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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


11/04/2003Departmental 110403/03


Media Briefing Australia's contribution to Global Operations

Friday 11 April 2003


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

Another 24 hours of busy operations for all our forces deployed in the Middle East Area of Operations, and I am pleased to report all our personnel are safe and accounted for.

Before updating operations, I'd just like to alert you to an announcement a little later today by the Minister for Veterans Affairs - Dana Vale - regarding the deployment of an official war artist and photographer to the Middle East.

This deployment will continue the long established tradition started during the First World War of deploying official war artists and photographers to record the efforts of Australia's military at war.

Supported by the Department of Defence - the official artist and photographer will record the work of our air, land and naval forces serving in the coalition to disarm Iraq.

The image on the screen is a painting by official war artist Peter Churcher who travelled to the Middle East last year to document our contribution to the international coalition against terrorism.

This particular image is of a group of soldiers and sailors manning an RBS-70 missile system on HMAS KANIMBLA in the Persian Gulf in 2002. It typifies the work done by these artists and photographers which serves to provide an important and lasting record of Australia's military history.

Now to operations . . .

Starting with Maritime operations . . .

The Chief of the Royal Australian Navy - Vice Admiral Chris Ritchie - is currently visiting the Australian National Headquarters and Australian naval forces deployed in the area of operations.

Meanwhile, HMAS DARWIN continues with maritime patrol duties in the northern Persian Gulf, and will be rejoined by HMAS KANIMBLA today. HMAS ANZAC is heading into the southern Persian Gulf and will commence a replenishment program.

Our navy clearance divers are undertaking preparations to move from Umm Qsar to the Khawr Al Zubayr waterway to support clearance operations with the British Royal Marines. Our Army Landing Craft remain in support at Umm Qsar.

Turning to Land Operations . . .

Our special forces continue their surveillance operations inside Iraq, with no significant incidents to report.

And now to air operations . . .

Our FA-18 Hornets have again been flying close support missions over Iraq in support of coalition ground forces. These missions have been in southern and northern Iraq, and again, not all aircraft were required to engage enemy targets

The C-130s have also continued their supply operations throughout the area of operations, including taking stores and equipment into Iraq for coalition ground forces.

All aircraft are reported to have returned safely to base.

While discussing air operations, I thought I'd just give you a few more details about the work being done by our P-3C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft in the northern Persian Gulf.

As you know, we have two Orions deployed with aircrew and maintenance personnel from 11 Squadron based Edinburgh in South Australia.

Since these aircraft and support crew deployed to Middle East, they have supported initially OPERATION SLIPPER - the Australian contribution to the coalition against international terrorism - by flying surveillance operations in the Gulf of Oman. These patrols would last up to seven hours and involve challenging all merchant vessels to establish their legitimacy to ensure they were not in contravention of UN sanctions against Iraq, or potentially supporting terrorist activities.

With the start of OPERATION FALCONER - our contribution to operations as part of the coalition to disarm Iraq - the Orions have seen their role change to one of supporting the US carrier groups and other coalition shipping in the Persian Gulf. During these missions the crews would be tasked to search defined areas and provide up to date intelligence on all surface movements.

The results of this tasking provides the carrier battle groups with an invaluable safety net from attack from unidentified vessels.

The aircraft have flown well over 500 hours of operational sorties, and have maintained and aircraft serviceability rate of 98 per cent - a testimony to the aircraft and the support folk who keep them in the air.

So while the Orions maybe not one of our more high profile force elements, they are certainly playing a critical role in support of coalition operations.

Regarding any future military involvement with the reconstruction of Iraq, I can confirm at this stage that the Government has provided one officer to support the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs.

More details about this officer and his exact duties will be released in due course.

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: I can now take your questions.

