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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


14/04/2003Departmental 140403/03


Media Briefing Australia's contribution to Global Operations

Monday 14 April 2003

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

Operations have continued in all areas over the last 24 hours and I'm happy to report that all our people remain safe and accounted for.

First, I'd like to update you on OPERATION BAGHDAD ASSIST. The operation continues, with the two C-130s dispatched from Richmond yesterday making their way to the Middle East to deliver medical supplies.

Our C-130 which delivered the first batch of medical supplies into Baghdad yesterday did so successfully and without incident.

The medical stores on board were from surplus stocks off HMAS KANIMBLA, and from the United States and Kuwait.

I though it would be useful to give you a few details about the mission which have been relayed to me by one of our people on the aircraft. While doing so, we'll show some stills and vision shot by our military camera crew on board the flight.

This was a tactical mission, with all appropriate self-protection measures being employed. The aircraft was flown, landed, unloaded and returned by the crew using night vision equipment.

A force protection element from the Australian Special Force Task Group - commandos from the 4th Battalion - were also on board to provide security to the aircraft, crew and stores while on the ground at Baghdad International Airport.

As the aircraft approached and then landed at Baghdad International Airport, occasional flashes from explosions could be seen in the night sky.

Once the aircraft came to a stop - relying on its short landing capability given the damage that exists to the runways - the commandos disembarked, fanning out to provide a defensive perimetre around the aircraft. The aircraft did not "shut down"; instead keeping its propellers turning in case there was a need to make a rapid departure. The continuing flashes of explosions in the distance provided a reminder of the continuing military operations not that far away.

The whole off-loading and liaison process took about 15 minutes, and then the aircraft departed and returned to its base.

All in all, it was a successful mission that will go some way to alleviating the shortage of medical equipment and supplies in Iraq.

Further Aircraft with medical supplies are on their way from Australia and the other coalition partners are providing significant additional supplies every day.

Some additional vision of the medical supplies being off loaded Kanimbla for dispatch to Baghdad will be shown at the end of the brief.

Now, turning to our Maritime operations . . .

HMAS DARWIN and KANIMBLA continue maritime patrol operations in the northern Persian Gulf, while HMAS ANZAC continues her current replenishment operation.

Our two Army Landing Craft, have now re supplied, and are taking a short rest and preparing for subsequent tasking.

The Navy divers have started their operations in the Khwar Az Zubayr waterway and will be working to clear this waterway over the coming days.

Turning to Land Operations . . .

Our special forces troops continue their surveillance operations inside Iraq, conducting occasional checks of traffic heading into and out of the country as part of their tasks. They are also continuing to investigate sites where Iraqi military activity is suspected.

And now to air operations . . .

Aside from BAGHDAD ASSIST which I have already discussed, our other C-130s have continued their operations moving supplies around the Middle East Area of Operations.

Our FA-18 Hornets have flown close air support sorties in the vicinity of Tikrit, The home town of Sadaam Hussein, and a substantial number of his Baathe Party elite, in support of coalition ground operations in the area. While our Orion maritime patrol aircraft have continued surveillance operations in support of the USS CONSTELLATION and USS VALLEY FORGE Battle Groups in the northern Persian Gulf.

There were some reports in the media over the weekend that we have been flying Defensive Counter Air or Escort flights. This is not the case and I would like to emphasise again that we continue to fly close air support sorties.

Well, that concludes today's brief, and I'd now be happy to take any of your questions . . .

QUESTION: Mark Phillips from News Limited. Just when you mentioned that the defence warning systems have been engaged by the Hercules. Was that just a precautionary measure or was it actually under fire? Are we aware of anything on that?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: There's no evidence to suggest that the aircraft was locked on by a missile or any other type of weapons system. It was a defensive measure. There's obviously a lot of electromagnetic radiation around, and sometimes that triggers, triggers warning lights, and as a precaution the aircraft dumps flares, and sometimes takes evasive measures. In this case there were no evasive measures necessary, and so there was no suggestion that there was a weapons lock on.

QUESTION: Mark Forbes from The Age, Brigadier, I mean given the winding down of the operation in some areas and the increased amount of publicity about exactly where our SAS troops are and what they're doing. What more can you now tell us about where all our various troops are, where they're stationed and what duties they're undertaking?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well you're quite right to say that the operations are winding down in some areas - and certainly the wind back of the air campaign is critical. But, I think, as you've seen on the media reports in the last 24 hours, there's still plenty of action on the ground. There's a lot of small battles taking place, and some of these are not so small. The battles yesterday - with the Marines - quite substantial, in terms of five or six tanks and substantial numbers of enemy troops.

