Put ‘bombing’ question to Defence Minister: Tehan

An RAAF F/A-18F Super Hornet F/A-18A Hornet in the skies over Iraq. Photo: Department of Defence
An RAAF F/A-18F Super Hornet F/A-18A Hornet in the skies over Iraq. Photo: Department of Defence

September 10, 2015

WANNON MP Dan Tehan has refused to comment directly on a United States Military Central Command report that suggested the Royal Australian Air Force may have bombed a civilian area in Iraq last year.

Mr Tehan did say that avoiding civilian casualties would be “a key consideration” if Australia decided to expand its campaign of airstrikes against terrorist group ISIS from Iraq into Syria.

Last week the website Airwars.org, in conjunction with the ABC, published a US CENTCOM report into suspected civilian causalities in Iraq and Syria caused by nations participating in the US-led bombing of ISIS.

The report revealed that the US and its allies had internally investigated dozens of events involving at least 325 possible civilian deaths from airstrikes.

The report covered the period from August 2014 to May 2015, during which 16,193 sorties were flown and bombs, cannons or missiles were used on 3837 of those missions.

According to the report, on December 21 last year “two unknown individuals may have been wounded as a result of a deliberate strike conducted by the Australians on a suspected weapons factory in Fallujah”.

“Approximately 10 minutes after the last weapon impact, a probable female and probable child were observed on FMV (Full Motion Video, likely filmed by drone or fighter jet) to walk through the target area.

“A probable male arrived and carried the child to a motorcycle and transported him to the Fallujah hospital.

“The female walked to the median strip on the road and lay down, and was not observed any further.”

The “allegation” was listed as “cleared” in the report and the findings were passed on to an Australian liaison officer.

“Assessed to be insufficient information to determine CIVCAS (civilian casualties),” the report stated.

“The lack of urgency and the fact that the child walked normally suggest his injuries were not life threatening.

“There was no Iraqi allegation of CIVCAS and CAOC (Combined Air and Space Operations Center, US Air Force base, Qatar) recommends that there is insufficient information to warrant further inquiry”

The report also noted that the Australian Defence Force had also investigated the incident and “reached a similar conclusion”.

During a press conference on Friday, Mr Tehan said he was “not aware of that report”.

“It would be better if that question was directed to the Defence Minister,” he said.

Mr Tehan was asked if the Australian Government would consider the risk of civilian casualties if the RAAF started airstrikes in Syria.

“That is always a key consideration that any government considers when it makes decision as to whether it should join military action in
any country,” he said.

“That aspect, the rules of engagement, is always something that is taken into consideration.”

Mr Tehan has been at the forefront of a recent push for Australia to expand its anti-ISIS air campaign to Syria on the grounds that the international border was providing a safe haven for terrorists.

Australia is already bombing ISIS in Iraq at the request of that nation’s government, and bombing Syria would present additional legal issues.

Mr Tehan was asked if there should be more transparency in regard to civilian casualties caused by the US-led Coalition’s bombing of Iraq and Syria.

“I think there is transparency,” Mr Tehan said.

“Those that we are fighting are the ones who do not like transparency; they do not like democratic principles. They are the ones that are acting in ways that, frankly, beggar belief.

“The current situation in Syria, where you have nine million people internally displaced, is the greatest humanitarian crises we have seen in the word, and in my personal view, it is a very strong reason as to why we need to act in Syria and why we need the international community to be doing more.”

The US report into suspected civilian causalities was originally designated ‘SECRET’ and was on restricted release to governments of ‘Five Eyes’ nations, which includes Australia.

The report was subsequently declassified and released to a US journalist under Freedom of Information laws.

The Australian Defence Force said in a statement to the ABC that a routine ‘battle damage assessment’ was conducted following the airstrike.

“The assessment was consistent with the reports detailed in the Iraq/Syria CIVCAS Allegation tracker released by US Central Command under FOI legislation,” the statement read.

“As there were no reports or claims of any casualties from Australian airstrikes, no further action was undertaken.”

Tehan calls for RAAF to bomb ISIS in Syria


The Hamilton Spectator – August 15, 2015

WANNON MP Dan Tehan has called for the Royal Australian Air Force to expand its current bombing campaign against ISIS terrorists in Iraq to include Syria.


Mr Tehan made the call in an opinion piece published by the Herald Sun on Thursday, arguing that Australia had an obligation to act in Syria to prevent terrorism at home and stop atrocities overseas.

“We are acting in Iraq against Daesh (ISIS) with our Hornets launching air strikes on a regular basis. We should be doing the same in Syria,” Mr Tehan wrote.

“It is in our interests to end the suffering of its civilians and to degrade the Daesh ‘caliphate’, which continues to shine as a beacon for global terrorism.”

Australia currently has F/A-18 Hornet jets stationed in the Middle East to attack terrorist targets in Iraq at the request of that nation’s government.

Launching military action might involve a different legal process despite Australia not recognising the legitimacy of Syria’s government, which as been attacking its own people as part of a brutal civil war.

Mr Tehan is chair of the Parliament’s Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, which is mandated with reviewing spying and counter-terror laws.

The PJCIS does not have an explicit mandate to recommend military action but Mr Tehan invoked his recent meetings with security agencies in France, the UK and USA as part of his argument for bombing Syria.

The Spectator asked Mr Tehan if Parliament should vote on the proposal.

“Like our contribution to the effort in Iraq, any contribution to the effort in Syria would need to be decided by the National Security Committee in consultation with our allies,” Mr Tehan said.

“After doing this with regard to Iraq, the Prime Minister made a statement in Parliament.”

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he supported Mr Tehan’s suggestion, but no formal process had begun to expand Australian airstrikes to Syria.

When asked if Australia should also take military action against the Syrian Government, whose campaign of mass murder, torture and rape mirrors that of ISIS, Mr Tehan said an end to that conflict should come through the United Nations.

“Australia must do its part now to assist the fight against Daesh,” he said.

“On the broader question of the civil war in Syria, the international community needs to come together at the UN and bring about a resolution to the conflict, with leadership from the UN Security Council.”

Lowy Institute research fellow and former Army officer, Associate Professor Rodger Shanahan, has labelled Mr Tehan’s Syria call “bizarre” and argued it would stretch Australia’s military resources.

Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek told ABC radio that she agreed Syria was a humanitarian disaster but criticised how the push to expand RAAF bombing was announced.

“I think it’s extraordinary, frankly, that the Government sent out a backbencher to start floating ideas without any clear proposal, without any explanation to the Australian people of what the legal basis would be, what the mission would be, what success would look like,” she said.