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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


02/04/2003Departmental 20403/03


Media briefing Australia's contribution to Global Operations

Wednesday 2 April 2003


Good morning ladies and gentlemen, and welcome again to our regular update on operations in the Middle East.

Starting with Maritime operations . . .

ANZAC and DARWIN will have been on duty in the Gulf for about six months and - along with HMAS KANIMBLA - have made a significant contribution to the Coalition's successful maritime campaign.

This campaign involved the securing of the sea approaches to Iraq, including the oil platforms of the Persian Gulf, the strategically vital AL FAW peninsula and the key port at Umm Qsar.

The guided missile frigate HMAS SYDNEY will be deployed to the Middle East in the near future to take over from ANZAC and DARWIN. She will join HMAS Kanimbla - who will remain for the time-being - to continue providing maritime security operations in one of the world's most vital waterways.

I thought it might be useful at this point to give you some brief details regarding HMAS SYDNEY.

The SYDNEY is one of the Royal Australian Navy's six multi-purpose Adelaide class frigates.

She can perform surveillance, patrol, response tasks or escort duties, and can be used against air, surface and submarine threats.

The standard weapons systems on HMAS SYDNEY include the 76 millimetre rapid fire gun, standard surface to air and Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and the Vulcan Phalanx close in weapons system. She normally has a crew of about 186 officers and sailors, and can sail at more than 30 knots.

SYDNEY will sail for the Middle East at a time to be confirmed - and we'll provide those details to you in due course.

In the meantime, ANZAC, DARWIN and KANIMBLA all remain on task in the Gulf.

ANZAC is currently conducting escort duties for coalition ships in the area, while KANIMBLA continues to serve as a command and control platform for the ongoing clearance operations in the K-A-A waterway.

At Umm Qsar, our clearance divers continue mine clearance and ordnance disposal operations in the port and surrounding area. One of the main areas of interest to our divers has been the approaches to the roll-on, roll off facility at the western end of the port.

The Army's two Landing Craft - or LCM8s - continue to provide valuable support to the divers at Umm Qsar.

These small vessels - with their crew of five soldiers each - provide an excellent logistics support and work platform in operations such as those being conducted by the divers at Umm Qsar.

The crew of these vessels are highly experienced having been involved in lengthy deployments to East Timor and Bougainville over the past few years.

Now turning to Land Operations . . .

Our special forces troop continue their surveillance and reconnaissance operations deep inside Iraq. I have no significant incidents to report at this point.

And now to air operations . . .

All our aircraft have been busy over the past 24 hours, and all have returned safely to base.

The FA-18s have continued to conduct close air support operations in southern Iraq, while our C-130s have continued with supply missions around the area of operations, including the deliveries of stores and equipment to coalition forces inside Iraq.

The Orions continue to fly important maritime surveillance missions in support of coalition shipping in the northern Persian Gulf.

Now, before closing, I'd like to give you a little about targeting and how the coalition works to protect civilians and important cultural sites.

In the public debate about targeting, the discussion has, rightly, focussed on the possibility of the civilian casualties that could be a possible outcome of any strike. The ADF takes its responsibilities for minimising civilian casualties very seriously and has robust targeting procedures and rules of engagement to assist commanders to make good decisions about an attack.

But, in some cases, the military attack can threaten not only the life of civilians, but also the cultural assets of a country. In past wars significant cultural sites have been destroyed and lost forever through military action.

The 1954 Hague Convention for the protection of Cultural Property was a response to the loss of cultural heritage in World War II. It provides a level of protection for cultural property and binds the signatories to protect it from damage except in the most unavoidable of circumstance.

Some sites are provided special protection under the convention and these are marked with a special symbol. There are only a handful of sites throughout the world that have been granted special protection.

The cultural heritage within modern Iraq is important to the whole world. This is widely considered to be the cradle of our western civilisation and it is incumbent on Australia to protect that heritage. This task is made difficult when the Iraqis use important and protected cultural sites to protect military targets.

I would like to draw your attention to the first satellite photo on the projection.

