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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


04/04/2003Departmental 40403/03


Media Briefing Australia's contribution to Global Operations

Friday 4 April 2003

Good morning everyone, and welcome again to our regular update on operations in the Middle East. Today's brief will also include an update on some activities involving our troops that have taken place in East Timor during the week.

However, turning to operations in the Middle East first . . . and I'm happy to report that all our forces remain safe and accounted for, continuing their tasks as part of coalition operations in Iraq.

Starting with Maritime operations . . .

Our clearance divers - supported by the Army Landing Craft - continue with mine disposal operations at the port of Umm Qsar.

The British Royal Navy have been using Australian developed minesweeping equipment to assist with the mine clearance effort in the approaches to Umm Qasr in Southern Iraq.

The equipment known as "SWIMS" (which stands for Shallow Water Influence Minesweeping System), uses Mini Magnetic Dyads which are towed behind Combat Support Boats to blow up magnetic mines.

A mini-dyad is a floating tube, which contains high-powered strontium ferrite magnets. When strung together with a noise maker, a number of mini-dyads are able to fool the mine into thinking that a ship is passing by.

The Dyads have been acquired from Australian Defence Industries (ADI) and are the only known influence minesweeping system that is self-powered and able to operate in a shallow water environment.

The mini-dyads were acquired by the Royal Navy, to undergo a 12 month testing period, but have been rushed into service to deal with the sophisticated Manta mines laid by the Iraqi forces in the Khawr Abd Allah (KAA) waterway.

Meanwhile, HMAS ANZAC continues with escort duties for coalition shipping moving in the Persian Gulf and around the Strait of Hormuz.

HMAS Darwin continues conducting resupply activities, while HMAS KAMIBLA continues to support K-A-A clearance operations.

Turning to Land Operations . . .

Our SAS troopers continue their reconnaissance and surveillance operations deep inside Iraq.

They now dominate their specified area of operations, and its worth recounting that their operations have led to the destruction of some Iraqi military bases, vehicles, communications facilities, and military equipment.

The commando element of the task group - the troops from the Holsworthy-based 4th Battalion - remain part of the quick reaction force.

The commandos have conducted some minor tasks inside Iraq. Theses tasks have not been combat tasks and there is no further information about these at the moment.

And now to air operations . . .

Our RAAF aircraft have continued flying operations over the past 24 hours: conducting strikes against enemy positions in southern Iraq, flying critical stores and equipment into the battle-zone for coalition ground troops, and providing important maritime surveillance support in the northern Persian Gulf.

  • Let me start the summary of air operations by addressing claims in todays media that our aircraft are not fully equiped with protection systems for the operations they are undertaking. This is simply not true. The aircraft have the full suite of capabilities they need to fully participate in coalition operations. Of course, this is an intense air war against an enemy with sophisticated air defence systems and it is dangerous business. But our equipment, people and training are all first class and the risks are understood and managed. Our FA-18 Hornets have now flown over 130 combat sorties over Iraq. Of these combat sorties, there have been about 70 strike missions, all of which have been successful. The strike missions have been against a wide array of Iraqi military targets including tanks, trucks, artillery pieces, fuel dumps, bunkers, and ammunition storage areas
  • As part of combined coalition teams, our FA-18s have also struck the headquarters of the Iraqi Tenth Armoured Division, and a regional intelligence and security headquarters.
  • Our C-130s have flown more than 65 missions across the Middle East Area of Operations - lifting over one and a half millions pounds of cargo and more than 600 troops.
  • They are continuing to provide up to 15 per cent of all C-130 cargo lift in theatre. Overall, and outstanding effort for this small - but effective - element.
  • Our Orion maritime surveillance aircraft and aircrew have provided ceaseless support to coalition shipping in the northern Persian Gulf, and continue to do so.

Well, that concludes today's brief on operations in the Middle East.

Now, just moving away from the Middle East, I'd like to update you on some news from our troops deployed in East Timor.

As you know, there are about 1000 Australian Defence Force personnel deployed in East Timor as part of the United Nations peacekeeping force which is helping to bring stability to that new country.

Early this week - on Tuesday - a group of eleven civilian employers of Australian Defence Force Reserve personnel made a visit to East Timor. The aim of the visit was for them to see first hand how their employees were going while deployed on operations in East Timor as members of the 5th/7th Battalion.

The Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence - Danna Vale - led the delegation of employers, drawn mainly from the small business, IT and the public service sectors. The trip was part of Exercise Boss-Lift, an event organised by the Defence Reserves Support Council.

There are about 90 Reserve soldiers deployed to East Timor as part of Alpha Company of the Darwin-based 5/7 Battalion. Most of these Reserve soldiers are from Victoria, with a smaller number from New South Wales.

As reserve soldiers, the members of Alpha Company applied - and were accepted - for a period of full-time service in the Regular Army in order to deploy with 5/7 RAR to East Timor for its current tour of duty. The reserves were formed into one company - Alpha Company - and serve as a distinct sub-unit within the battalion's structure.

The group of civilian employers spent a full day in East Timor talking with their employees, getting a first-hand understanding of the work they are doing as soldiers on operations. They also had the chance to see how the soldiers live in an operational environment, and use the skills of teamwork, leadership and initiative required of a soldier in an operational environment.

Since operations began in East Timor in September 1999, almost 1000 Reserve soldiers have undertaken tours of duty there.

Alpha Company represents the first formed combat arms sub-unit made up of Reserve personnel to be deployed on operations since World War Two.

The increased role of reservists has placed higher demands on training. These include longer periods of training for Reservists, demanding more time away from their full-time civilian work. So, it is important employers have a good understanding of what Reserve service involves for their employees.

Activities such as Exercise Boss-Lift provide employers this opportunity.

Feedback from both the employers - and the employees - was that the visit went a long way to helping to build an understanding of the value of Reserve service.

We have some vision of the visit that will be available at the conclusion of today's brief.

Well, that concludes this morning's brief . Before I take your questions . . . I'd like to show you two short clips, the first clip portrays an FA18 taking off, and returning from a dawn close air support mission, and the second showing one of our C-130 missions into Iraq yesterday.

This vision, along with some other, of the Reserves employers' visit to our troops in East Timor during the week, will be available at the conclusion of the brief.

Now, your questions please . . .

QUESTION: Yes, Mark Phillips from News Limited. I might have missed this at the start but can you tell us anything about the Incident Response Regiment? They're apparently in Iraq. Are they - how close are they to Baghdad and are they travelling with a particular division or units of either the Americans or the British? And have they had any incidents, you know, false alarms or anything that you can tell us about?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Okay, the Incident Response Regiment are not in Iraq. They are there to provide a response capability for the Australian troops specifically. Their specific skills relate to detecting and then countering chemical and biological threats, and they have the skills to undertake detection tasks and then to decontaminate contaminated people or areas.

The thing about them that I would say is that they're not the sort of troops that you would use to search a wide area for the presence of chemical weapons. Their search would be in a specific area, at a pinpoint target, after that had been detected by other troops. So they'd be called in once there was an incident that needed investigating.

QUESTION: Brigadier, Kieran Gilbert from Sky News. We've heard from General Myers some very specific information from the Pentagon as to the SAS. They're in the west of the country, disabling Scud launch pads. Very much more specific than we've heard at all from our own ADF. Is that appropriate?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well I'm not sure that we haven't released all of that. You've been told by Brigadier McNarn that the SAS were operating in the west of Iraq at that time. You've been told at various briefings that they've discovered areas that might have been used for missile launch. But I'm not sure that we've actually ever said that the SAS...

QUESTION: Well he said said...

BRIGADIER HANNAN: ...scud launch pad.

QUESTION: He did - he has said that our SAS will remain in the western region for some time. Now that's very specific. It's also giving a timeframe. That's more than we've heard from the ADF.

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well obviously we're not keen on pinpointing exactly where our people are for obvious reasons, and we'll continue to be fairly non-specific about their exact locations.

QUESTION: Has he then, under our protocol, jeopardised our troops?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Oh I don't think so. Western Iraq is a huge place. It's an enormous area and the location of our people are still fairly tightly...

QUESTION: But it is a fairly important issue though when you look at the fact that the SAS - that Bush's top advisor in the military is giving more information than we get from here and from Brigadier McNarn.

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well as I said, the SAS's role, general role and tasks and the general location have all been given before.

