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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


17/04/2003Departmental 170403/03


Media Briefing Australia's contribution to Global Operations

Thursday 17 April 2003

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

There are Media Reports that state that ADF personnel have been advised not to wear their uniform on ANZAC Day. This is incorrect, ADF members will wear their uniform with pride on ANZAC Day.

Over the past 24 hours, operations have continued, and there have been no significant incidents or issues. I am happy to report all our people are safe and accounted for.

So to today's brief . . .

Starting with Maritime operations . . .

There is little change to what was briefed yesterday. Both HMAS DARWIN and KANIMBLA remain on duty in the northern Persian Gulf. DARWIN continues her duties as a guardship for the K-A-A, while KANIMBLA continues patrol and support duties.

HMAS ANZAC and our two Army landing craft continue a period of rest and replenishment.

The Navy clearance diver team remains in the Khawr Az Zubyr waterway. They are currently clearing unstable ordnance found on a submerged Iraqi patrol boat.

Turning to Land Operations . . .

Again, no significant change to the operations of our special forces task group. Some elements are undertaking routine maintenance and repair activities while other elements remain actively engaged in surveillance and reconnaissance missions inside Iraq.

As you may be aware, the coalition announced yesterday that the WMD threat in Iraq's western desert has been eliminated. Australia's Special Forces played an important role in removing that threat. Although there is still some work to be done to remove the WMD Threat entirely.

And now to air operations . . .

Our FA-18s conducted a reduced number of close air support missions in support of coalition ground forces in the past 24 hours with nothing significant to report.

Our C-130s have continued their missions around the area of operations.

Australian Force Deployments in Iraq are winding down, The Government announced this morning that some of our forces will now come home soon. The Minister for Defence Senator Robert Hill announced that the following force elements will return to Australia in mid May:

-HMA Ships Anzac and Darwin,

-The F/A-18 Squadron and its support personnel, and

-The SAS squadron with an element of the Combat Service Suport Group.

-The Navy Clearance diving team will return in late May, and HMAS Kanimbla and the embarked army LCM 8 landing craft and air defence detachment are planned to return in late June.

Some ADF elements will remain in Iraq to support the coalition in the transition period.

These elements are the

-HMAS Sydney, including a naval task group command and logistic support element,

-The Army Commando Task Group, and the Nuclear-Chemical Defence troop and elements of the Combat Service Support Group.

-Two RAAF C130 Hercules and two P3C Orion aircraft, plus support personnel and elements of the Combined Air Operatins Centre, and

A restructured Australian National Command Headquarters and joint logistic element.

These forces are n addition to the 12 person WMD inspection team and the Air Traffic Control that the government has already announced. Finally, the government has also agreed to deploy two mid ranking ADF officers to the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, in addition to Colonel Schollum, whose appointment was announced earlier this week.

Planning for the movements is under way now and we will be in a position to provide more detail next week.

As operations for our forces wind down, this will be our last daily brief. From next Tuesday we will conduct briefs twice weekly on Tuesdays and Thursdays. However, if there any major issues or announcements, extra briefings will be conducted as required. Over the next few weeks we will organise associated briefings on both land and air operations as we did yesterday for Maritime Operations

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

QUESTION: Mark Forbes from The Age, Brigadier. Just to confirm - these elements that are remaining - I assume that they are formally our contribution to a peacekeeping and occupying force in a military sense. Can we get some, a bit more clarification?

How many of the commandoes are going to be staying there, and what will be their duties? I would assume that the team from the IRR - the chemical and biological weapons specialists - would be planning to assist with dealing with any weapons of mass destruction that are found?

Can we confirm that? And are there likely to be any further military contributions to the peacekeeping force above and beyond these elements that have just been announced?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Dealing first with the overall issue of contribution, the government's announcement this morning reflects our initial contribution to the transitional phase - that is the movement to the new transitional authority. Any decision to alter that contribution to increase or in fact to decrease it, would be a matter for government and that will take place over time as we see what the needs are and how the situation on the ground develops.