QUESTION: Brigadier, Lincoln Wright from The Canberra Times. Now, yesterday the Prime Minister indicated that Australia might provide some forces for a niche role in Iraq. Obviously that's still in development, but can you maybe give us an idea of what that could entail?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, I think the Prime Minister has made it quite clear that we won't have a peacekeeping role in the transitional period, but that we have a range of specialist capabilities that might be useful to the Coalition for this period.

The ADF has made some recommendations for government, and we're waiting for government to consider and make a decision on that and make an announcement at that time.

QUESTION: Brigadier, John Kerrin from The Australian. Just a couple of broader questions, do we have an explanation as to what happened to the Republican Guard and why there weren't mass surrenders of those troops? And what was the decisive moment on the entry into Baghdad, when I guess the Coalition knew that there wasn't going to be great resistance?

And, who do you make a formal peace with now that, you know, who is the person in Iraq that you can sort of make peace with at the end of all this?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: In terms of what happened to the Republican Guard, the best estimate that we've seen is that they simply left their equipment and retired. That is, they went back to their homes, for the most part.

As to the issue about at what point the Coalition saw their main chance, really I think that's something that will come in the wash-up with the commanders on the ground. I think that there was clearly some audacious manoeuvring done by the Coalition, some pretty good chance-taking that paid off. And I think it reflects the best aspects of manoeuvre war as we propose in this day and age. And I would think that in the military colleges in years to come this will be studied as a case study in how to do this kind of thing.

In relation to - sorry, the following point, John, was?

QUESTION: It was who we'd make peace with.

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Oh, who we'd make peace with, yes. This is an issue but it's only an issue up to a point. I think one of the things that's happening here is that there are many activities underway now which are activities that are clearly part of the transitional process. These are, I think we've talked about it in terms of Phase 4, but the transitional phase. Many of those activities have started now in areas which have been made secure. The train services are now running in the south. The buses are back on in Basra. The water services are being reconnected in areas where they're secure enough to do that. Power stations are being started up again. All of these activities are underway, and these are appropriate tasks for the transitional organisation to do in preparation to hand control of the country back to the Iraqis.

The issue about whether we actually need anybody to make peace with, is, I think, totally moot in this way. The Coalition will get on with the business of rehabilitating this country and handing it back to the Iraqi people to a legitimate Iraqi government as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: Maria Moscacree [phonetic] from News Limited. You said that the ADF had made recommendations to government regarding what we could provide. Could you be any more specific on what those recommendations are?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, those are recommendations for government and we wouldn't discuss those until government had made a decision.

QUESTION: Can you say in what areas they entail?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, no. As I said, they're matters - that's advice we provide to government and it's for government.

QUESTION: Brigadier, Stephanie Kennedy from ABC Radio. You did mention specialist capabilities.


QUESTION: What are those specialist capabilities that Australia could offer?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, we have capabilities across a wide range of areas. Obviously the ADF has demonstrated a wide range of specialist capabilities in areas from our expertise with chemical and biological weapons and so on, through to our engineering expertise in other theatres. So those are all a range of options that would be available for government to consider.

QUESTION: Well, is the government or the ADF looking at rotating some troops, given that the Prime Minister's said that Australia will have some military presence in the post-war reconstruction phase? And are you looking at rotation and when that would happen?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, I think the government's been quite clear that when the combat operations are complete the combat troops will come home. Any decision to deploy the specialist capabilities or any other specialist capabilities is still to be made by government, and they would be capabilities that would be provided for.

QUESTION: Would some of those capabilities include a policing role?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, I think the government's made it quite clear that we're not going to be involved in the peacekeeping operations. Whether we provided specialists advice, or specialist expertise in some area of policing, would be a matter for government. And I would think that that expertise probably wouldn't come from us here in Defence should that decision be made.

QUESTION: And, Brigadier, there's an article in one of the papers today implying or referring to the fact that the F/A-18 Hornets will be coming back at the end of April. Can you confirm that? Or...