This is a satellite photo of the archaeological site at Ctesiphon. The photo can be publicly broadcast because the situation on the ground has changed over the last few days and it is no longer of concern for us. It does illustrate both the willingness of the Iraqis to use cultural sites to protect military targets and the importance placed on their protection by our targeting process.

The first photo shows the museum complex at Ctesiphon. Clearly shown on the roof is the symbol of protection as a special site under the 1954 Hague Convention for the protection of cultural property.

The ruins of Ctesiphon, including the arch of Ctesiphon dating from the 3rd century, are located here.

Clearly shown in this photo are military vehicles dispersed in the ground between the arch and the museum.

I should note that the arch is in such poor condition that the even a surgical strike against an individual vehicle could cause it to fall because of the shock waves from an explosion.

In the second satellite photo, the museum is shown from another angle with military vehicles lined up in the car park.

Now, since these photos were taken in mid March, the vehicles have been moved elsewhere, so the issue of the protection of this site is not an issue at the moment. But, it is a useful example of the type of cultural protection issue being faced by the coalition.

Well, that concludes today's brief, and I'd now be happy to take any of your questions . . .

QUESTION: Brigadier, Jo Ball from Channel 7. The US appears to have changed its rules of engagement because of the threat of suicide bombings and, because of that, civilians who haven't stopped at checkpoints have been killed. I just wondered whether the Australian Defence Force has changed its rules of engagement because of the threat of suicide bombings?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, I can't speak for the American rules of engagement. I'm not sure that they've changed and I'm not sure of the circumstances surrounding those incidents, as tragic as they were.

I can tell you that our rules of engagement have not changed, particularly in relation to the ground force incidents that you're talking about.

QUESTION: Sorry, can I just - what have you told the troops in relation to suicide bombings? How to deal with them?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, we have tactics and techniques to deal with protecting our own troops, and those obviously we're not going to spell out in public. But we have had some experience, as have the other Coalition partners, in dealing in these risky environments. And there are ways that we can protect ourselves, and we take those precautions.

QUESTION: What's Australia's policy on the use of cluster bombs?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: We don't use them.

QUESTION: What about the escorting of American bombers that might be using them?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: We don't assist in the use of them.

QUESTION: Are you aware of the alleged massacre that's occurred - just near the town of Hilla [phonetic] south of Baghdad.

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: No, I haven't heard a report on that.

QUESTION: With the use of cluster bombs.

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: I haven't heard reports of that.

QUESTION: Brigadier, Amanda Caval*, SBS Radio. There's been some discussion in past days that America may well use Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to house some Iraqi prisoners of war. If that were to go ahead, that would seem a clear contravention of the Geneva Convention. What's Australia's position on that?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, we have a clear position that we treat prisoners of war in accordance with the Convention, and we will expect that to be maintained. If Australians were not to be fully responsible for prisoners of war, then our expectation would be that the Coalition arrangements, that we handed prisoners on to, would meet those Convention requirements.

QUESTION: Brigadier, Mark Phillips from News Limited. There's been some reports that one of the US POWs has actually been rescued.


QUESTION: This sounds like the type of task that our commandoes are trained for. Has there been any

involvement of them in that kind of mission?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: I've just heard those reports myself, and I don't have any further information on that. But I can tell you that our people were not involved.

QUESTION: Brigadier, [indistinct] from Radio Free Asia. Can you offer a bit more information about SAS troops? I mean except mentioning that they're doing reconnaissance. I mean what tasks have they been doing? And what sort of achievements have they got? A little bit specific information about that.

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, clearly they're watching areas of Iraq and reporting on any Iraqi military activity in that area. But also providing information back about the movement of refugees or escapees, about even the movement of journalists in some cases. And they're providing that information back. If it were appropriate, they would be able to call in air support to allow them to attack a military target.

Now, they've been there for some considerable time and in the process of doing that they've established a very good understanding of the Iraqi deserts and the Iraqi countryside they're working in. They've established great familiarity with the area in - sorry, with the land in their area of operations. And they're able to move and maintain themselves quite readily in that area now.

I think since they've been there they've obviously had to be resupplied with fuel and food, and that would have been done as a secret operation.

