our involvement in this war?

SENATOR HILL: I think it does to an extent. All these factors influence how individuals respond to those polling questionnaires. But I think the community at large does recognise that there've been unprecedented efforts in this campaign to minimise civilian casualties. And no one believes that you can have a conflict such as this without any civilian casualties. So provided those efforts continue, I think that the community will recognise and appreciate that as the right way to be progressing this conflict.

QUESTION: Don Walford from AAP, Minister. You've given us a pretty reassuring picture of the military side of things. Are you as confident of winning the peace, and what would you define as a successful outcome in the end?

SENATOR HILL: Well I think winning the peace might turn out in the end to be the harder challenge. Probably a little early to say that because the hardest part of the battle is still ahead of the forces.

But the challenges of winning the peace are quite demanding. What success - see, we went into this campaign to enforce United Nations Resolutions that demanded that Saddam Hussein be disarmed of weapons of mass destruction. That's our principal objective and I'm confident that we will achieve that goal.

As it turned out in the end, it's proven to only be possible through the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime. So there can be incidental benefits to the Iraqi community because it's clearly been an oppressive regime and, to remove that oppression, has to be beneficial. So there will be that achievement in itself.

In managing the transition to a new form of Iraqi Government, dealing with the reconstruction, dealing with skirmishes that no doubt will continue, that I think is a major task in front of us and that's why I said the Government is already putting considerable effort into what might be the Australian contribution to Phase 4.

And we've demonstrated our good intentions in that regard by the purchase of the 100,000 tonnes of wheat as food aid. We do want to see that the Iraqi people are real and significant beneficiaries of this conflict so that, not only do we gain in terms of the removal of a threat, but they gain in terms of the removal of that threat in domestic terms that they've experienced over the last 25-odd years, but can look forward to a better future.

QUESTION: General Cosgrove, Dung Jen* from Radio Free Asia. The Coalition forces have bombed Iraqi radio stations and their TV stations, but the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, the Iraqi Information Ministry and even Health Minister have continued their press briefings. Is there any way of shutting them up?

And the second question is that, we've seen the Iraqi soldiers putting on civilian clothes. They did the fake surrendering and suicide bombing and possibly suicide boat. Have you seen any pattern out of these resistance?

And my third question is to Senator Hill. Since Iraq is a Muslim country, how do you see the post-war democratisation of Iraq?

GENERAL COSGROVE: I'm glad the Minister's got the last one. [Laughter]. The issue of people operating as suicide bombers and people operating as military but in civilian clothes is a tremendously vexed one because what it does is it makes the connection between the military forces of the Coalition and the people much more imbued with much more caution. And that's a natural outcome. It now is incumbent upon Coalition forces to accept a large part of that risk to behave in a very proper but careful way in order to ensure that they separate out from the hundreds of thousands of innocent people they're encountering sort of moment by moment. Separate out from them those few individuals who seek to perform a terrorist act which will inevitably result in damage to civilians.

It's something that military forces sadly have to train to do in a wide variety of ways, and the military force that's in the Gulf now is quite good at operating in these very tense environments.

Look at the way the British Army has had to operate in Northern Ireland for many years, and take lessons from that. Our own forces, I would report to you, are much less likely to be - on the land - are much less likely to be involved in those sorts of threats by the very nature of what they do.

Before the Minister answers his part of the question, can I just correct myself. I've had a call from Mrs Jones, her son is named Peter. So if you've made a note of Stephen, cross out Stephen and insert Peter.

Mrs Jones, Peter will be home soon and he's doing a good job.


SENATOR HILL: The democratisation of Iraq, yes, I don't think it will be in our terms, and it shouldn't be. It's got to be in Iraqi terms. I think, if you look at the way that issue has been progressed in relation to Afghanistan, it was recognised from the start that it had to be in terms in which the Afghan people are comfortable and understand. And therefore it logically follows the new form of government in Iraq has obviously got to be worked up with the Iraqi people.

