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Australian Defence Force's commitment to the International Coalition Against Terrorism.

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Department of Defence

230702 Transcript



EMMA DIFFEN: Good morning, everybody. And thank you for coming along this morning to our briefing on the Australia's Contribution to the International Coalition Against Terrorism.

I'd like to introduce to you Brigadier Mike Hannan. Thank you.

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Please bear with me with a bit of a croaky throat this morning. I'd like to start first with maritime operations. Her Majesty's Australian ships Arunta and Melbourne remain on station in the Persian Gulf as part of the United Nations multinational interception force. That's the Arunta at sea.

For HMAS Arunta and her crew, the first week of operations in the Gulf has been extremely busy and successful. On the evening of Friday 19th, sixteen cargo Dhows attempted to break out from Khawr 'Abd Allah waterway between Kuwait and Iraq, through the maritime blockade and into the Gulf.

And, in one and a half hours, HMAS Arunta had successfully conducted boardings on five of the compliant vessels -sorry, five non-compliant vessels. Four of the dhows had passive defences in place in order to hinder Arunta's boarding teams accessing the decks of the vessels.

Throughout the same night Arunta conducted a further four boardings over a three hour period.

Nine vessels in total were successfully hailed and boarded by teams from the Arunta, with three cargo dhows being boarded by other coalition vessels.

During this period of high activity the remaining dhows turned back towards the Khawr Abd Allah waterway of their

own accord. Approximately 1,050 metric tonnes of oil was found as a result of these boardings.

Commander of the Maritime Interception Force, Captain Sinclair of the Royal Australian Navy, and his team, controlled the Arunta and her three coalition ships throughout this operation.

HMAS Melbourne has now been on operations in the Gulf for over three weeks with the MIF. The ship and her crew have just completed their first port visit since being on station.

Turning to air operations, the Australian air-to-air refuelling tanker, a B707, are currently operating refuelling operations over northern and southern Afghanistan. They remain based at Manas in Krygyzstan, and continue to refuel French Mirage and United States FA18 and F14 aircraft.

As you're aware, the Minister for Defence, the Honourable Robert Hill, visited the Royal Australian Air Force contingent in Krygyzstan over the period 19 to 21 July. During this period Minister Hill took the opportunity to travel on an operational air-to-air refuelling mission in order to observe the Air Force personnel in action.

The Australian Air Force contingent based in Krygyzstan has off-loaded over three and a half million pounds of fuel to coalition aircraft to date.

In land operations the Australian Special Forces continue to operate on the ground in Afghanistan. Now, the outgoing Commander of the Australian Special Force Task Group in Afghanistan was recently honoured by the United States Army for his contribution to Operation Enduring Freedom, and the International Coalition Against Terrorism.

In a ceremony held at Bagram Air Base, Major General Frank 'Buster' Hagenbeck, the US Commander of Coalition Task Force Mountain, which includes the Australian Task Group, presented Lieutenant Colonel Rowan Tink with a Bronze Star Medal.

The award citation read in part: 'His outstanding leadership, strategic and tactical proficiency, dedication to duty and commitment to mission accomplishment in a

combat zone under the most extreme of circumstances greatly contributed to the success of Operation Enduring Freedom.'

Now, detail of the citation will be available on the website this afternoon. In particular, Lieutenant Colonel Tink's leadership role in the planning and execution of Operation Anaconda is recognised by the award.

Operation Anaconda, conducted in south-eastern Afghanistan, involved a sustained effort to rid the country of al Qaeda elements who posed a threat to the interim Afghan authority and Coalition forces. The recommendation for the award stated that, and I quote: 'The outstanding tactical contributions of the Commander and his Task Group served as a major factor in rendering the enemy a critical blow to his capability as an effective fighting force.'

Now, Lieutenant Colonel Tink [phonetic] is arriving back in Australia as we speak. There'll be a photo opportunity with him this afternoon in Sydney at 2pm. And I've asked him specifically to come down to this briefing next Tuesday and to give you a full run down on his six months as Commander of the Special Forces in country.

