As 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:
** 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."
** 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. Forward Deployment Of RAAF Elements