Because of the various interests it's obviously got to accommodate satisfactorily the Kurds and the Shia and so forth. I expect a form of governance that provides a greater freedom than exists at the moment, a form of government in which the current intimidation is removed.

Beyond that, I think that those challenges still lie before us. And really it's going to require significant input from Iraqi leaders that we expect to emerge when the conflict is over and natural leaders are allowed to demonstrate their leadership. But I wouldn't - you know, it really flows on from the previous questions that I answered. Winning the peace to give a long-term better future to the Iraqi people is going to be very challenging.

QUESTION: Phillip Hudson from The Age. I've got a question for General Cosgrove. Excuse me. How do Coalition Forces convince Iraqi people that they're liberators and they're trying to help them when they see the images of, you know, dead children in gutters and ditches? And I was wondering how you feel when you see those images, knowing that you're part of the forces that I suppose are causing that to be a casualty of war?

And just a second quick question is there's reports of steroid abuse in the Defence Force. How widespread is that?

GENERAL COSGROVE: A nice span on that set of questions. Look, on the issue of the anguish that we all feel when we see any innocence, those scenes are devastating. And they play over and over. They don't just play over and over on television, they play over and over in the consciousness of people who understand that this war is a series of tragedies. All war is a series of tragedies. And as tragedies are the outcome of the death of the innocent, and even the death of the guilty. The death of those who are, for example part of the regime that's been oppressing the people there.

I sometimes feel that, you know, when you're thinking how terrible it is that there's been yet another death of innocence or injury to them, what encouragement you'd receive from Iraqis who suffered under the regime? From the Kurds who underwent chemical attack? From the lady whose image was shown as a victim? I understand that lady is still alive, what a life she must be living. I wonder whether she would say, 'Well, leave Saddam in power. Just leave him alone. It'll be fine.'

Now, we're not there to do that. But an outcome of being there to get rid of these chemical weapons is that the regime won't go quietly. So I think, as in all of these, it's a matter of eternal anguish that any innocent would suffer. And it's one of the hardest choices for governments and for people to achieve the outcome, the necessary outcome, there is always suffering that you'd prefer not to take place.

Steroids. Changing pace. The Army, like all other sections of society, like all other parts of the Defence Force has no truck with the use or abuse of substances that are sanctioned within the wider community. We don't need, should not use and we won't tolerate the use of steroids. It's not necessary to make a good soldier better, we're not looking for people who need chemical enhancement to grow bigger muscles. It's a thing that if young people get caught up in it, then they have serious questions to ask about themselves, and we'll be asking those questions of them too.

So, it's just not tolerated.

QUESTION: General, Dennis Grant from SBS. I only made Able Seaman at School Cadets and I struggle a bit with the military lingo. We've heard at these briefings that the Hornets have been firing 2,000 pound laser-guided bombs. Just to get a kind of a feel for what the effect of that might be, if a 2,000 pound laser-guided bomb hit the Mickey Mouse ears out here in Russell Square, what would the effect be?

GENERAL COSGROVE: Well, it would be devastating on some part of the structure. I don't know that it would topple it. I mean you're asking a technical question. Let me give you an example. You know the marketplace which was hit by some explosive? That's not a 2,000 pound bomb crater. A 2,000 bomb crater, if it was in the carpark just outside of this Russell Building, would leave quite a wide crater. It would be maybe 15 or 20 metres across, maybe a little more. Quite deep, probably as deep as a metre, a metre and a half in the middle of it, shelving out to the sides. There would be massive blast damage to the front of the building.

So if I use the illustration of the marketplace, I could say that's probably not a 2,000 pound bomb. It's probably not even a 500 pound bomb. They're also - that's the other bomb that's used. It's not a Tomahawk missile. I'm just trying to get some comparison for you there.

QUESTION: Senator, the two ships which are carrying the gift of Australian wheat, where are they? Are they Australian flagged? And presumably the insurers would have a risk premium on if not the cargo then at least the vessels. Will the government pick up that risk premium?

