The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


08/04/2003Departmental 80403/03


Media briefing Australia's contribution to Global Operations

Tuesday 8 April 2003

Good morning everyone, and welcome again to our regular update on operations in the Middle East. I will begin by confirming that all of our people are safe and accounted for.

Starting with Maritime operations . . .

Well its a busy time in Sydney this morning with the guided missile frigate HMAS SYDNEY departing the Garden Island Naval Base a short time ago for service in the Middle East as part of Australia's contribution to the coalition to disarm Iraq.

Family and friends of HMAS SYDNEY were joined by the Governor General, Prime Minister, Minister for Defence, Chief of the Defence Force and Chief of Navy to farewell the crew of 230 personnel on board.

HMAS SYDNEY will take over from the frigates ANZAC and DARWIN which have been in the Persian Gulf since November.

She will join HMAS KANIMBLA in the gulf to continue maritime security operations in one of the world's most vital waterways.

It's worth repeating here a couple of facts relating to HMAS SYDNEY - she is one of the Royal Australian Navy's six Adelaide Class frigates, capable of surveillance, patrol, response and escort duties, and can be used against air, surface and submarine threats.

She is armed with a 76-millimetre rapid fire gun, standard surface to air and Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and the Vulcan Phalanx close in weapons system.

For this deployment, she will also carry a Seahawk helicopter with flight and maintenance crew.

It will take SYDNEY about three weeks to transit to the Gulf.

Meanwhile, moving to our maritime forces currently in the Gulf - our clearance divers continue their on-going clearance operations at the new port facility of Umm Qsar. We have some recent file vision of those operations which will play at the end of the brief.

HMAS ANZAC has continued with patrols in support of clearance operations in the K-A-A, while KANIMBLA and DARWIN have undertaken replenishment activities.

Meanwhile, Captain Mark Kellam has now taken over as the commander of the Royal Australian Navy Task Group in the Middle East.

He takes over from Captain Peter Jones who commanded the task group during the successful mine clearance operations in the K-A-A and naval gunfire support action in support of British forces on the AL FAW peninsular.

A short biographical detail on Mark Kellam will be on the web site today.

Now, turning to Land Operations . . .

As has been announced by the Chief of the Defence Force - General Peter Cosgrove - earlier this morning, our special forces stopped a vehicle convoy leaving Baghdad which contained the Russian ambassador and his entourage.

The convoy was stopped as part of vehicle check being conducted by our special forces operating in the area.

Noting that a number of the people in the convoy were carrying injuries, our special forces troops offered immediate medical assistance, but this was declined.

On establishing and confirming the identity of the convoy's occupants, it was allowed to proceed unhindered.

The conduct of such random vehicle checks are just one of the various tasks our special forces are sometimes required to undertake as part of their surveillance mission inside Iraq.

And now to air operations . . .

Our Orion maritime patrol aircraft have continued their surveillance operations in support of coalition shipping in the northern Persian Gulf while our C-130s have continued resupply operations, including into Iraq, in support of coalition ground forces.

A small number of P3 crew is currently being rotated. You will recall from previous briefings that the P3 are in the area for a period of 12 months as part of a previous operation. As part of the longer deployment, both the air frames and the crew will be rotated.

Our FA-18s have again flown close air support missions in support of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.

Well, that concludes today's brief. We'll play the recent file vision of the clearance divers conducting their operations in Umm Qsar, and then I'd be happy to take any of your questions . . .

QUESTION: Brigadier, Samantha Armitage from Sky News. Does it concern you that security on the harbour, on Sydney Harbour this morning, was so lax that protestors were able to hook onto the HMAS Sydney as it sailed from the harbour?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, close in security of our forces, force protection is an important matter to us, but obviously the force protection measures that the Navy takes in Sydney Harbour are very different to those it would take in the Northern Persian Gulf. Obviously security on the harbour is a police matter for the most part.

Our big concern, however, is the safety of the protestors. The ADF supports the right of Australians to protest. It's an important part of our democracy. But this is a dangerous thing to do and we really think that we'd discourage it from that point of view if from no other.

QUESTION: Brigadier Jo Pritchard from ABC Radio News. So are you saying that while a protestor was able to - protestors were able to latch themselves to the Sydney today, if that translated to an operational situation in the Gulf, for example a hypothetical situation where a suicide bomber might be able to get attached themselves, you're saying that that wouldn't happen in that environment?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, clearly if it was a suicide bomber approaching or it was a small vessel clearly not identified as a process vessel in the Northern Persian Gulf, then we have weapon systems on board which would be employed and the appropriate action be taken.

