HMAS Adelaide, Sydney and Kanimbla together with British, Canadian and a number of US Navy Ships continue maritime interception operations in the Arabian Gulf as part of Australia's contribution to the international coalition against terrorism.
HMAS Kanimbla completed a port visit in the Arabian Gulf over the period 5-11 Jan, after an extended period at sea, and returned to the North Arabian Gulf last Saturday to recommence maritime interception operations.
HMAS Adelaide has conducted three non-compliant boardings during the week. Adelaide's boarding team boarded the ships by ropes from their Seahawk helicopters, in an activity known as fastroping. Two of the suspected violators had implemented passive measures to prevent the boarding parties gaining access to the bridge and engine room, including steel plates and iron at the access point to the ship's superstrucure. Adelaide's boarding team had to cut through the bridge doors to gain entry.
All three vessels were successfully boarded and diverted to a designated holding area, awaiting a full inspection.
HMAS Sydney was involved in the pursuit of a probable smuggler after it broke out of the Northern Arabian Gulf early on the evening of 4 Jan, and evaded the coalition blockade.
A coalition boarding team had attempted to board and gain control of the vessel, but due to extensive 'passive' defenses on the ship were unable to gain control of the vessel before having to abandon the operation.
HMAS Sydney was then tasked to intercept the sanctions violator, a large oil tanker, shortly after it entered international waters at the North of the Arabian Gulf. After a three-day pursuit, Sydney's boarding teams were inserted by helicopter to cut their way into the heavily armored ship in the middle of the night. After nearly an hour, with Sydney standing off for support, full control was finally gained, and the ship was turned towards the UN holding area for apprehended ships in the North Arabian Gulf.
In cold and wet conditions, Sydney is continuing to place her boarding teams in positions to intercept possible sanctions violators.
Our sailors continue to work hard in challenging situations. They continue to prove their preparation and training has paid off, by successfully completing difficult boarding missions assigned to them.
Land Operations . . .
These details have been put together from discussion with Australian special forces soldiers operating in Afghanistan over the past few weeks.
Conditions in the Kandahar Region . . .
At night, temperatures get down to near zero, but the clothing and equipment are working well it's a change not be working in hot conditions. Temperatures in the area are frequently sub-zero at night, with operations being conducted in sub-freezing conditions with extreme wind-chill.
There's fine dust that gets into everything, including through zips, but it's not unlike the typical Australian "bulldust", so we are used to that.
Vehicles and other equipment are holding up well, but need constant maintenance. It does rain occasionally although sometimes the rain doesn't actually make it to the ground. Food is "hard rations" and water is a particularly scarce commodity. All drinking water has to be flown in.
The logistics chain has worked well. We have been provided with what we need, when we need it.
Irony of operations in the 21st Century, is that we have access to the Internet, but not to showers (water is harder to come by than satellite communications).
Mines . . .
It is a heavily mined country, but we don't dwell too much on that. Our training has equipped us to minimize the risk, however we realize it's an ever-present danger.
Highlights of service in Afghanistan . . .
The clearance of a very sophisticated al Qa'eda training camp located in a valley surrounded on three sides by mountains and defensive positions. It included a well-designed obstacle course. Hundreds of terrorists could have trained there at any one time. The site provided a quantity of documents, maps and training manuals that were collected by a US military team for analysis.
Moving through a large village with a population of several thousand. We would have gone around it, but the terrain at that location prevented that. The village was a labyrinth, and there was always doubt about who might present a threat, and who were friendly.
Reaction of Locals . . .
It's mixed. Many people wave and smile, while the odd one would look at you and spit onto the ground.
Relationships with US Troops . . .
It's an excellent relationship. The US forces (mostly Marines) seem very happy to be working alongside Australians on this operation. We are very conscious of the reason we are there, and it's heightened an already close relationship between US and Australian Defence Force personnel.
Support from Home . . .
This has been really appreciated and it's great for morale. News from loved ones is very important, and those little luxuries like jack rations (non-military food items such as lollies etc) help to offset the rather Spartan environment.
We have been following news about the NSW bushfires, and although none of us have families who've been threatened by the fires, as Australians, we are concerned.
Air Operations . . .
The Royal Australian Air Force has flown into Afghanistan for the first time since the start of US-led coalition against terrorism operations.
An Air Force C130 Hercules with seven crewmembers on board landed in Kandahar in the early hours of Saturday morning to deliver military cargo and personnel.
The aircraft had earlier delivered stores and equipment from Australia for Australian forces operating in Diego Garcia and the Middle East. The return flight brought out Australian military equipment from Kandahar.
The C130 Hercules is an ideal platform for this type of task. It has a large cargo capacity and can fly and land in difficult conditions. While these aircraft are not permanently assigned to the operation, it is part of the Australian government's commitment that requests for additional support would be considered and provided where possible.