SENATOR HILL: I don't know the flag of the ships. I understand they are in the Gulf, or in the near vicinity. And we are experiencing some difficulties in them utilising the port facility at the moment. Whilst the Sir Galahad was able to go in and out, civilian ships are requiring the channel to be further widened, as I understand it, and that's why our mine clearance divers are contributing to that task at the moment.

There is issues of insurance, I've been told. Obviously the civilian regime is much more conservative in the use of a port that's been recently in a conflict such as this.

So other alternatives, because we're keen to get the grain in quickly, other alternatives are being looked at and there may well be some further announcements on that today. But within what I read this morning is that we hope within a few days the channel will be sufficiently widened and the extra precautions that the United Nations and the World Food Program require in relation to access to the port will have been completed.

But if the ship or ships are going to be held up for any period of time as a result of those matters, then we've preferred to look at other alternatives. And, as I said, we've been doing that.

QUESTION: I'm not sure who should best answer these two questions. What will be the role of HMAS Sydney be? One presumes that the blockade of Iraq, as I think the Minister indicated, is coming to an end in that sense. So will it become a combatant ship? And what role?

And furthermore, the Americans yesterday suggested there was something I think in the order of 45 countries now supporting the disarmament of Saddam Hussein. How many of these countries actually have boots on the ground or ships in the water or aeroplanes in the air?

GENERAL COSGROVE: I'll do the ship. The roles of the ships here are evolving. Plainly now it's not so much necessarily contraband coming out of Iraq as making sure that what goes into Iraq is good for the Iraqi people. So, in that respect, there will still be a need for what we might call 'maritime policing' in the area. Sympathetic to the ordinary rights and needs of the Gulf countries, but I think there's a certain confidence that the most important waterway in the world has got a well-behaved and ethical maritime presence. And the multi-national force is certainly in that category.

Now, the task will evolve. Whether it's going to be boardings or checking on merchantmen plying up and down the Gulf is yet to be seen. But plainly there is a need for a continued naval presence for a while yet. And even the while yet is a matter for definition down the track.

What was the second bit?

QUESTION: Oh, the second one was the Americans claim there are 45 nations now supporting what's going on. I was just wondering how many of these have put their money where their mouth is?

GENERAL COSGROVE: Paul, we wouldn't characterise it that way, but there are one or two countries which are present as part of - the Coalition name for the operation is 'Operation Iraqi Freedom' - and there's a couple of countries present. But inside Iraq I think it's probably the US, the UK and Australia with perhaps a few other nations with important but quite small contributions in the Gulf and supporting.

Now, that's probably changing on a daily basis. So I won't attempt to give you a definitive answer. But there are, for example, I think chemical defence units in Kuwait from some of the European countries. I won't attempt to define them, I might get it wrong and I'd get a phone call from the relevant ambassador.

So let's just say there's a couple of countries with units there now. Other countries with contributions of one form or another in-bound. And of that other 45, the contribution might be something vital like overflight rights.

OFFICIAL: Ladies and gentlemen, we'll take two more questions, please.

QUESTION: Okay, well I'll try and roll two into one. If I could ask the Minister, Minister you said we don't see a major role for the ADF in Phase Four and the General said that there's plenty of security work for all countries involved at the end of the military campaign. I guess what's the definition of the military campaign? And how long will ADF will stay in, post that?

And, General, can you confirm reports on the Net that says the SAS have been encountered 50 kilometres out of Baghdad and, as the Minister said today, that the Hornets have been engaged on the outskirts of Baghdad. Are Australian forces now close in to Baghdad?

GENERAL COSGROVE: Well, let me punt that one smartly through the goals on the SAS 50 kilometres from Baghdad. We won't say. Because to start getting into defining the distance is to - I mean the next thing you're starting to bracket it and you end up sort of getting it down to the last kilometre.

The SAS are in Iraq. And we do not deny the report of the journalist who made the report in the media the other day, but we would say that not all of that report was accurate. Not all of it was accurate. He met the fellows, they looked confident, they were on a road and all the rest of it, but the location and that sort of thing he's probably used a bit of journalistic licence because he was so impressed with these fellows he didn't want to compromise their exact position. [Laughter]. He possibly did that.

