Government Deploys RAAF To Middle East

The Federal Government has announced details of the deployment of Royal Australian Air Force elements to the Middle East, in preparation “for a potential military campaign against Iraq should military action become necessary”.

HorneyThe Government will deploy 14 F/A-18 Hornet fighter aircraft, three C130 Hercules transport aircraft and an Air Forward Command Element.

The Minister for Defence, Senator Robert Hill, said that even though “the Australian Government has not made any decision to commit to military operations against Iraq”, the deployment was part of a campaign “to step up diplomatic pressure on Saddam Hussein” and “to ensure that the men and women of the ADF are given the best possible opportunity to prepare for the possibility of conflict in the event that a diplomatic solution cannot be found”.

The deployment will leave Australia within a fortnight.

Text of a media release by the Minister for Defence, Senator Robert Hill.

FORWARD DEPLOYMENT OF RAAF ELEMENTS

HerculesAs foreshadowed by the Prime Minister on 10 January 2003, the Government has now decided to forward deploy Royal Australian Air Force elements to the Middle East to prepare for a potential military campaign against Iraq should military action become necessary.

A squadron of 14 F/A-18 Hornet fighter aircraft, three C130 Hercules transport aircraft and an Air Forward Command Element responsible for coordinating air operations with coalition partners and providing national control of RAAF assets will be farewelled in the coming weeks.

The Government will announce dates for farewell ceremonies at an appropriate time.

The Government remains hopeful that Iraq will accept the diplomatic demands of the world to end its program of weapons of mass destruction and to destroy the weapons it already has.

But after 12 years of deception the world is coming to recognise that Saddam Hussein only understands diplomacy if it is backed up by military pressure.

The best chance of peace is for the United Nations Security Council to resolve to enforce complete compliance with Resolution 1441 and for the wider world community to also insist on Iraq’s disarmament.

The Australian Government has not made any decision to commit to military operations against Iraq. But the Government has decided to forward deploy Australian Defence Force personnel to the Middle East for two reasons:

  1. To step up diplomatic pressure on Saddam Hussein. In this context it should be recalled that in 1998 Labor under Mr Beazley supported an ADF forward deployment of 150 Special Forces and two 707 mid-air refuellers in response to a request from the United States to apply further pressure on Saddam Hussein. This was without any specific UN direction. On that occasion Mr Beazley said: “part of the reason why we have supported the Government in giving our approval to the steps that they have taken thus far has been in putting pressure on Saddam Hussein, and there is no doubt in mind if there had not been pressure coming from those who are prepared to be part of a coalition, the energising of the UN Security Council and the energising of a couple of members of the UN Security Council – Russia and France – to try and find solutions, simply wouldn’t have occurred.”
  2. To ensure that the men and women of the ADF are given the best possible opportunity to prepare for the possibility of conflict in the event that a diplomatic solution cannot be found. This is in the interests of their own safety and their ability to carry out their tasks professionally if they are asked to do so.

The Hornets, Hercules and air command personnel will join other ADF elements already deploying to the Middle East under Operation Bastille. These are:

  • Sea transport ship HMAS Kanimbla, which left Sydney on Thursday 23 January with about 350 personnel embarked. The Kanimbla will join frigates HMAS Anzac and Darwin in the Persian Gulf, where they are deployed as part of the Multinational Interception Force enforcing United Nations sanctions against Iraq.
  • An advance party for the Special Forces Task Group, including a Special Air Service squadron from Perth.
  • A small RAAF reconnaissance team who have been preparing for the possible deployment of the Hornets.

The Government has not made any decision to forward deploy other ADF elements, but has put on standby for potential deployment:

  • Special Forces support elements, including specialist troops to deal with the threat of weapons of mass destruction drawn from the newly-established Incident Response Regiment, CH-47 troop-lift helicopters and a quick reaction support force drawn from the Sydney-based 4RAR Commando unit.
  • A Navy clearance diver team capable of locating, rendering safe and disposing of mines.

These deployments – and any others in coming weeks – will not affect the ADF’s capability to respond effectively to contingencies in our region or at home.


Transcript of the press conference held by the Minister for Defence, Senator Robert Hill, in Adelaide.

