Australian Media Briefing Operation Falconer
Sunday, 13 April 2003
Brigadier Mike Hannan
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Good morning, and welcome to our regular update on operations in the Middle East.
Obviously a key focus of Australian Defence Force operations over the past 24 hours has been the preparation and conduct of OPERATION BAGHDAD ASSIST, announced by Government yesterday.
BAGHDAD ASSIST is being conducted to help relieve the humanitarian situation in Baghdad by getting much needed medical supplies into the city as quickly as possible so that the hospitals there can continue to function.
The first batch of supplies - which was taken off HMAS KANIMBLA over night - should be arriving in Baghdad later today on an Australian C-130 aircraft. This aircraft is also carrying medical supplies donated by the United States and Kuwait.
This aircraft - will be the first Australian military aircraft to land at Baghdad International Airport during the current conflict. It may7 be of interest to some of you that the aircraft is under control of one of our female pilots. An Australian military nurse is on the aircraft to liaise with coalition and Iraqi personnel and to coordinate the handover of the supplies. The nurse will also be able to get first-hand information regarding the exact nature of the situation on the ground in order to brief Australian authorities.
A team of commandos from the Special Forces Task Group are also on the aircraft to provide protection to the aircraft and its personnel while on the ground in Baghdad.
Meanwhile overnight, medical supplies were delivered to RAAF Base Richmond where ADF personnel worked throughout the night to prepare and package the supplies for departure on two C-130s from 37 Squadron. These aircraft are due to depart about now, with one flying via Perth where it will collect additional specialist burns supplies. Both aircraft should arrive in Baghdad within the next few days.
The supplies carried on these two aircraft have been provided by the ADF, the Department of Health, the Liverpool and Westmead hospitals and a number of corporations including B.Braun, Baxter and Johnson and Johnson. Emergency Management Australia has played a critical role in assisting in the overall coordination of getting the supplies to Richmond.
The medical supplies being dispatched include the whole range essential items from, IV Fluid, blood bags, gauze bandages, surgical dress such as face masks and gloves, syringes, splints, disposable surgical kits, suture kits, drugs, and wound dressings
The ability of the Defence to respond quickly with the launch of BAGHDAD ASSIST is due to the close cooperation across a number of government departments including the Department of Health and Aging, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, AUSAID and the NSW Health Department. Our recent experience with OPERATION BALI ASSIST meant the various Government agencies were able to respond quickly and effectively.
Now, returning to our routine operations in the Middle East. I am happy to report that all our people remain safe and accounted for.
Starting with Maritime operations . . .
Meanwhile, HMAS DARWIN remains on maritime patrol duties in the northern Persian Gulf while ANZAC continues her replenishment program. Our divers continue their preparation for a move from Umm Qsar to the Khwar Al Zubayr waterway for subsequent clearance operations. The Army Landing craft which have been supporting the divers are returning to KANIMBLA from Umm Qsar for replenishment.
Our special forces continue their surveillance and recognisance operations inside Iraq, with no major incidents to report.
Our C-130s continue their operations in support of coalition ground forces around the Middle East Area of Operations - as well as today's humanitarian assistance mission into Baghdad International Airport - while our Orion maritime patrol aircraft continue their surveillance operations in support of coalition shipping in the northern Persian Gulf.
Our FA-18 aircraft have continued their close air support missions overnight without incident.
That concludes today's brief. I would now be happy to take any questions.
QUESTION: Maria [indistinct] from News Limited. You mentioned the nurse that's now in Baghdad. Are there any plans to send any other medical professionals across?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: The nurse that's gone in with the aircraft has actually gone back out with the aircraft as well. That was primarily to have a - a technical medical person who could understand the language of the other medical people on the ground, and to bring that information back.
Our understanding of the situation at the moment is that there are plenty of medical professionals in Baghdad, and in Iraq, and that the standard - the medical standards are excellent. The problem they've got is they just don't have the - the equipment. The stuff they need to do their - to do their job. And that's the real focus at the moment.
