PACC 120403/03 Saturday, 12 April 2003
Media Briefing: Australia's contribution to global operations
Saturday, 12 April 2003
GENERAL PETER COSGROVE:Ladies and gentlemen, I've decided to participate in today's press briefing to announce the start of an operation which will be conducted within Operation Falconer. Operation Falconer being Australia's participation in Coalition operations in Iraq.
This new operation is 'Operation Baghdad Assist'.
Although none of our forces are directly involved in the struggle for Baghdad, the government has directed the Australian Defence Force to provide whatever assistance it can as quickly as it can.
Now, we learn that there is sufficient food and water available and that the Iraqi hospitals have adequate medical staff, however I believe that there is a severe shortage of medical supplies to treat the injured. In response to this, I've directed the release of as much contingency stocks of medical stores as possible.
Now, these stores are held in the Middle East, primarily on board HMAS Kanimbla, and these will be moved forward to Baghdad urgently.
Of course we will retain sufficient medical stock to meet the needs of Australian Defence Force personnel.
I'll now invite Brigadier Hannan to proceed with the conventional part of the briefing, but I'll remain available to answer questions when he's finished.
BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Our operations remain ongoing with all elements continuing combat or combat support operations throughout the Middle East Area of Operations. Importantly, all our people remain safe and accounted for.
Starting with Maritime operations . . . HMAS DARWIN continues her maritime patrol duties in the Northern Persian Gulf, most recently escorting the Red Crescent-sponsored humanitarian assistance vessel - MV MANAR - to the K-A-A. HMAS KANIMBLA is returning to the northern region of the Gulf to support maritime patrol operations while HMAS ANZAC continues with her current replenishment program.
Meanwhile, the Chief of Navy - Vice Admiral Peter Ritchie - has visited HMAS ANZAC and complimented the crew for their efforts in the Gulf.
Our navy divers continue their preparations for a possible move forward from Umm Qsar to the Khwar Al Zubayr waterway to assist British Royal Marines with clearance operations.
Turning to Land Operations . . . Our special forces continue their operations in Iraq, with no major incidents to report. While talking about our special forces, I thought it might be useful to talk a little about the complexities of force sustainment for these folk.
The people charged with providing the logistic support for the Special Forces Task Group is called the Combat Service Support Group - or CSSG - and their role is to provide communications support, ordering stores, warehousing, management of freight distribution, and providing resupply - predominantly through air drop to forward troops.
There are about 80 people in the combat services support group, coming from nine different Australian-based units across four states - all bringing specialist skills in the field of logistics and battlefield support.
Well over 90 tonnes of stores and supplies for the Special Forces Task Group has been air freighted into the Middle East - so as you can see its a huge effort.
Aside from the purely supply side of things, workshop mechanics have also been busy servicing the large number of patrol vehicles, trucks and other military vehicles. The workshops have logged over five thousand hours of repair and maintenance each month since arriving in the Middle East.
Our Air Dispatch folk have also played a critical role. The "riggers" - as they are known - and dispatch specialists from 176 Air Dispatch Squadron at Richmond have been working with their coalition colleagues, packaging and rigging cargo loads for air drop to forward deployed troops - including our own special forces.
And it's also worth mentioning the cooks and Task Group postie. The cooks ensure that members of the Task Group - when not on patrol - get a cooked breakfast every morning, and the postie has delivered more than one thousand kilograms of mail to date. While these may be small things to us here in Australia - when your 15,000 kilometres away from home in difficult and challenging circumstances, they are greatly appreciated.
Meanwhile, our C-130s have continued their missions throughout the area of operations. All aircraft have returned safely to their bases from their latest missions.
And as announced yesterday afternoon by the Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence - Danna Vale - our people deployed on Operation Falconer will now be able to receive twice as much free mail from their loved ones.
Mrs Vale said that families would now be able to send mail up to a maximum of two kilograms per item free through Australia Post to personnel deployed in the Middle East Area of Operations - although it may take a couple of days for all Australia Post offices to be able to implement the new maximum limit.
Well, that concludes today's brief, and I'd now be happy to take any of your questions . . .
QUESTION: Brendan Nicholson from The Sunday Age newspaper to General Cosgrove first of all. Are we going - with the level of anarchy that appears to exist in Baghdad and elsewhere, are you going to have any trouble distributing medical supplies?
GENERAL COSGROVE: Well, I think that there is a level of anarchy, and I hope that it's being brought under some form of control. But we'll take whatever steps are necessary. And I'm sure that our partners, the Americans, will assist us greatly in getting these supplies through to where they should be used. And I'm confident that that will occur. They have to arrive at Iraqi hospitals which are dealing with injured people. So, whatever it takes, it'll get there.
QUESTION: And the hospitals, these are hospitals that haven't been cleaned out by looters, presumably?