The commandoes, the exact role of the commandoes is at, is being worked out now. There are a range of tasks that are proposed for them, and we'll provide a little clarity on that as planning progresses.

The IRR - as you quite rightly identify - are our chemical and biological weapons specialists, and they certainly will be involved in assisting with the search for chemical and biological weapons to assist us to eliminate that threat entirely.

QUESTION: Brigadier, Jo Ball from Channel Seven. Just following up on that, the US and Britain have made a formal request for about 1,000 of our troops to be involved in peacekeeping activities. Have you had that formal request, and is it something that you would consider?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: I can confirm that there has been a formal request made. But as the Prime Minister has said, he doesn't envisage Australia making a substantial contribution of peacekeeping forces. That he sees our best contribution being in the area of specialist capabilities, and ensuring that we provide the best effect for our contribution.

So that's very much a matter for government and the government would make a decision along those lines.

QUESTION: Mark Phillips from News Limited. Just to clarify on your answer just then, you're saying that it's still under consideration, it hasn't been ruled out? The request for the battalion from Townsville?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: It, I assume it's still under consideration. I haven't seen a, I haven't seen a decision from government, but it's very much a matter for government. But I can draw your attention to the clear statements of the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence on this matter - and that has indicated that we would not be making a substantial peacekeeping contribution.

QUESTION: Don Woolford from AAP. Just on that question, can you confirm that a battalion that would meet the coalition request, should it be granted, is in fact on a state of readiness and is, could move quite quickly if need be?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Don I actually haven't seen the request, and I'm not sure of the, of what specifically was asked for. I can tell you though that the ADF maintains a range of forces on various degrees of notice to move, so that it could meet contingency commitments, but this is not envisaged to be something we'd have to do at the moment.

QUESTION: Sorry, I just, the SAS squadron and some of the combat service support group that will be returning in mid May, can you tell me what numbers they are?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Look I don't have the exact numbers, and as I said, the planning detail on that is being conducted now, and over the next couple of days we should have some better clarity on that for you next week.

QUESTION: And finally, you said the SAS had played an important role in reducing the WMD threat in western Iraq.


QUESTION: Can you elaborate on that at all please?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well their task out there was to seek out sites where missiles that were WMD capable could be fired or seek out the missiles themselves or WMD sites in that area. They had a very large area to deal with, and they've conducted that obviously successfully to the extent that the coalition has declared that threat has now been eliminated.

We've reported on some of those successes - in terms of finding various WMD capable areas, and those, the elimination of those, plus the elimination of the commander control elements that would be necessary to make those strikes happen.

So I think that that's been a successful operation and that area now has been deemed to be safe from that threat.

QUESTION: If I could just ask again about the commandoes Brigadier - how many are staying, and what is the range of roles that is under discussion for them to undertake?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Once again on the numbers, I don't have clarity on the numbers yet. That planning's still underway. We should be able to provide you with some better clarity on that next week.

In terms of the range of roles - the commandoes are a highly versatile group. They're a special forces, they are special forces soldiers, and they could undertake a wide range of roles including protection tasks, searching tasks and similar tasks that will be necessary in this transitional period to support the wider Australian contribution.

QUESTION: And could I just get a definitional clarification? When, at what point in numbers does a force not become a niche contribution? Is there some sort of dividing line?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Oh I'd have to look up the definition of niche for you Mark. The, the point is though, that forces that we would send for phase 4 would not be geared towards, towards peacekeeping type operations - rather towards their specialist roles.

QUESTION: But surely ...

BRIGADIER HANNAN: So the government, for instance, has announced our group of air traffic controllers - once again, high value specialists, where we can maximise the value, the contribution we make to this phase.

QUESTION: Surely the commandoes potentially have a peacekeeping role?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well I mean I have never said that. I've said that there's a range of roles that could undertake.

DEFENCE OFFICIAL: Take one more question ladies and gentlemen. No more questions, thank you very much.
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