Senator Hill:

Senator Robert Hill, Minister for DefenceThanks for coming along this morning. We said we want to keep the Australian public informed of each of the important decisions we make in relation to pre-deployment of forces. We’ve now decided to pre-deploy certain Airforce elements. This was foreshadowed earlier by the Prime Minister, but the decision has only just been made and we want to announce it. The force elements that will be pre-deployed to the Middle East region are the squadron of FA-18 Hornet fighters, a command element that’s associated with the Airforce contingent and three C-130 Hercules transport aircraft which will basically be supporting our special forces, that announcement we made earlier. The specific dates of deployment are not announced for operational reasons, but they will be leaving within the next couple of weeks. We intend to have farewell functions and we’ll settle the time and places of those functions early next week and advise. Obviously the force, the public and the dignitary like to attend those functions, including Opposition representatives. The purpose of the pre-deployment, as was with the first elements, is to attempt to apply maximum pressure upon Saddam Hussein to comply with the Security Council resolutions to disarm peacefully, and also to ensure that our force elements are properly prepared in the region at the theatre in the event that the Government makes a subsequent decision that it is necessary that they be part of a coalition force. That decision obviously hasn’t been made. We hope it won’t get to that but, as I’ve said before, we’re taking this process step by step.

The only other thing I wanted to say in relation to the pre-deployment. Obviously there is a debate in the broader community as to whether pre-deployment is an appropriate option and I think it’s worth reminding the community that in 1998, it’s amazing how quickly people forget, in 1998 we pre-deployed 150 Special Forces and two RAAF in-air refuellers to the Gulf, that was as a result of a request from the United States to apply pressure upon Saddam Hussein at that time to comply with the Security Council resolutions. At that time, we said that we hadn’t made a decision to deploy them for action, and as it turned out in the end we didn’t have to make such a decision and they returned. The force that was applied in that instance was applied by the United States and we were… it wasn’t therefore necessary for us to deploy our forces for military action. So the similarities are quite marked, I guess the only difference is that on that occasion the Opposition and Mr Beazley recognized the importance of such a deployment in its task of putting pressure on Saddam Hussein and supported the Australian Government in doing so.

Also it’s interesting to note the comments of the European leaders who in the last 24 hours also recognized the need to apply maximum pressure upon him in our joint efforts to achieve the outcome we all seek which is disarmament peacefully. So we have the European leaders, we have Kofi Annan who recognised that without the pressure of pre-deployment of forces we wouldn’t have even got the inspectors back into Iraq. It all illustrates we believe that this is a worthwhile contribution that Australia can make towards the hopeful goal of a peaceful solution of this crisis.

Journalist:

Is this a step closer to a war with Iraq?

Senator Hill:

We hope it’s another step forward to avoiding war with Iraq. We are still attempting to resolve this crisis peacefully, but after 12 years of attempting to do so, there can be no doubt that diplomacy … the only chance of diplomacy working in this instance is if it is supported by military pressure, and that’s what we’re seeking to do in concert with others.

Journalist:

European troops were inoculated for Smallpox. Will Australian troops need that inoculation also?

Senator Hill:

We are inoculating our forces according to the medical advice that we receive so all possible threats to them of a biological nature are addressed in terms of the inoculations they receive. It is not our normal practice to announce what inoculations they receive.

Journalist:

Really though, if diplomatic efforts fail these troops are not going to be brought back home are they?

Senator Hill:

They were in 1998.

Journalist:

It’s highly likely they won’t come home isn’t it?

Senator Hill:

We hope they all come home. The purpose of pre-deployment is firstly to apply maximum pressure on Saddam Hussein but we don’t rule out the possibility, we can’t rule out the possibility that all diplomatic efforts of the international community as a whole through its Security Council will fail in that objective of a peaceful resolution and that it will be necessary to apply military force. We don’t rule that out and in the past Australians contributed to such forces within the Gulf regions, contributed to forces against Iraq, and it may well do so again in the future, but that is a decision for the Government at that appropriate time.

Journalist:

Where will they be sent?

Senator Hill:

They’re sent to the Gulf region. For operation reasons we don’t announce their basing and as I indicated before the hosts actually request that we don’t announce it also, they prefer that it not be stated publicly, so we meet that reasonable request.

Journalist:

Can we narrow down when, you said some time in the next fortnight?

Senator Hill:

No, well there will be farewell functions before and the arrangements for those haven’t yet been completed. So within the next couple of weeks, and they don’t necessarily all depart together either.

Journalist:

When was this decision made to send them to the Gulf?