GENERAL COSGROVE: Well, that's part of the problem. I think part of the reason why people are suffering more than they need to is that perhaps there has been some looting which has taken away stuff that Iraqi medical staff would dearly want to have to treat the injured. So we're just going to do what we can.
We called it 'Baghdad Assist', and it has an echo of 'Bali Assist' where, when faced with a problem of the magnitude we're seeing, we in Australia, all Australians, will do what we can. And we'll do it immediately in theatre from our stocks, and then we'll send back-up from Australia urgently to have it there as quickly as possible. It won't go to waste.
QUESTION: Are our medical staff likely to have any role in this?
QUESTION: Sorry, a second, if I may? Are you able to give us any idea at all of what sort of operation the SAS were involved in when they needed the back-up from the Air Force?
GENERAL COSGROVE: Well, they didn't use that back-up, but that's because it's generally on call for them. So, in many cases over the last few weeks when the SAS have been getting about their job, they've had, somewhere nearby in the air above Iraq, fighter bomber aircraft available to support them. That's part of the way in which we support Special Forces. So it just turns out that our aircraft were in a position to fulfil that standby mission for them. But I won't specify what the Special Forces were actually up to at that time.
QUESTION: General Cosgrove, Greg Turnbull from Channel 10, just a couple of things to clarify about Operation Baghdad Assist.
QUESTION: The two Hercules departing from Australia, can you tell me from where they'll be departing?
GENERAL COSGROVE: Well, they're based in Richmond and I suppose we'll attempt to fill them at Richmond, but they'll go wherever they need to go to get the bulk of these stores. We're sourcing these medical supplies and stores in the first place, of course, from government stocks, and from wherever we need to get them. We're working now to establish what would be the right mix of those stores, and that's an activity that will take place even as we are securing and loading the stores. And we want to send those aircraft forward as soon as possible.
Now, practically, that sounds like tomorrow. I hope it doesn't go any longer than that, but it'll be a question of getting it right rather than just shoving any old thing in the back of a Hercules.
QUESTION: Thank you. And can I just confirm the unloading of supplies from the Kanimbla. Brigadier Hannan said that Kanimbla was moving to the northern area.
GENERAL COSGROVE: Yes.
QUESTION: Will that unloading be from the air? Or will Kanimbla be landing at a port?
GENERAL COSGROVE: We've actually got quite a large amount of stores on the Kanimbla. It's something like if you can imagine an ISO container - a container and a half of medical supplies - which we put there as contingency stocks. Now, I haven't got the tonnage at my fingertips, but you can imagine that that's quite a bulky load. We'll move it any way practical to get it ashore so it can then be airlifted into Baghdad. Probably into Baghdad International Airport.
QUESTION: General Cosgrove, Gerard McManus from The Sunday Herald Sun. Could you just give us some idea of the types of medical equipment that are being requested?
GENERAL COSGROVE: We don't actually have a request. I think the issue is at the moment that there's not the level of over-arching organisation. We know though that the sorts of things we're sending forward would be useful for the victims of trauma. So our own stores were assembled to cater for the casualties of combat. We're now applying those stores as urgently as we can to Iraqis who've become victims of trauma.
QUESTION: So what sort of equipment are you sending?
GENERAL COSGROVE: Anything from bandages through drugs, surgical instruments. All the necessities to assist people who've had the sorts of trauma that we have seen on television after the - in the aftermath of the battle in Baghdad.
QUESTION: A question to either General Cosgrove or Brigadier Hannan. On the question of the Navy clearance divers, their departure from Umm Qasr, I take it that means that their work is done and the ports completely clear?
GENERAL COSGROVE: I'll answer all the questions today. If I don't know then there's no excuse for him. [Laughs]
QUESTION: And if you could just clarify, I didn't catch the name of the new port location and just where it is in Iraq.
GENERAL COSGROVE: Well, I won't try to pronounce it, but it's the K-A-Z- Waterway, which leads up from Umm Qasr to a smaller port, which is a little further up towards Basra. But that's a broad indication. It's a number of kilometres up the waterway to the port, and that waterway needs to be cleared in the same way as the K-A-A- waterway was cleared of submerged wrecks and any mines et cetera. So they'll be doing the same sort of work, and that'll take a few weeks.
QUESTION: General Cosgrove, does the fact that we're in a fortunate position to be able to hand on our medical supplies mean that you anticipated we might have casualties? Significant numbers that would need such a volume of supplies?
GENERAL COSGROVE: We didn't know, but we weren't about to take the chance. So we've got this great big floating factory, warehouse, hospital, command centre, landing platform, which is the Kanimbla, and we loaded it up. And when we, over the last day or two, started to see - governments started to see this aspect of the liberation of Baghdad emerging, it became apparent that it was lucky that we had the wherewithal to be able to assist pretty smartly. I think the other Coalition partners will be doing the same, but this is what we're doing. This is what Australia is doing.
Any other questions, ladies and gentlemen? Thanks very much.
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