QUESTION: Any specific destruction of the regime, or part of the destruction of the regime that could be attributed to the SAS troops?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Look, there have been some - there have been some activities, some battles, and we've reported some of those. But in the cases where the troops remain in the area where the battle occurred, then we're not reporting those at the moment. We will report on them in due course once our troops are safe and away from that area. Because obviously the Iraqis know where these battles occur and we would not want to have our troops associated with the incidents.

QUESTION: Brigadier, Jason Coutsoukis [phonetic] from The Financial Review. The Bulletin magazine has reported this morning that Australian military officials were intimately involved as far back as July last year in the planning for the war on Iraq. Can you confirm that that's true? And do you have any other general comments to make on it?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Oh, well look I don't have any comment on the exact words used, that's 'intimately involved in the planning for Iraq'. I mean certainly we have officers involved with the US military continually in planning positions. And there would have been some involvement in the development of plans. But I think that that's probably drawing a slightly longer bow than is the reality.

QUESTION: So [indistinct] the Bulletin reported they were sent specifically over to plan for a war in Iraq, is that what you're saying?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: No, no, we've had officers located with SITCOM [phonetic] in Tampa preceding our operations in Afghanistan, okay? So those officers would have been involved in planning operations in the headquarters, of course.

QUESTION: Jo Ball again. There's been reports a helicopter from Kanimbla has been involved in operations in Basra. Can you confirm that? And also that it's come under enemy fire? Can you confirm that?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: I can't confirm that. But we'll get a fix on that and get back to you.

QUESTION: Brigadier, Lincoln Wright for The Canberra Times. Just another question on war planning, the New Yorker has run an article by Seymour Hersch [phonetic], apparently with inside tips from the Pentagon. And one of his sources claims that Rumsfeld overruled the fundamental Pentagon document which governs how troops and armour is distributed around the world.

Given that General Cosgrove was pretty aware of the American planning, was he aware that the civilians had begun to overrule the generals in the Pentagon? Or were we left out of that loop?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Oh, look, I think the matters for how the US planning takes place and decisions are made are really matters for the Americans and we wouldn't have a comment on that.

QUESTION: Brigadier, Melissa Stephens from The West Australian. Can you tell us, with the deployment of the Sydney, if the anthrax vaccination schedule has started? How many crew have refused and been removed?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Yeah, well what I can tell you about HMAS Sydney is that she'll be fully and appropriately prepared for operations, and that includes the full vaccination of the crew for all threats for which we have a reasonable vaccine.

QUESTION: Don Woolford [phonetic] from AAP. Can you tell us a little bit more about the Orions, which of course are long-range maritime reconnaissance planes.


QUESTION: I know it's a very busy waterway, but presumably they are looking out for a threat to shipping. Can you explain just what sort of threat it is? As I understand it, Iraq doesn't have a lot in the way of a Navy.

And also, could you tell us a little bit more about the oil rigs in the water that we have helped secure?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Oh, okay. Yeah, well dealing with the threat to the maritime forces, one of the things that the Orions are able to do is to keep track of quite small vessels that are moving. And, of course, as the Chief of the Navy and Captain Jones in the AO and others have pointed out, the threat of these suicide boats, supposed to be boats loaded with explosives, is considered to be a threat, particularly in the northern part of the Gulf.

So the Orions would certainly be assisting to provide some protection, and there are quite a lot of targets for such an attack, obviously, in the Gulf at the moment.

In terms of the - sorry, the second question was?

QUESTION: The oil rigs.

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Oh, the oil rigs. Actually they're not oil rigs. They are oil platforms and they are distribution manifolds for oil that is piped from onshore. It's the place where the tankers pull up and fill up, very much a kind of big service station at sea sort of arrangement. And the great risk at the start of the war was that these would be blown by the Iraqi troops that had occupied them, and that this would let the oil loose into the Gulf and create a major ecological disaster that the Coalition would have to deal with immediately.

QUESTION: Sorry, just a follow up. The Orions, as I understand it, unlike the other aircraft have actually been deployed for 12 months. That is the case?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Yes, they were deployed under a previous operation. Operation Slipper.


