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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Defence
MEDIA RELEASE

 
07/04/2003Departmental 70403/03
 

Transcript

Media Briefing Australia's contribution to Global Operations

Monday 7 April 2003

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

Again, there have been no significant incidents or changes to report regarding our forces deployed in the Middle East Area of Operations over the past 24 hours. All our personnel remain safe and accounted for.

Our clearance divers continue their mine and ordnance disposal operations in the port of Umm Qsar, supported by our Army Landing Craft. The ships KANIMBLA, ANZAC and DARWIN continue their maritime operations in the Persian Gulf.

Meanwhile, or special forces remain deep inside Iraq conducting surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

Our FA-18s have again conducted close air support missions in support of coalition ground forces in southern Iraq. A number of military targets were engaged during these missions.

It is worthwhile to note at this point how our targeting policy has evolved throughout this campaign.

At the outset of air operations in the campaign, aircraft would engage an array of legitimate military targets designed to damage the enemy and his capability to fight.

As coalition ground forces have gradually taken control of large parts of Iraq, the targeting policy has now evolved. This policy now focuses only on engaging targets in direct support of coalition ground forces.

The evolving nature of this policy reflects the Coalition's strong desire not to inflict unnecessary damage on Iraq's infrastructure where there is now no direct impact on coalition operations.

Meanwhile in other air operations, the C-130s have again been active moving coalition supplies and equipment around the area of operations, while our maritime patrol aircraft - the Orions - have also continued their surveillance missions in support of Coalition shipping in the northern Persian Gulf.

 

And just a quick update on the response to the Messages to the Troops initiative - we have now received well over 14,000 emails and 1,600 faxes expressing support to our deployed folk. These messages are being dispatched to the Middle East and will be forwarded out to the troops through the quickest means available.

The Government's "Messages to the families of deployed personnel" initiative is also receiving good support since being launched in late March - over 500 messages have been received so far.

This support for our troops - and their families - is greatly appreciated by the entire Defence family.

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: I'd now be happy to take any questions.


QUESTION:
Don Wilfred* from AAP, Brigadier. I was wondering if you could elaborate a little bit on the evolving nature of the targeting policy?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Yes.


QUESTION: I take it what you mean is that earlier on the targets were well clear of where any actual fighting was occurring. Now the targets may well be actually engaged in combat with Coalition forces as a strike occurs. Is that the case?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Yes, that's certainly one aspect of it. The other aspect that's worth noting is that many of the targets that were a part of the pre-planned or the strike targets early on, of course, have now been destroyed. And the number of targets that are in that list of course is reducing all the time.

Also, as the forces advance on Baghdad, the situation on the ground becomes more complex. The location of our own forces becomes more difficult to determine in precise terms, and so much greater care is needed in conducting those missions.

So the pre-planned missions, that were a feature of the past, become less appropriate.


QUESTION: And it's more targets of opportunity as they emerge in the course of a mission?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: It becomes more of the targets that are of immediate concern to the ground troops. And they become - start to dictate much of the strike or much of the air support direction.

QUESTION: So hypothetically they could - in the air they could get a call from a unit on the ground saying, 'Please, can you have a go at X or Y'?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Precisely, yes. And they would provide support - have been providing support for that. Not only for units in contact, but other contacts or targets that arise at short notice that can be directed to them from the AWACs aircraft or from other sources.

QUESTION: Brigadier, Samantha Armitage from Sky News. Yesterday the Defence Minister said that our Special Forces may stay in Iraq for some time to come. Any more on information on that? Just how long they may have to stay? What sort of - what they'll be undertaking after the war is over perhaps?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Yeah, in fact the Minister mentioned that yesterday, but we also had General Myers* in the last few days mentioning the tasks they were undertaking would probably be required for some time. And Brigadier McNarn also made some similar comments recently.

I think the indication is that although the investiture of Baghdad is well underway, that there's an expectation that there will be a lot of cleaning up to do around the country for some time to come. And that our people will be very much involved in the types of operations they're doing for some time into the future.

Now, if asked to predict what time is some time, I think that's so hypothetical that it'd be very difficult for us to say.

As you've seen, the ground war has taken the usual numbers of twists and turns and they'll certainly continue into the future. But our people will stay while there's a useful job for them to be done with their skills.

QUESTION: Phillip Hudson from The Age. Are you able to say how much longer the Navy divers will be looking for mines in the port there? Are they almost finished that job or is there a week or two weeks to go? Or is it just days now?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, I think it's just a matter of days. In fact on Saturday I think we predicted two day's work, but I suspect that might have been a little optimistic. They're still working. Now the old port is now fully cleared, and they're now working towards the new port's clearance. Once that's done and the port facilities are complete, then the divers will obviously be looking at their next employment, whatever that might be.

QUESTION: Brigadier, Cynthia Bannan from The Sydney Morning Herald. Sorry if I'm repeating a question that's already been asked, but could you say whether the ADF is involved at the moment in any of the planning for post-war Iraq and the involvement of any of the ADF forces in post-war Iraq?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Yeah. Clearly there's much planning going on for post-war Iraq, and our government is involved in that on a whole-of-government basis. Any decision about an ADF role is part of Australia's commitment to post-war Iraq would be very much a matter for government. But of course the ADF stands ready with its range of capabilities to provide anything that's asked of it.

In terms of the ADF's direct involvement, I'm not aware of any direct involvement.


QUESTION: Brigadier, John Kerin, The Australian. I just wanted to check whether you're expecting the sort of final push on Baghdad to be as easy as this appears to be at this stage? And also at this morning at the ANU Briefing, there were just suggestions that the nature - the reaction of the people has changed. There's less fear of Saddam now. Have the Special Forces encountered more people, more forces giving up? Soldiers giving up, that sort of thing?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: In relation to your first question, I wouldn't like to hypothesise about how the battle is going to go in the future. I think that it's been - there's been ample surprises and twists and turns in the battle so far to indicate - you know, the great truisms of war is that you don't really know what's around the corner and you have to be prepared for a wide-range of contingencies.