That concludes my brief for this morning. If there are any significant events we'll obviously brief them to you separately. And I can now take your questions, if my voice holds up long enough.

QUESTION: In relation to Roland Tink [phonetic], the fact that you've named him...



BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Rowan Tink [phonetic].

QUESTION: Oh, sorry. The fact that you've named him and he's going to be available for photographs, does that mean the ADF has now resolved internal differences over whether SAS people should be named and photographed? For example, in the case of Bouillaut some of your fellow officers in the Public Affairs section were very strongly of the view, and made that known to Chief of the Army's Office, they did not believe SAS officers should be named?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: The Army and the Defence Force has made its policy of this quite clear. As a matter of normal course we don't disclose the names and photographs of Special Forces troops, however under certain circumstances, particularly in relation to special awards, exceptions are made. And this is one of those exceptions.

QUESTION: Well, previously some of your colleagues in Public Affairs were very strongly of the view...

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, I've just explained...

QUESTION: ...that that would prejudice any future use in covert operations, for example.

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: I've just explained the policy and this is an example of the policy in place....

QUESTION: So does that mean individuals in public affairs have now changed their view? Or they've agreed to keep quiet about the view? What's the situation there?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: I have just explained the Defence Force policy. The Defence Force policy doesn't rest on the opinion of individuals within public affairs or anywhere else. This is an application of the Defence Force policy in action.

QUESTION: Well, why wasn't it the case in Bouillaut that the Public Affairs section came out and said he should not have been named...

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: I'm not aware of those comments, can we pass onto another more constructive question, please?

QUESTION: Is Colonel Tink back here for good now? And who was his replacement?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Colonel Tink is back in country having completed his tour of duty. I'm not sure what his next posting rotation is, and I won't be disclosing the identity of his successor at this stage.

QUESTION: Are there any plans at all for Australian troops to join the ISAF for policing Kabul?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: There are no plans at this stage. Any decision for the Australian troops to take a wider or different role in the Coalition Against Terrorism would be made by the Australian Government, and that decision would be taken after full consultation with the Coalition partners and, of course, with the ADF.

QUESTION: Are there any other medals or awards in the pipeline for any other personnel who have served or are serving?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Yep, I think you'll recall that when Brigadier Gillespie came back after his tour as the Commander in the Middle East he indicated that there were a number of other awards that would be made. Because of the nature of Special Forces service, most of those will not be disclosed in the normal course of events, although the awards certainly will still be made.

QUESTION: Where does a Bronze Star fit in the hierarchy of American medals? It's a service conduct medal rather than gallantry, is it?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: It's an award that can be given for both gallantry and for leadership in war. In this case, clearly it's the leadership in war aspect that's been the significant issue.

QUESTION: Have you got a photograph of Hagenbeck pinning the medal onto this guy?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: I don't. And if I had one I would release it to you.

QUESTION: Can you get one from America - the American military?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, look, we're obviously trying to find that photograph as quickly as we can. And we'll give you all the photographs we have.

QUESTION: Do you know when the last time an Australian got one of these Bronze Stars?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: No, I'm not sure of the last occasion.

QUESTION: What is the significance of this award?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: I think, from the ADF's point of view, it's just a recognition of the contribution that our Special Forces have made to the operations in Afghanistan. That contribution has been significant, and those forces, although small in number, have had a substantial impact on operations.

QUESTION: Does this mean that the ban on media naming SAS personnel or photographing them has now been lifted?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: No, it doesn't. As I said to you, the ban remains in place for most circumstances. However, from time to time, the Chief will make a decision that certain individuals should be named because of the specific nature of the service or the incident.

QUESTION: Is there any concern that people who are named and photographs shown in the media could be subjected to any sort of retribution by terrorist elements or people opposed to western forces in Afghanistan?


QUESTION: There was some concern about that in relation to Bouillaut, I understand?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, look, obviously that's clearly always a risk. But it's a risk that's balanced out by the ADF in terms of the individual case. And in this particular case it's believed that Colonel Tink's situation and the nature of his service is such that it deserves public recognition.