QUESTION: Mark Phillips again, former Air Marshal Ray Fennell says that apart from the rotation of the ships there's also going to have to be a necessary rotation of the Hornets and of the Hercules just for long-term maintenance considering the operational tempo that they've been under. How far is planning underway to rotate, not necessarily the air crews, but the aircraft?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, clearly this has been a factor in planning and I think the Chief of the Air Force the other day provided a little bit of detail about that in relation to the P-3s, because they're obviously there for a longer commitment. They were committed for 12 months. Then built into that 12 month rotation was obviously the plan to rotate the airframes so that deep maintenance could be done on the airframes and, of course, the air crews would need to be rotated over that period. So those plans are built in.

At the moment there's no plans to rotate any of the force elements, apart from the one I've just mentioned. And that decisions about the extension of any commitment or the rotation of forces would be a matter for government and it isn't a matter which government has considered beyond the Navy rotation announced yesterday.

QUESTION: Brigadier, Phillip Hudson from The Age. I actually just had a question about the cultural important places.

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: I was hoping someone would.

QUESTION: Roughly how many sites are there in Iraq that are considered culturally important? I mean is there half a dozen or is it a couple of hundred or is it a thousand that the forces consider to be this? And that symbol that you showed before, is there anything particular about that symbol? Is it just a series of triangles?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: It's the symbol of the 54 Hague Convention that's applied to buildings which are specifically identified. But, look, the specific identification under the Convention isn't the issue here. There can be culturally significant buildings which are not, of themselves, antiquities or even identified as such. Places of worship are an example.

And so the identification of these has to be done at various levels by the force. There are clearly lists of key cultural locations and sites which are distributed down through the command system and are part of the targeting process and identification as part of the targeting process.

But on the ground the troops on the ground also have to make judgments about these matters. And there are specific rules that are applied - that they apply in making those judgments which require decisions to be elevated to at an appropriate level where the judgment can be properly informed before action can take place.

So there are processes in place, but at the end of the day, if soldiers are in battle, then they have to make these judgments on the spot.

QUESTION: Is there a ball park figure on how many of these?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Culturally significant sites in Iraq? Well, I've spent a fair bit of time in this part of the world and I'd say you can't go anywhere without kicking over an old brick. There's a lot. And it's an important factor because this is actually significant to us culturally in the west as well as obviously to the people of the region.

OFFICIAL: Ladies and gentlemen, we'll take one more question.

QUESTION: Cynthia Bannan from The Sydney Morning Herald. Just another question about the cultural sites. You said the operations in relation to these sites that you've showed us the photographs of are now over.


QUESTION: Can you tell us a bit about what actually happened by virtue of the listing of these sites? Like, how close did the bombing get? And what did you have to do to avert any, you know, damage to those specific sites?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: There's been no attack on these sites or near these sites. Now, that wasn't, in the end, a decision that had to be made by the Coalition targeters. The Iraqis moved those vehicles themselves and moved them out and deployed them elsewhere.

So we could say that this is a fine example of the use of the cultural sites. But they were parked there for a very specific reason. They were parked there because they were between the museum and the archaeological site knowing that it would be impossible for us to attack them.

QUESTION: You mentioned the arch. I mean can you tell us anything of the history of the arch?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Ah, well, can I tell you any of the history of the arch? Well, I'm not a historian, but I believe it was built in about the Third Century of the Common Era, at a time when the city would have been the home of Assassanid [phonetic] Kings. Before the Common Era the city was built on ancient ruins and was the winter home of the Parthian kings. So its history goes back into antiquity, but has a more modern and recent history.

The city was sacked in the 7th Century by the invading Arabs, and has been in various states of decline since then.

QUESTION: Brigadier, just the last question. Samantha Armitage, Sky News.

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: No more history, please.

QUESTION: Would you say this - is this a tactic being used by the Iraqis regularly, since obviously these photos were taken in March? And, if so, would you say it's slowed the campaign in any way? Delayed the campaign?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, it is absolutely a tactic. And I mean it reflects in all sorts of ways. I mean the use of hospitals, the use of civilian shields, the use of troops dressed in civilian clothes and travelling in civilian vehicles and then mounting a surprise attack, this is all consistent behaviour. And the use of cultural sites, their own culturally important sites, is just another example of this.

OFFICIAL: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.
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