A Journal of People report
A newly declassified report obtained by Fairfax Media reveals Australia’s role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq was undertaken solely to enhance Australia’s alliance with the US. All these were done with tax payers’ money, and also in exchange of destruction of a country bringing immeasurable suffering to the people of the destructed country – Iraq. The invasion forces even set foot into Iraq ahead of the March 20 deadline.
The Australian government joined the unpopular Iraq War in 2003. Australia deployed troops, warships and combat aircraft in the invasion. The motive was solely to boost its relationship with George W. Bush’s White House, reveals a declassified Australian army paper. The report, written by Dr. Albert Palazzo of the Australian Army’s Directorate of Army Research and Analysis (DARA) between 2008 and 2011, was accessed by Fairfax Media and has been cited by The Sydney Morning Herald. DARA is a branch of the Australian Army Headquarters and serves as the Army’s think tank
The report, which Defence says is an “unofficial history” that represents the author’s own views, is the product of three years’ work and includes more than 75 interviews with military figures, correspondence with other sources, and full access to classified documents.
The 572-page declassified document provides enough evidence to prove that then Australian prime minister John Howard joined former US president George W. Bush in invading Iraq only to strengthen Canberra’s ties with Washington. The report contains many startling revelations. The declassified internal report on the Iraq War has been obtained under freedom of information laws. It is by far the most comprehensive assessment of Australia’s involvement in the Iraq war. Originally classified “Secret”, it was finally released last week after more than 500 redactions.
The report gives insight into the method the political decision to join the invasion was made. Howard’s statements about enforcing UN resolutions, combating global terrorism, and contributing to the post-war reconstruction of Iraq were dismissed in Palazzo’s report as “mandatory rhetoric.”
The investigation has been done by David Wroe. Based on the investigation The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) report said:
“On the night of April 12, 2003, Australia’s military commander in the Middle East, Brigadier Maurie McNarn, was woken by a phone call telling him that a RAAF Hercules would soon fly into Baghdad airport to deliver medical supplies for the Iraqi capital’s looted hospitals.
“The caller was his boss, then Chief of the Defence Force General Peter Cosgrove. Nevertheless, McNarn protested, saying the airport was not secure and there was no safe way to distribute the supplies to 40 hospitals across the crumbling capital. Cosgrove, now Sir Peter, the nation’s Governor-General, told him to make it happen. It was being announced to the press in 30 minutes.
“Operation Baghdad Assist went ahead and became a media triumph for then prime minister John Howard and Sir Peter amid a deeply unpopular war. The Hercules, carrying three journalists and 13 commandos to provide protection, was the first Australian plane to land in Baghdad after the invasion a month earlier.
“But the medical supplies never made it out of the airport. They rotted. A second planeload was diverted to the city of Nasiriyah, whose hospitals were already relatively well stocked. McNarn would go on to dismiss the whole thing as a ‘photo opportunity’. Special Forces commander lieutenant-colonel Rick Burr, who learned of the operation on CNN, was equally upset, writing in his diary that the operation made ‘a mockery of our approach’.”
The media report said:
“Howard and Sir Peter, facing domestic political pressure, ensured that Australian lives were exposed to as little risk as possible. The result was a contribution that was of only modest military use and, in many cases, made little sense. Politically, delivering the right force was ‘secondary to the vital requirement of it just being there’ but it led some American military officers to grumble that Australia was providing ‘a series of headquarters’.
“It was managed from the top with a keen eye for the politics and the public relations, yet frustrated commanders often asked what they were doing in Iraq and many took to writing their own mission statements. One commander wryly summed up his time in Iraq thus: ‘We did some shit for a while and things didn’t get any worse.’
According to the SMH, Palazzo planned it as an unclassified book to be published by the Army History Unit, aimed at teaching junior officers about the Iraq War, but it grew into a larger, classified project that Palazzo hoped would be distributed internally including to senior defence leaders. However, that did not happen. Instead the report was shelved.
The media report added:
“Howard’s motivation of strengthening the alliance did not help his war planners come up with options.
“‘Neither the Howard government nor the Minister for Defence [Robert Hill], the CDF [Chief of the Defence Force] or even the [Chief of Army Peter Leahy] would provide the force option planners with any strategic direction,’ Palazzo writes.
“The military rule of starting with the strategic aims, deciding what forces were needed to meet them, then matching that with what you have available was ‘turned … on its head’.
“They looked instead at ‘what was available in the ADF cupboard’, what could be deployed, what would survive on the battlefield and finally what the Americans would appreciate.