QUESTION: And Brigadier, Deng Jian, from Radio Free Asia, I understand that Australia is one of the closest allies of the United States. I just want to ask a few questions about the arms purchases from the United States of American-made weapons like the FA-18s and weapons for other services of the ADF.

And the second question is that, is there any liaison between the ADF and the Foreign Affairs in terms of news, information briefing? I understand that Foreign Minister Downer has just concluded his visit to the United States. And do you share, the ADF and the Foreign Affairs, do you share information briefing to the media, medias?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: The information you're worried about is specifically in relation to media briefings?

QUESTION: Policy-wise or operation-wise and policy-wise.

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Look dealing first with the issue of weapons. Australia purchases weapons from a wide range of source including the US. There are a significant number of factors that are taken into account in selecting a particular item for purchase, and they include obviously weapon capability, reliability of supply and ultimately price as well, of course.

QUESTION: Yes, I understand that, Brigadier. But Australia also has the priority - is one of the few countries that can purchase the most up to date, advanced American-made weapons. Can you elaborate a little bit on that?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well no, I won't be elaborating on that today. Simply because I'm not an expert on that area of our business. But there may be some more information that we can provide you separately on that.

Now in relation to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Defence co-operating: Most enterprises that are conducted by this country are whole-of-government activities. They involve a number of departments, not just the Department of Foreign Affairs and Defence, but also Attorney-General's Department, Immigration and other departments working closely together.

We have complex and well-developed systems for co-operation across the departments and they're reflected in our ability to react quickly to events such as the Bali bombing, to give you a simple example.

So I'm confident that those systems are there. They are well developed and they're well practised.

QUESTION: Jo Ball from Channel 7. Did Australian military have any involvement in the capture of the Baghdadi Airport? And how significant do you see that, the capture of that, airport in the days ahead for the war?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well in answer to the first part, no. There was no Australian involvement in the capture of the airport. It's clearly a significant event, clearly a significant event. The airport is both, from a practical, military point of view and from a symbolic point of view, an important gain for the Coalition forces.

QUESTION: Phillip Hudson from The Age. You spoke in the briefing about the FA-18s having 70 strike missions so far over Iraq. Are you able to say some more detail, like what parts of Iraq that was and some of the specific targets that they hit?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Yeah, well 70 missions. I mean I'm not going to list 70 targets. And we've given a fairly good run down on the types of targets and highlighted a couple of the specific ones. I think the 10th Armoured Division headquarters would have been a big day out.

Now the issue with them is that they've been flying in that southern area of Iraq supporting the Coalition forces that are fighting in that area and attacking those, particularly those Republican Guard, and other Iraqi forces operating in the south.

As I've said before, we haven't had them venturing north yet towards the Baghdad area and there's been plenty for them to do in the south.

QUESTION: Mark Phillips again. There's been plenty of speculation by the Pentagon in the last couple of days about whether Saddam Hussein is actually still alive. Does the Australian military have an independent view on this?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: I wish I knew whether he was or not. I'm sure I could win a few bets on it. I've noticed that pundits have got a range of views on this. We really don't have anything positive to contribute to that debate. And in some senses it doesn't matter. The regime is still functioning and in place, and until such time as it is brought down, then operations will continue.

QUESTION: Brigadier Kieran Gilbert from Sky News again. Given that General Myers has told us that our SAS will remain in western Iraq for some time, he clearly doesn't think that's going to impact the safety of our troops. Otherwise he wouldn't have said it. Should our rules of dissemination be revised?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well we will provide you with a full update on the SAS's activities once they have moved to the point - they have moved on to the point where we don't believe that it will have an impact on their operational security.

QUESTION: But given that the US, the chief...

BRIGADIER HANNAN: The general information provided by General Myers, if you'll excuse the unfortunate turn of phrase, doesn't impact upon the security of those troops. We've already told you in the past - Brigadier McNarn has told you quite clearly - that the troops are operating in western Iraq. But we're not going to be more specific than that.

QUESTION: What about the fact that he said that they're going to be there for some time to come? That's more information than we've got from anyone.

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well once again, talking about future operations in a general sense is one thing. We're not going to be talking about the specifics of their operations.

OFFICIAL: Are there any more questions, ladies and gentlemen? Thanks very much.
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