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Thursday, 18 November 2004
Page: 74


Senator NETTLE (2:52 PM) —My question is to Senator Hill, the Minister for Defence. Is the minister aware of Red Cross estimates that at least 800 civilians have been killed by the multinational forces military assault on Fallujah? Can the minister explain what role Australian defence personnel have played in the assault, including in the planning as well as the execution of the attack?


Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —The operation in Fallujah obviously is the result of attacks by insurgents and terrorists within Iraq. We have seen many horrible examples of that in recent times, particularly of insurgents attacking Iraqis, and—if at all possible—anyone who is associated with the development of the instruments of a new and free Iraq and also not at all being concerned by the killing of innocent civilians in the course of their attempt to derail efforts to provide freedom and better opportunity for all of the Iraqi people. Fallujah was obviously being used as a safe base from which to mount such actions. There was no alternative but to face up to the insurgents and terrorists within Fallujah and thus the operation was launched. It was launched on the authority of the interim Prime Minister of Iraq and after he had made strenuous efforts to seek a resolution short of that by requesting the people of Fallujah who were not involved in this illegal behaviour to turn over the criminals. With such an operation there will unfortunately always be deaths of some civilians. Every effort has been made by the Iraqi and American forces involved in the operation to minimise civilian casualties. That has been consistent with the whole approach of military operations within Iraq and it was certainly the case once again.

In relation to the role of Australians, Australia certainly has some personnel within the multinational force headquarters. It is reasonable to assume therefore it had some role in planning or incidental support of the operation. Australia did not have ADF troops operating as part of an Australian force within the Fallujah operation itself, although there may well have been a small number of Australian forces who were assigned to forces of our allies who were operating as such within Iraq that could have been engaged in the military operations.


Senator NETTLE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister confirm the number of ADF personnel operating under the control of the US military who were engaged in the military assault in Fallujah? Could he explain a comment that he made on 15 October, when he announced the appointment of ADF Major General Molan to the role of Deputy Chief of Staff, Strategic Operations of the Multinational Force in Iraq? At that time, the minister said that Major General Molan would be `responsible for advising the multinational force general commander, General Casey, on all aspects pertaining to the planning and conduct of operations, which may range from civil assistance through to conventional war fighting'. He also said, `The restructured headquarters will be responsible for security and anti-insurgency operations in Iraq.' Can the minister explain what role, if any, Major General Molan played in the ongoing assault on Fallujah?


Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I will seek advice on how many Australians may have been serving in the forces of the United States and participated in the operation within Fallujah. I think it would be a very small number. In relation to the role of Major General Molan, his current position is Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Operations. He operates within the multinational headquarters, and he has some responsibilities therefore in relation to strategic operational planning. There is no secret about that. I indicated in my answer to the honourable senator that a number of Australian personnel operating within that headquarters would have been involved in the planning or indirect support of the operation and such is the case.