So, to say that it's, the war is winding down and therefore it's okay to start talking about what our SAS is doing is a little bit premature. Certainly we'll be providing a full update on their activities as soon as they move to the next phase of operations.

QUESTION: Can you say anything about where our other troops are stationed? I know there's been a problem before now, but can you say anything at the moment about that [indistinct]?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: No I can't say anything further about that, other than what we've said in the past - that is we provide you with full information consistent with operational security and host nation sensitivities.

QUESTION: Don Wolfe from AAP, Brigadier. Firstly the Hornets in and around Tikrit. Did any of them actually fire on targets, or did they return with ordinance, do you know?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: I'm not sure of - actually, but I'll get you an answer straight after this.

QUESTION: And on the SAS - I know all the problems - but, we get the impression that, you know, at least some of them had, as one of their major tasks, looking for scud missile sites in the west, in western Iraq. Has, can you say if that phase of the operation has wound down, and if so, can you give us any indication of their sort of success?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well I think they have been successful in the extent that they haven't discovered any scud missiles. Although we have discovered - as we've reported previously - sites which could have been missile launch sites - that is they had the hard standing, the correct types of cranes, vehicles generating systems, and so on. So from that point of view, the operations could be said to be successful.

The SAS continue though to investigate suspect Iraqi military sites.

QUESTION: Brigadier, Dung Jian from Radio Free Asia. You were talking about the C-130s - two C-130s - one has landed in Baghdad international airport, and I'm just trying to find out where is the other one at the moment? And how many tons of medical equipment and medicines have been transferred to the humanity aid groups out there, and other than medical equipment, what else have we got out there to, as part of the international aid program? And also the wheat, we supported Iraqis, where are they now, are they in Iraq [indistinct]?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: I'm sorry, the second half of the question was?

QUESTION: The second half of the question is that we got two ships, shiploads of wheat.

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Oh the wheat, yeah.

Where are they now at the moment?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: I'll just deal with the wheat first. At this stage one of the ships has been unloaded in Kuwait and that, that wheat will be milled, processed and shipped into Iraq as part of an AusAID organised program, and as part of the oil for food program run by the UN.

The other ship will be unloading in due course at another port, and it will be processed as part of the same UN arrangements.

In terms of the medical supplies, there are actually three C-130 aircraft altogether. The first C-130 aircraft landed yesterday in Baghdad and it took medical supplies that were taken from HMAS Kanimbla - surplus stocks from HMAS Kanimbla - plus other stores that were donated by the Americans and the Kuwaitis - a total of 15,000 pounds of medical equipment and stores - and took that straight into Baghdad.

Two additional C-130s left RAAF Base Richmond yesterday, and they are flying to Iraq now - as we speak. They should be there tomorrow, and they are taking a further two cargoes of medical supplies from Australia.

The decision to take medical supplies was one made by the commanders on the ground, considering that this was the most critical and appropriate need that we can address quickly.

QUESTION: Mark Forbes again, Brigadier. You talked about that green, green monochromatic images being the enduring reminder of Australian involvement in Iraq. What other, what other sorts of reminders do you think there are going to be? What are going to - in the ADF's view - be seen as being the significant achievements out of this operation at this early stage?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: I think the one thing that stands out Mark is the, is the vindication in our mind of the quality of our training and the quality of our people.

The ADF force elements have linked in with, and been able to mesh into coalition operations, operating at the leading edge of technology and at the leading edge of capability, very easily. They've been a potent and capable force in each case, and that's a direct reflection of excellent people with some of the best training available.

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

QUESTION: Brigadier, John Kerrin, The Australian. There was a report this morning that the SAS may have stopped a carload of contract killers or suicide bombers or whatever. I was just wondering if you could comment on that at all - whether there was any sort of, any basis to it.

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Yeah John I thought it was colourful reporting. The SAS, as you know, are stopping vehicles on the road. As to the precise details of any particular stop or find, we'll come out with some more details later. But as far as that report's concerned, let's just say that I thought it was colourful.

DEFENCE OFFICIAL: Thanks very much ladies and gentlemen.
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