Senator Hill:

This decision to pre-deploy these force elements was finally concluded last evening.

Journalist:

Was this requested by the US, this particular deployment of these particular forces?

Senator Hill:

No. The pre-deployment is obviously something that we’ve been talking about with coalition allies, talking about with the United States and with Britain in particular, and they as you know have also pre-deployed forces for the same reason. So we’re doing it jointly because you know we recognise that a joint pre-deployment, a joint pressure has more chance of success than one country simply acting alone. So certainly over the last few months, because we’ve been within the US planning loop, we’ve talked to them about force structures and the like, but they haven’t specifically requested that we pre-deploy these specific elements.

Journalist:

What number of personnel will be involved in this deployment, and what will that bring the total to?

Senator Hill:

I think the hornets, with crews and all of the support, would work out at about 250 personnel. The C-130s I think with all their support would work out at about another 150, and the command element probably about another 40 odd. What else have we got? We’ve got the Kanimbla that’s on route, I saw it in Darwin Harbor yesterday. It’s carrying about 350 soldiers and sailors. We have two ships, two frigates in the Gulf at the moment, so that’s probably about another 400. And we’ve said that we think that the size of the force, and we’ve set out the full framework of that, the various elements that might be sent, there are some that are being sent and some that might be sent, will be much the same as the force we’ve sent to the war on terrorism in and around Afghanistan so you’re looking at around about 2000, perhaps a few over 2000.

Journalist:

What sort of activities, military I guess operations, do you think these troops will be involved in if any?

Senator Hill:

Well in the lead up they will engage in exercises with other coalition forces, obviously because we haven’t made any decision to deploy them for military action there hasn’t been any decision on rules of engagement or targeting or matters of that nature that would have to come at a subsequent time. The only thing we can say it that regard is that they’re under Australian command now, and whatever happens in the future they will remain under Australian command.

Journalist:

Where will they come from exactly in Australia in terms of location?

Senator Hill:

The C-130s are based at Richmond in NSW, the hornets are based both at Williamtown NSW and at Tindal in the Northern Territory and Airforce will determine which squadron is sent pursuant to this direction of the Government and that would be announced at the time that we can say something publicly about the farewells.

Journalist:

How much money have you got allocated for this war chest at the moment?

Senator Hill:

We haven’t published a figure. We’re obviously have been working on the total cost. They’re not easily to calculate, obviously because we don’t know what’s further down the track and what we’re talking about are additional costs. We obviously own the assets and we employ the Defence Force, so they’re additional costs associated with the operation. But to do it properly, and we do do it properly, doesn’t come cheap so you’d be looking at some hundreds of millions of dollars.

Journalist:

How soon do you think it will be before we know whether these troops you’re sending over will be involved in a war, or are simply there and will be coming home after successful diplomatic effort?

Senator Hill:

Well we think it is coming to crunch time. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. You’ve got the presentation by the United States to the Security Council on the 5th, after that I’m expecting there will be the development of a further resolution that we support a further Security Council resolution. We’re expecting the inspectors to report back again on the 14th of February, so I would expect a conclusion of the UN’s Security Council process shortly after that so I think what Saddam Hussein has got to understand is that this is not going to go on forever. He’s got away with it for 12 years but time is now up. There is still time for him to disarm peacefully and avoid all the horrible consequences of war, but that time is rapidly running out.

Journalist:

Can we get our troops there in time. You’re talking about a timeframe of a couple of weeks, is there time to get the troops in place?

Senator Hill:

There wouldn’t necessarily be the application of armed force immediately after a resolution of the Security Council. You may then see a further couple of weeks of build up, and certainly within the likely timeframes of the Security Council and the development of a coalition force to enforce Security Council determinations, Australia would be in a position to participate if that is the decision of the Government.

Journalist:

By March you think there could be a war?

Senator Hill:

Well I’m hoping there won’t be a war in February, March or April or at all. I’m hoping that through the contribution of us and others. You know we through our pre-deployment of forces, we through our support of the Security Council process, and really of the whole of the international community that is trying hard now to apply that maximum pressure that a war can be avoided. But what I’m saying is that I don’t think this is going to go on for months and months I think that it really is approaching crunch time.

Journalist:

Are further pre-deployments being planned?

Senator Hill:

Yes. Other force elements are being prepared in the event that the Government makes the decision that they be pre-deployed and those force elements have been previously made public.

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