QUESTION: People whose names are made public or photographed, does that mean they can no longer in the future be involved in covert operations?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Look, I couldn't comment on the nature of operations that Colonel Tink may or may not be involved in in the future. That's, you know, hypothetical to a ridiculous degree. Can we pass on to some other issues other than releasing the name? I mean the policy is the policy. This is an application of it, and that's as far as it goes.

QUESTION: In relation to an article today about claims made against some ADF members in East Timor - claims that they've assaulted an Irish civilian with the UN and that Military Police are investigating. What's the latest on that?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, I actually read the report and I must say that report's at variance with reports that we've received by other means. As a result, we've launched an investigation by Australian Military Police. There's also an investigation by the UN Military Police, and we'll be awaiting for the outcome of those investigations before we have anything constructive to say.

QUESTION: When you say it's at variance, what's at variance?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: There are differences in fact or in detail. And we want to get to the facts before we have anything to say on it.

QUESTION: So the Australian soldiers have a different version of events?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Look, I'm sure you realise that in any one of these circumstances there's lots of different versions. What we want is for the proper police investigations so we get to the real facts of the issue.

QUESTION: Have there been any other Bronze Stars or American medals awarded to Australians in Afghanistan?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Look, I can get you an answer for that in terms of numbers. And I'll get that back to you today.

QUESTION: Does that include also all the Australian awards?


QUESTION: What's the highest award received by an Australian?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: I'm not sure of that.

QUESTION: Just on the maritime operation, how would it be that 16 dhows would come to make a run in one night like that? Is there any explanation for that?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, I think the explanation is the effectiveness of the blockade. The fact that smuggling operations are now taking place using coastal dhow, which are small wooden boats with candle on them, is an indication that they can't get bigger vessels through. Obviously it's not a very efficient way of transporting oil. And the fact that they've lined up 16 of these vessels and made a run for the wire all together, indicates that there's a reasonable amount of desperation to get through.

So I would say that indicates quite clearly that the interdiction operations - or interception operations are quite effective.

QUESTION: Just on that, there was a program on Iraq and the blockade the other day and it showed a line of trucks going out with oil across the land border. As far as you can see they were queued up. And there was massive - obviously massive amounts of oil going out by land. So it is the case that as you stop it by sea it's just going out by land anyway?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, we're on the sea job. We're not on the land job. If we were maybe they wouldn't be going out.

QUESTION: Special Forces Operations, are they doing anything?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Yes, they are, yeah. The operations continue and they remain conducting reconnaissance and surveillance type operations throughout the eastern sector. Those operations, as we stated last week, are now aimed specifically at maintaining stability and maintaining a peaceful countryside for the building of civil infrastructure. And I think last week we said a few things about some of the other activities that were taking place within our areas now, including UN mine clearing able to go forward and, of course, the delivery of various aid and education improvements.

QUESTION: Did you ever get to the bottom of the two armed intruders? Was there anything further [indistinct]?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: No, apparently it's - the base itself is actually in quite a heavily populated valley and there are sort of armed folks wandering around the place from time to time, and this was not considered to be an exceptional or unusual event.

QUESTION: Given the New York Times has carried a report saying that US aerial bombings have been identified as being responsible for deaths of more than 400 civilians, has that change the Australian attitude at all in relation to calling in air support?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, the only times that the Australians have called in air support has been in support of their own troops on the ground as a necessary pre-requisite for them disengaging from battle and moving their own forces to safety. I doubt that any commander would be not using that resource were it available to him.

I can't speak for the commanders on the ground in Afghanistan and how they're conducting operations, but they are very well aware of the effects of these weapons and they also understand absolutely how their use can benefit and also hinder the coalition operations in country.

EMMA DIFFEN: Thanks very much, everyone.

Event: BRIEFING Date: 23/07/2002

Slip ID: C00007670860 Time: 11:00 AM

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