“The ADF already had senior personnel attached to the US Central Command – which covers the Middle East – through its involvement in Afghanistan, and by early September 2002 had ‘good access to the emerging CENTCOM campaign plan’ on Iraq, Palazzo writes. But Howard was determined not to commit Australia prematurely, making life harder for his planners, who were working in secrecy and without a clear set of objectives.
“The cupboard, it turned out, was not particularly full. The SAS were well-known to the Americans from Afghanistan and would be keenly welcomed, but other options including tanks were weighed and thrown out. What was more, the ADF couldn’t actually get itself to the Middle East and would have to rely on US transport to get it there.
“Howard was stuck between keeping Washington happy and the unpopularity of the war at home. An AC Nielsen poll in January 2003 found just 6 per cent of voters supported joining the invasion without UN backing. Over two days in mid-February, hundreds of thousands of people marched against the war in capital cities.
“So when the US began dropping hints that Australia provide an armoured reconnaissance unit – made up of light armoured vehicles – to help protect the 1st Marine Division’s western flank as it drove to Baghdad, Australia baulked.
“It would be expensive and require a large number of personnel – up to 2000 – who would likely be involved in ‘close combat, resulting in casualties’. The Australian Light Armoured Vehicles would have needed some upgrades but ‘none of these were insurmountable’, Palazzo writes.
“Then chief of army Lieutenant-General Peter Leahy pushed for the cavalry to be sent but “Cosgrove pushed back”, finding the “manpower requirement too large”.
“‘The government was uncomfortable with the prospect of losses due to the possible negative effect on the domestic political environment,’ according to the report.
“The ‘official explanation’ given to the Americans was that the ADF needed 60 days to prepare such a cavalry group, which wouldn’t give them enough time. The idea was killed off and the Americans gave up asking.
“Cosgrove, who had led Australian troops in East Timor to considerable acclaim, understood the ‘inherently political nature of the application of military force’. The report concluded: ‘Due to the CDF’s intent to manage issues that had parliamentary or media implications – and almost anything fell within this mandate – Cosgrove effectively became the deployment’s decision-maker for virtually everything.’ Usually, much of the military decision-making is delegated.”
The report added:
“Palazzo writes that Howard and Sir Peter ‘played a dangerous if calculated game, perhaps the most risky act they committed’ during the Iraq War. Publicity stunts in warfare need to deliver what they promised, or trust in the government disappears.”
The Army was not prepared to fight against “even a mildly competent opponent”.
The report said:
“Saddam Hussein and his depraved sons still had six hours and 41 minutes to meet US president Bush’s ultimatum to leave Iraq when Australian SAS soldiers slipped through a breach in the mud berm along the Jordanian border and entered Hussein’s country.
“When they set foot into Iraq ahead of the March 20 deadline, their mission was to find and seize the Scud missile sites from which the coalition feared Saddam might launch weapons of mass destruction at Israel to drag it into the conflict and provoke a backlash from other Arab countries. For such an important task – especially as weapons of mass destruction were the chief stated reason for the invasion – there was strangely ‘a near total lack of hard data on the number and location of Iraq’s launchers’, Palazzo wrote. ‘The concern over the possibility of a launch was not matched by a timely US intelligence effort to identify probable launch sites or hiding points.’
“As it turned out, Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction and no Scud launchers at the ready in the western desert. The SAS would ultimately look to do more, asking for their area of operations to be extended – a request also made by the Americans and cautiously approved by Sir Peter – so they could capture Al Asad Air Base, which admittedly was not defended and which Palazzo described as ‘not an event of great significance’.
“‘The reality was that in its [area of operations] the squadron was running out of things to do,’ he writes.
“In all they exchanged fire with the Iraqis up to 24 times over the next 42 days, going on to capture Iraqi regime members escaping Baghdad, clear a cement factory, and call in airstrikes on a radio tower. They would receive a citation for gallantry.
“However, Palazzo makes the point that whether the Australians wanted it or not they were being drawn into the US goal of regime change, rendering Howard’s insistence that Australia was only participating in the disarming of the regime academic. A post-war briefing ‘illustrated the extent to which Australian objectives had become aligned with those of the United States despite government claims to the contrary’.”
“The SAS were supported by a platoon of commandos – a ‘quick reaction force’ to help if the SAS got into trouble. But Palazzo notes that the commandos’ small staging base in Jordan over the border was too far away. They entered Iraq to help search Al Asad base, but otherwise their role ‘beg[ged] the question of whether or not the commandos deployed with a serious mission or if they were … to just make up the numbers’.”