In terms of the precise nature of the reports that we're getting out, certainly we haven't seen any great increase or change over what we'd reported in the past. The numbers of people fleeing Baghdad certainly hasn't been of the order of magnitude that had been predicted. And there certainly doesn't seem to be any stiffening of opposition in any particular area over the fairly soft opposition we saw in the early parts.

What I would like to just point out though is in terms of saying that it's been a fairly easy battle so far, I don't think that's necessarily reflected in the numbers - the amount of destruction that's been inflicted on the Iraqi forces. I think that you need to understand that a lot of the battles have been pretty tough at the lower levels, and there's been quite savage engagements.

Now, the fact that the defence has been apparently disorganised at a higher level would not - doesn't mean that the battles at the lower level for the individual soldiers have been any easier. They've certainly been tough and there's been some tough fighting.

QUESTION: Do you believe the Republican Guard has been destroyed in essence - that is as a capable force - around Baghdad?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: John, certainly the major Republican Guard divisions that are guarding the approaches to Baghdad have been diminished to the point where they're no longer battle-worthy.

OFFICIAL: Any further questions?


QUESTION: Don Wilfred again. You mentioned yesterday the Warrant Officer with the marine expeditionary force, I was just wondering if you had any more information about him, or is it her, or any other Australians on exchange with other forces?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Very little more information on the Warrant Officer. He is on a two-year exchange posting with the Marines. His specialisation is in the light armoured vehicles, that we mentioned yesterday, and he's clearly involved in that.

As I understand it, he's been well forward involved in the battle, but I don't have any more information beyond that.

As we've reported previously, we have about 33 - and I'll check the exact number for you following the briefing - but about 33 people who are on exchange. And they range from aircraft mechanics through F/A-18 pilots. Obviously some people in armoured units such as this Warrant Officer. We have people in the Special Forces, and a wide range of technical combat, combat support trades. And, of course, British and American attachments included in the numbers.

So there is a range of individuals out there.


QUESTION: And others presumably would have been involved in actual combat?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: There may have been some, particularly with the British forces around Basra. I don't have the details of the individuals, but you could expect that they would have been involved in the activities that their unit's involved in.

OFFICIAL: Last question, folks.


QUESTION: Cynthia Bannan again. The latest reports of the friendly fire incidents, I just wandered what the ADF's feelings are on that. Whether any Australians were - sort of came close to being involved in the latest incident and whether you have any sort of concerns about, you know, future possible incidents concerning Australians, I suppose. Thank you.

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, I should start by saying that friendly fire incidents are a great tragedy and they are an area of great concern, both to the ADF and of course to the other Coalition partners. The fact that they occur, underlines the fact that these are incredibly complex operations that are underway. They involve a lot of people moving from a lot of different areas. Very complex communication systems, complex command and control arrangements and great uncertainty about the situation on the ground from minute to minute in many cases.

To overcome these, all of the Coalition partners have tactics and techniques which reflect a need to maintain the protection of our people, and they start with the rules of engagement right at the top and they go down right through all of the practical systems that are in place.

Speaking about the Australian forces particularly, we have a renewed focus on this clearly. And I can assure you that we have good tactics, techniques and systems and rules of engagement in place designed to protect our people to the extent that that's possible.

In addition, our equipment is first-class and our training is first-class. So although the risk is still there, and the risk I can clearly say that we've done everything we can to diminish that risk or to minimise it for our people.

QUESTION: Isn't it largely out of the hands of the ADF, though when something - isn't it largely out the hands of the ADF, or any forces for that matter, when such an incident occurs? Or otherwise it would never occur, presumably, in the first place. How can you sort of prepare for something like this?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, when you say it's out of the hands of the forces, I mean at the end of the day somebody is making the decision to fire a weapon. And so there are things that can be put in place in terms of practical identifications, procedures and processes to minimise the risks.

But the risks are always going to be there, because these are complex, very complex operations, that are conducted in essentially a very foggy situation.

OFFICIAL: Last question.


QUESTION: Deng Jian from Radio Free Asia. Brigadier, there were three so-called Iraqi Republican Guard defectors defected to the Coalition forces in Northern Iraq yesterday. In the past we've seen Iraqi soldiers putting on civilian clothes attacking Coalition forces. And we see a pregnant woman blowing up American soldiers. What sort of precautious measures do we take against those so-called 'defectors'? And also what sort of precautious measures are we going to take in the future towards those welcoming crowd in Baghdad? Are we going to see a possibility of a teenage girl blowing up Coalition soldiers in the future?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, force protection is a very difficult situation for the troops on the ground. And it's difficult because it's very important that the Coalition forces don't make themselves so remote from the population as to be seen to be completely outsiders in the process.

In order to do that, there are certain risks involved in the operations. Now, these risks are ameliorated by good procedures and good training. Now, by procedures I mean the sorts of simple things that the force does at a very practical level, from the individual soldier up, that allow them to provide protection, both physical protection and protection by cover and by fire, for the people who are working on the ground working with risky - in risky circumstances.

So those procedures will have been, I am sure, revised and reviewed now by all the commanders on the ground and in many cases I'm sure that new and refreshed orders have been given to adjust to the circumstance.

In every case however, the Coalition Commanders will take whatever precautions are necessary to protect their people. But they will be taking the minimum amount of precaution needed to get protection without going one step beyond that and endangering unnecessarily the lives of civilians and risking the attitude of the local population towards the Coalition forces.

OFFICIAL: Ladies and gentlemen, thanks for attending today.
* * End * *



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