QUESTION: You said that part of her job was to report back what she saw on the ground. Have you got any information on what she was saying and..
BRIGADIER HANNAN: No, that aircraft's in the air at the moment. It took off only minutes ago, so that'll come back and that'll be translated to the commanders on the ground back at our headquarters.
QUESTION: Brigadier, just in relation to the medical supplies on the - being on the Kanimbla. Were they loaded with this very idea in mind, or has, you know, you have those surplus there for humanitarian aid reasons right from the outset?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: They were there for contingencies, and for that reason they included a wide range of - of items. Including, interestingly enough, some baby supplies that wouldn't necessarily be something that our force would - would need.
But certainly the great thing about Kanimbla is that she's a great platform for this. She's a floating storehouse, helicopter landing pad, and a great command and control centre. So the versatility of the ship allowed us to have on board, you know, much more than we actually needed for our own resource.
QUESTION: Brigadier, David Spears from Sky News. Just on the deck of cards of regime leaders that CentCom has released, two parts to this question: can you say whether the SAS are now actively involved in hunting for any of those regime leaders that remain, and b, do the rules of engagement for Australians allow them to kill any of those people on that hit list?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well. Firstly, I'm not sure whether our SAS have been issued with the cards or not. I don't know. I'd assume that they would very much like to be, as I'm sure they'll be a collectors' item of some note in years to come. Their role, as we've said, includes some checking of vehicles and checking of movement of suspicious groups through their area of operations.
And if those - if those particular checks turn up someone who is on the list, then that person would be arrested and taken into custody immediately. In terms of whether they're authorised to - to kill someone, their rules of engagement allow them to defend themselves, and defend their compatriots, but, you know, we don't attack people who are of no threat to us.
So if those people were not armed, and were not acting aggressively towards us, then certainly they would not be - they would not be engaged.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Are there any more questions, ladies and gentlemen?
QUESTION: After the - the initial three are there any further flights planned or is this - these sort of medical aid flights?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Ah, at this stage..
QUESTION: Sorry, the two plus the Kanimbla.
BRIGADIER HANNAN: The two plus the Kanimbla, yeah. Three - three Herc loads. At this stage we're going to assess the - the situation over the next few days, and try and make some judgements about that. As you know, the Government has committed a substantial amount of resources to this rehabilitation and transition phase for Iraq, and the aim will be to get into that phase and to get that money applied and those resources applied as quickly as possible to where they're best needed.
So there'll be considerable work being done to - to assess how that can be engaged as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: The Minister indicated this morning that over the next week he's looking at what role, if any, Australians may play in a military administration - I guess he's talking about peace-keepers.
What sort of contingency plans do you have for that? What numbers could be available if the Government is to make that sort of decision?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well, I think the Government specifically said that we wouldn't be involved in peace-keeping operations. But that we may provide some other specialist capabilities. The Government's currently considering options on that but is yet to make a decision. They'll make some announcements once they've decided the way forward.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Take one more question, ladies and gentlemen.
QUESTION: Just on the medical aid again..
BRIGADIER HANNAN: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do we know which hospitals it's going to, and is the - you know, the on the ground situation going to affect actually getting the supplies to the places where they're needed?
BRIGADIER HANNAN: The decision about which hospitals will be provided with the particular equipment will be made by the medical personnel on the ground - that's in Baghdad. And they'll obviously be looking to the greatest need and servicing that first.
Also, the nature of the supplies that are coming in - they need to be directed to where those particular items are most needed. And that's why it's important to get the medical people involved right at the front line of distributing the products, so that we get them to where they're actually needed.
And I might say one of the issues in packing the stores from Australia has been to use the expertise from the Department of Health and Ageing to give guidance on what it is that we would send, because it's okay to send two aircraft full of medical supplies, but if they're not the right medical supplies - if they're duplicating things which are in ready supply within the country, then it's a wasted effort.
So considerable effort has come into play there, and the expertise of those other departments has been essential to us getting this off the ground in such a short time.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Thanks very much ladies and gentlemen.
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