QUESTION: And the bombing on the outskirts, are we involved in the battle for Baghdad now?

GENERAL COSGROVE: Well, we are, because we're supporting the forces which are directly confronting Iraqi divisions on the outskirts of Baghdad. We're supporting those forces. So, yes, the bombing missions our planes are doing are directly in support of military operations designed to step right up to Baghdad.

QUESTION: Closer in than the 100 kilometres that was mentioned yesterday?

GENERAL COSGROVE: Oh, well again we won't get into the bracketing idea. I don't want to find that there's a surface to air missile battery waiting for the next mission, you see. I mean I don't want to draw too long a bow on that, but you can understand our natural caution to say it's in the vicinity but not to be too precise.

QUESTION: Cynthia Bannon from the - sorry.

SENATOR HILL: Sorry, I was thinking about - what was the first one again?

QUESTION: About the - you said that there's not a major role for the ADF in Phase Four...


QUESTION: ...but the General pointed out that the countries there would need a security...

SENATOR HILL: Yeah, when do we say that our task is complete? Well, as I said, our goal has been removal of weapons of mass destruction. And that, it's been accepted, 'axiomatic' is the word the Prime Minister uses, is that that would require the removal of the regime. That is really the task - the task to which we have committed Australian forces.

So there will no doubt be some blurring, and I don't think you're going to be say it's Phase Three one day and Phase Four the next. But basically, as time goes by, it's not our intention to provide significant ground forces as part of, say, a peacekeeping force. And there may be niche capabilities that we're able to support and that's all part of the Phase Four development that we're working on at the moment.

QUESTION: Cynthia Bannam from The Sydney Morning Herald. Just a question about the imagery analyst that you're sending into Iraq. Can you tell us a bit about who they are, where they'll be based and how long they'll be there? And just, secondly, we heard reports this morning that a vehicle carrying women and children was fired upon and seven women and children died. When our troops are supposedly being so careful and precise with their bombing, how did something like this happen? And what is an acceptable level of civilian casualties? What...

GENERAL COSGROVE: Let me start with the last one first. Zero is the acceptable level of - you don't have a scale. You deplore and regret every one, and you do your utmost to minimise it. But you accept that the nature of the war, the nature of the threat that you are seeking to eject is going to inevitably entail the civilian population being damaged.

The next one is about the Air Force, folks. I can tell you there's six and I can tell you that they are imagery analysts. They're going into the Middle Eastern AO [phonetic], but I don't think it would be in their interests or the interests of the Coalition to say, 'Oh, they'll be at XYZ'. So they'll be in there working in an appropriate headquarters to analyse overhead imagery of parts of Iraq. And they're experts at that and they'll do a good job, and we'll be getting them there as quickly as we can so that they can get to work.

And there was a middle part of the question which I...

UNIDENTIFIED: [inaudible]

SENATOR HILL: [inaudible] It's part of the first answer, really.

GENERAL COSGROVE: Yeah, it is. I mean the whole issue is when you have people who are deliberately using the population as part of the shield and the protection for their violent acts, then there will be mistakes made. And I don't know the circumstances of the incident. I've seen a brief report. It looks like a mistake. It'll obviously be investigated. We've obviously got a group of young soldiers who will have a memory - a sad memory that'll last them their lifetimes. And, you know, nothing will bring back those people. But this is the sad part of war.

QUESTION: Senator, one more if I may...

OFFICIAL: Thanks very much, ladies and gentlemen.

QUESTION:'ve blocked export [inaudible] a piece of technology.

UNIDENTIFIED: [inaudible] , you're the boss.

OFFICIAL: [inaudible] That'll do, thank you.

QUESTION: It's such an unexpected pleasure to have you here.

UNIDENTIFIED: What a helpful answer.

QUESTION: Why have you blocked the export...

OFFICIAL: Thanks very much.

QUESTION: Why have you blocked the export...

SENATOR HILL: [inaudible] ...her authority.
* * End * *

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