The report cites tension between Australia’s two Army special forces groups, who had not been given time to get to know each other ahead of the war, and “hostility and jealousy that soured the relationship”.
The report cites incident related to Chinook helicopters:
“Even more puzzling was the deployment of Chinook helicopters with the special forces. The pilots were not trained to insert special forces into hostile environments and the aircraft did not have electronic warfare equipment needed to avoid Iraqi missiles, and therefore could not actually fly in the country. Instead they delivered supplies within five nautical miles of the border. An SAS troop was dropped into Iraq by US helicopters.”
The report mentions logistics:
“Logistics came up particularly short. The worst affected were Australia’s 32 clearance divers, who despite being land-based could not get support from the logistics base in the Middle East and had to ask the Navy in Sydney for resupplies. They ‘virtually became wards’ of other countries’ forces while they were clearing mines from the murky waters of Umm Qasr port.
There had “rarely been in the annals of war an opponent as hopeless as the Iraqi military and a commander as incompetent as Saddam Hussein”.
The report mentions mistakes by the US:
“The US mistakes in the aftermath of the invasion are well known. Palazzo notes that internal reports both in the US and Australia warned of a descent into anarchy, but the American dissenters were ignored by the Pentagon and the Australians were too far away to be heard.
“A minute to then defence minister Robert Hill on February 4, 2003, warned that Iraqis would not tolerate a ‘straight out foreign occupation for any length of time’ and that phase four of the war – the stabilisation and reconstruction – was ‘where the war would be won or lost’.”
Humanitarian crisis followed the invasion. The report said:
“The coalition began to lose right from the start. As early as April 10, the Chief of the Defence Force’s daily briefing referred to a ‘looming humanitarian crisis’ in Baghdad. In this post-invasion phase, as ancient sectarian hostilities that had been masked by Saddam’s secular tyranny surfaced with horrific violence, many Australian personnel began to question more than ever what they were doing there in Iraq.
“But even as the country descended into blood-soaked chaos, Australia’s mission did not change in response. ‘The Howard government would not allow the changing reality of Iraq to modify its original intent,’ Palazzo writes.
“Chief of Army Peter Leahy had favoured sending a larger engineering group for reconstruction, along with forces to protect them. It was an expensive option but one in line with the basic tenets of counterinsurgency: meeting the population’s basic needs means they are less vulnerable to recruitment by radicals. It was not taken up.
“‘The Army’s major proposals would not make the final mix,’ Palazzo writes. He adds that security is essential to nation-building and humanitarian work and yet Australia, despite claiming these as goals, made no attempt to join the fight against the insurgency. The ‘logical conclusion’ once again was Australia was there to ‘promote the US alliance’, Palazzo wrote.
“This was fine, he added, from a national interest perspective. ‘However as US personnel continued day after day to return home from Iraq in body bags – with Australia not sharing the load – the ability of Canberra to sustain its rationale for being in Iraq must be questioned,’ he wrote. ‘It would be interesting to know the reaction of US personnel who served in Iraq to Australian timidity.’”
It mentioned further complexities:
“The security detachment was raised in a hurry because the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade wanted to resume diplomatic relations faster than Defence had anticipated, particularly to safeguard Australia’s wheat exports to Iraq.
“Some troops arrived without weapons. With no catering personnel provided, they lived on US combat rations for the four-month deployment, losing an average of six kilograms per soldier.”
The report said:
“Some commanders took to writing their own mission statements. One wrote in his post-operation report: ‘[The] hierarchy doesn’t know what it wants out of Iraq other than to say we were there and get out without mass casualties.’
“It was ‘enormously frustrating’, another commander wrote. One called the mission ‘flag waving’ and feared coalition allies would conclude the ADF was a ‘pack of posers’. Another was angered by being accused by the Middle East commander of ‘mission creep’ – though no mission had been defined to enable him to gauge where the boundaries lay in the first place.
The “war’s only strategic winners are Iran and China”.
The report said:
Australian pilots of CH-47 Chinook helicopters sent to Iraq to transport the special forces lacked experience and simply “could not conduct aerial refueling or night insertion tasks,” which were essential for the Iraq mission. Moreover, the aircraft had no electronic warfare equipment for evading Iraqi missiles.
Australia’s Defense Ministry has dismissed Palazzo’s report as “unofficial history,” which only represents the authors own opinion.