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, I can't confirm that. That's a decision still to be made. But clearly you've seen from the briefings we've done over the last week that the amount of work, useful work to be done is diminishing for all of these type of aircraft. And of course once that work's been done and completed, decisions will be made. But they'd only be made in the context of the whole Coalition effort. That is, as part of the draw down of the Coalition air effort.

So we're not packing up and moving out before our usefulness to the Coalition is complete.

QUESTION: Phillip Hudson from The Age. In the briefing earlier you talked about the F/A-18s flying in Northern Iraq. Most of their work has been in southern Iraq. Whereabouts in North Iraq were they? How many planes? What are they doing up there, basically?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Exactly the same work they were doing in the south. That is close air support to ground operations. The areas we're talking about are to the north-west of Baghdad. And technically this is a little more difficult for them and they've got to fly further. They need further air refuelling and longer sorties, obviously, to do these missions. But it's clearly worthwhile for them to get up there and make a contribution in that area at this stage.

QUESTION: Brigadier, just a question about the Special Forces. There was a report on the ABC that just sounded like the road to Jordan was a bit lawless at the moment. I was just wondering if there was a role for them there, with these checkpoints being set up by Ba'ath Party people and those sorts of things. And have the commandoes been involved in any sort of operation at all? Anything from humanitarian aid to actually going in and helping out the SAS or anything like that?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: In relation to the SAS's role, it remains the control of a specific area of operations. And some work in randomly putting in checkpoints and almost spot-checking vehicle traffic is part of that. But, as I think we've covered before, they really don't have the capability to set up full time control of a road. Of any road.

In relation to the Ba'ath Party checkpoints and so on you're mentioning, I'm certainly - I'm not sure if they're in our SAS's area of operations and therefore I'm not sure that they're matters that we could actually have any influence on.

But certainly our ability to control a major road, as a permanent fixture, would be not within our principal capabilities.

We could certainly stop critical and important vehicles and convoys, you know Russian diplomatic convoys and journalists spring to mind. And obviously there are many others that get spot checked and checked as well. But that's not really the issue.

In terms of the commandoes, they've not had a role to date.

QUESTION: Brigadier, are the SAS on the road to Syria? And are they looking out for some of the government hierarchy that's now trying to flee Iraq?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: The SAS have an area of operations which includes a number of roads and they are in the west of Iraq, as has been explained in the past. Clearly they're looking for people of interest in there, and that would include, you know, obviously military people, but people who'd been part of the leadership of the organisation would be fair targets for their interests.

OFFICIAL: Any further questions?

QUESTION: Brendan Nicholson from The Sunday Age. Have our F/A-18s flown any support missions in support of our own troops?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Brendan, no, they haven't. They've mainly been flying in support of initially 5 Corp, then the Marines. And, more recently, up to the north-west. And I'm not sure who they were supporting in the north-west. I could find that out for you.

QUESTION: Brigadier, just in terms of that role looking for fleeing leaders, have they managed to nab anyone yet? Is there any sort of report of, you know, one of Saddam's henchmen being caught?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: No, there isn't. No reports of that.

QUESTION: Brigadier, can you give us a few more details about the officer who's been deployed to the Pentagon's ORHA? His rank, or her rank I should say, as well.

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: The officer's rank is, I think, a Colonel or a Lieutenant Colonel level. We don't have the full range of details, but that particular office is the office that would be managing the transition. That is the transition of control of the country back to Iraqi control. And the officer there would be assisting with planning, along with officers from other Australian departments. So, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Austrade, Department of Finance and obviously Department of Defence all who will be represented on that.

The specific tasks, though, would be definitely in the area of planning and preparation of the ground for that transition back for Iraqi control.

QUESTION: Political planning?


QUESTION: Political planning or sort of civilian administration?

Oh, I would have thought within the areas of expertise.

OFFICIAL: We'll take one final question.

QUESTION: Do we have a name? Or can you release the name of that officer?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Look, I don't have a name for you at the moment. We'll see if we can get you a contact for that in due course.

OFFICIAL: That concludes this morning's brief. Thanks for attending.
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