As foreshadowed by the Prime Minister in his press conference on 10 January 2003, the Government has now decided to forward deploy the sea transport ship HMAS Kanimbla, lead elements of a Special Forces Task Group and a Royal Australian Air Force reconnaissance team to the Middle East to allow the Australian Defence Force adequate time to prepare for operations should military action against Iraq become necessary.
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. The Prime Minister, Minister for Defence, Chief of the Defence Force and Chief of Navy will join friends and family to farewell the crew of the Kanimbla at a special ceremony in Sydney tomorrow. The ship will deploy with a Sea King helicopter, Army landing craft, an Army air defense detachment, and a specialist explosives ordnance disposal team.
The Minister for Defence, Chief of the Defence Force and Chief of Army will attend a private farewell ceremony for family and soldiers from the Special Forces Task Group, which includes a Special Air Service squadron, in Perth on Friday. They will deploy at an undisclosed date.
The small RAAF reconnaissance team will be based in the Middle East to prepare for the potential deployment of a squadron of up to 14 F/A-18 Hornet aircraft, which the Prime Minister has indicated could occur in the coming weeks.
The Australian Government has not made any decision to commit Defense personnel to military operations against Iraq. The Government believes, however, that the forward deployment adds to diplomatic pressure on Saddam Hussein. Last week UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan acknowledged that it was the threat of military action that pressured Saddam Hussein to allow weapons inspectors to return to Iraq. Only by maintaining the pressure and leaving no doubt about the consequences of non-compliance will there be a chance of a diplomatic solution.
On the advice of the Chief of the Defence Force and following our experiences in Afghanistan and East Timor, the Government has instructed the Australian Defence Force to prepare Special Forces support elements for potential forward deployment. This support would include 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, C-130 transport aircraft and a quick reaction support force drawn from the Sydney-based 4RAR Commando unit.
The Government has also instructed that a Navy clearance diver team be prepared for potential forward deployment.
The Government has not made any decision to forward deploy the F/A-18s, C-130 aircraft, Special Forces support contingent or Navy clearance diver team at this stage.
The deployments announced today and any further deployments the Government determines necessary will be known as Operation Bastille. The objective of Bastille is 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 deployments are also designed to support the United Nations disarmament process by contributing to pressure on Iraq to comply with its international obligations to end its program of weapons of mass destruction.
The Government still hopes that the UN will succeed in disarming Iraq peacefully. But the onus is on Saddam Hussein to cooperate fully and actively with the weapons inspectors and to disarm.
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.