Now, that's not the Navy's role or place to be doing that in Sydney Harbour. It'd be totally inappropriate and silly to even contemplate those things. This was clearly a protest taking place. And, as I said, the Defence Force respects the right of citizens to protest.

What we are concerned about, however, is the safety of the protestors, in this case hooking yourself onto a moving warship is very dangerous and not to be encouraged.

QUESTION: Mark Forbes from The Age, Brigadier. Two questions: Does the ADF have in place contingency plans to dispatch troops to a peacekeeping force if the government made a decision to send such a force to Iraq?

And, secondly, do you have any further details of the sorts of injuries that were involved amongst the entourage of the Russian Ambassador? And were our troops a little surprised to find that he'd still been in town?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Firstly dealing with the contingencies, the ADF has a wide-range of contingencies, but these are advice that we provide the government. Matters for Australian involvement in Iraq after Phase 3 of Operations is a matter for government and, as you know, no decisions have been made at this time.

In regards to the Russian Ambassador's convoy, I have very little more detail on that, but I believe that there'll be a briefing in the AO later this afternoon where there might be an opportunity to get some more clarity on the precise events. We've only got the sketchiest issue at the moment.

I gather there were some injuries to the people there, such that the SAS patrol offered assistance, that is medical assistance. It was declined. And we don't have any more clarity than that.

QUESTION: Mark Phillips from News Limited. Could I just clarify on that role of the SAS. Their role is actually to stop all vehicles leaving Baghdad, is that correct? And how long have they been in that position and can you give us some idea approximately of how close to Baghdad or whether they're actually in the city limits of Baghdad?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well firstly I can confirm that they're not in the city limits of Baghdad. What I can say is that their role has remained unchanged. They're in the special reconnaissance business and they're conducting surveillance.

Now, as part of that duty they might choose to stop certain vehicles that are moving on roads within area of operations. This was one group of vehicles that obviously raised their suspicion and caused them to stop it and check.

Certainly they're not in the business of conducting wholesale roadblocks and checking every vehicles. That's not within their charter. But they need to provide information back, and suspicious vehicles or suspicious convoys would certainly attract their attention and they'd seek to find out what was going on. And that's very much what happened in this case.

QUESTION: Brigadier, John Kerin, The Australian. With the rotation of the P-3s, will they be brought back to Australia or go to Diego Garcia for servicing? And are there any plans for the F/A-18s to come back for servicing as well at this stage?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: John, with the P-3s they were sent - dispatched for a 12 month period, as you'll recall. And you might also recall that the P-3s that were dispatched were the P-3s without the later modifications. The A modifications. P-3As. The two aircraft that are there will be replaced with P-3As in due course. And, of course, the maintenance crew and so on required to service the new aircraft will need to have different skill sets than the ones that are there for the current aircraft.

So in the process of rotating the airframes through, there'll be a rotation of aircrew and maintainers as well. That was always part of the plan and has been mentioned by the Minister, I think at the farewell from memory. It's essentially because of the length of the deployment.

For the F/A-18s, as the Chief of the Air Force pointed out on Saturday, they have plenty of capacity there, because of the number of pilots and the freshness of the airframes, to continue operations for quite a considerable time yet. And there is no plan for their rotation or for the rotation back and servicing of the airframes at this stage.

QUESTION: Brigadier, Deng Jian from Radio Free Asia. Can you elaborate a little bit about Sydney's role in the Gulf in the future? And the rotation plan for SAS troops out there. I remember the Prime Minister was mentioning about the possible rotation of SAS troops in the Gulf.

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Dealing with Sydney's role first. Sydney will join the Coalition forces in the Gulf - join HMAS Kanimbla in the Gulf - and will be responsible to assist with the security of one of the world's vital waterways.

Now, the precise nature of those tasks is something that's at least three weeks in the future and not really open to us to see in detail now. But she'll become part of those Coalition operations there.

As for the SAS's future role, clearly the SAS are specialised troops, specialised surveillance and reconnaissance troops, and their tasks in Phase 3 of the operations, that is in the combat stage of the operations, will revolve around that task. That is the gaining of information over wide areas of the country.

There is no plans for their employment beyond that. As the Prime Minister has said, Australia's contribution to the rebuilding of Iraq would be primarily humanitarian and that there isn't envisaged to be a significant role for the ADF.

QUESTION: Ron Wilfred from AAP. Now that the Baghdad Airport - renamed as I understand it...


QUESTION: in Coalition hands and Coalition planes are landing there. Any of our Hercs gone in? And is there any reason for why they shouldn't?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: None of our Hercs have gone in there yet, Don. In the future there's probably no reason why they might not be going in there, in fact I'd rather hope that before too long I'll be able to fly in there on a Qantas flight myself.

QUESTION: Mark Forbes again, Brigadier. You mentioned that the SAS were looking at suspicious vehicles coming out of Baghdad. Is one of their tasks to detect and prevent a possible escape along that route by Saddam Hussein?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, clearly senior members of the Saddam Hussein administration are of interest to us. And they would certainly be people who might be detained should they be found in vehicles. But of course our main role is to provide information that's useful to the operation and so we're very interested in military personnel, military vehicles and any pointers to possible missile sites and areas where weapons of mass destruction might be located.

QUESTION: Brigadier, just on the - the Minister was talking about the SAS this morning and when their role ends.


QUESTION: What do you see is the end of the conflict? Is it when Saddam and his cronies are gone, or is it when all the pockets of the Fedayeen are wiped out and there's no more shooting going on?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, in general terms, Phase 3 of the operation is the direct military action phase. Phase 4 is the rebuilding of Iraq. Now, clearly there's going to be a pretty blurred line between Phase 3 and Phase 4.

And many Phase 4 activities, many activities that will continue on into Phase 4 have already begun across the country.

Likewise, some activities that are typical of Phase 3 and some security and cleaning up operations might progress well into the future. But at some point the Commander of the Operations will assess that the transition is now right from Phase 3 to Phase 4 and make that decision and announce that decision.

So there will be a clear point in time in which the organisations shifts from Phase 3 to Phase 4.

Now, actually determining when that point is, is a matter of judgment. Noting that the circumstances on the ground and the balance of what's been done, and we're really not in a position to double guess that sort of decision.

QUESTION: Is that Tommy Franks call?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Look, I'm not sure who would get the final call, but certainly he would be in the position with the information able to provide the best clarity on that.

QUESTION: Brigadier, Jason Koutsoukis from The Financial Review. I wonder if you could give us some more detail on the interception of the Russian Ambassador's ship. Just exactly what happened there?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Look, I don't have the full detail on that. We've had a very bare-bones report back to us on that and I've given you basically the information that we have. That the convoy was stopped. That people were treated courteously. Offered medical assistance. Their identity established and then they were sent on their way.

As I said, Brigadier McNarn might have some more information available on that later in the day. We'll try and get a little clarity there for you as it's obviously an area of interest to us.

QUESTION: Just on that point about the SAS, are you now prepared, now that some time has gone by, to confirm the story of the US journo Nate Thayer being intercepted by SAS troops on his way out of Baghdad. Was that accurate?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Sorry, which story?

QUESTION: A week ago, the US journalist Nate Thayer?

Oh, Nate Thayer, yeah. Well, I think we confirmed that a few days afterwards.

QUESTION: Sorry, just a quick one on the Russian Ambassador as well.


QUESTION: Do you know where he went after? Like he was heading towards Jordan, would that be correct?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Ah, well I'm not sure where he was heading after that. There were obviously road junctions beyond where he was released that would have allowed him to go to one of a number of destinations, yeah. So I don't know where he ended up.

QUESTION: Brigadier, will there be a role for Special Forces after the war to continue looking for weapons of mass destruction?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, by 'after the war' I assume you mean when we go into Phase 4 into the rebuilding operations. I think there that's a highly unlikely scenario. As the government has stated, you know, our main focus will be on humanitarian assistance to Iraq. And there's already been announcements of substantial funds being made available for that from government.

The military role there would be, we would suspect, minimal. And certainly the specialist skills of the SAS and the other specialist people there would not be well-suited to the types of operations that would be needed in Phase 4.

QUESTION: Brigadier, Deng Jian from Radio Free Asia again. The Prime Minister indicated that he is going to go to Washington in May some time after the budget comes out. Do you have any idea what he would talk with the US leaders about the Australia/US military cooperation in the future, especially in terms of Iraq?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Deng Jian, I have no idea what the Prime Minister would talk about in his private talks. They certainly wouldn't be exposed to me.

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

QUESTION: Sorry, back to the Russian Ambassador. Can you give us any indication of when this incident occurred?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: In fact it happened in the last 24 hours. So, earlier today.

QUESTION: Was he happy about being intercepted? Did he show any...


QUESTION: Did he show any concern about being intercepted?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Look, I don't have any information at all about his response or reaction. This might be something that Brigadier McNarn can throw some light on.

OFFICIAL: Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes this morning's briefing. Thanks for attending.
* * End * *

Join the mailing list