Australia's role in the threatened war against Iraq

By Denis Doherty, National Co-ordinator, Australian Anti-Bases Campaign Coalition

Australia's military role in the war on Iraq will be lilliputian.

Australia's political and moral support for the US will be significant.

The role played by the US bases in Australia is and will be profoundly important.

In considering the looming US first strike on Iraq, it is useful to reexamine Australia's role in the war against Iraq in 1991 (the Gulf War).

During the Gulf War, a senior figure in the Hawke ministry suggested that even if Australia sent every aircraft, ship, tank and soldier to the Gulf, it would be less of a contribution to the war effort than the role of the "joint facilities".

The Financial Review (25/1/91) reported that Australia described the role of the joint facilities as its major contribution to the war during discussions with the other members of the multi-national force in the Gulf.

So why send troops at all?

The Financial Review article explained: "The reason is simple: because of the intense secrecy surrounding the role and function of the facilities Australia was not able to state publicly that it would make its major contribution through the facilities."

All this is true today.


Australian Governments both Liberal and Labor have always been extremely secretive about the US bases here, primarily because they know the bases will become a political embarrassment if the Australian people find out what they are really doing.

The Howard Liberal Government has been unusually frank about the bases.

On 16 August this year, Defence Minister Senator Hill visited the Pine Gap (near Alice Springs) for the first time.

Pine Gap will be used for war on Iraq

In an interview with the Centralian Advocate he said, "I can't specify the details, but Pine Gap is a major intelligence facility, which would be utilized in the event of military action against Iraq."

No other media printed these remarks and no television footage of Senator Hill's August 15 press conference was broadcast. Australia is a major player in US war plans by hosting the US bases here and facilitating their war effort against poor and defenceless nations.

Regardless of what governments may claim, they are war-fighting bases.

In addition to Pine Gap, the most important, there are over 30 other US facilities on our territory and they all play a part in the US efforts to suppress any nation which is not, as Clinton said, a "free market economy".

What Pine Gap does

Pine Gap is one of the largest and most important US satellite ground stations outside mainland USA.

It recently took over the functions of another base, Nurrungar. It now monitors infrared sensors which pick up the launch of missiles.

At present Pine Gap is being upgraded with an old DSP (Defense Satellite Program) system being replaced by SBIRS (Satellite Based Infra-Red System), which is part of the new US "missile defence" program.

Pine Gap began its life as a signals intelligence (SIGINT) base. Then and now it collects all electronic signals sent by whatever means. Right now the Pine Gap SIGINT satellites have their sensors turned onto Iraq.

The SIGINT system operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week gathering communications which are analysed, usually through key words using a Echelon computing system. Right now "experts" will be informing the Pentagon about the morale of the Iraqi people.

Finding targets

Pine Gap also provides the Pentagon with targets. The US wants military and civil targets as it intends to bring Iraq to its knees. Crucial infrastructure such as electricity, water, sewerage, health and other services were attacked in 1991 and will be targets again if the US launches a first strike.

This is a war crime under the Geneva Convention. Senator Hill, in a press release on August 15 this year, said that "all activities at the joint facility are carried out with the full knowledge and concurrence of the Government". If this is so and the US is committing war crimes, will Australia be hauled before the International Criminal Court for war crimes too?

There is monitoring of the Iraqi military by the Pine Gap facility. They are being observed, recorded and marked for destruction by US nasties from guided missiles to the 'Daisy Cutter'.

Reconnaissance by Pine Gap of Iraq will note activity centres and built up areas. Analysts will be poring over photographs and entering co-ordinates into the target logs. Again the US will not restrict its targets to military ones. Civilian centres will be included to cause the maximum casualties possible.

Missile launches

Pine Gap's infrared system will be activated if there is a US attack to detect the launch of missiles. A missile's plume only lasts a few minutes as it gains velocity and direction, but in that brief time the satellites can detect what type of weapon it is and what its likely target is. The launch site is detected and will be saturation bombed, regardless of civilians in the area.

Pine Gap is a key unit in a system of electronic 4CI (Command, Control, Communication, Computer and Intelligence) bases. All is in readiness for the US to switch all its 4CI bases onto high alert as soon as it decides to launch a "pre-emptive" strike.

The US has practised putting trucks laden with electronic gear in their huge Galaxy aircraft and flying them to Alice Springs and other centres in Australia where they are driven to US bases. This would provide even more channels of information for the war effort.

Virtual battlefield

Meanwhile a war room of immense complexity has been set up in Florida to give the commander of US forces in Iraq a 'virtual battlefield' capability. Streaming into this war room at present is the data necessary to set aggressive actions in motion.

If an attack is launched, the volume of information coming in will increase enormously and go on increasing as the war is inflicted on the Iraqi people.

During the war on Afghanistan, Commander in Chief US General Tommy Franks did not leave Florida. He had all the necessary information and contact with officers on the ground to assess the situation and decide on the next move.

Much of this information is made available to the US through their bases in Australia, particularly Pine Gap.

It is necessary not to overestimate the power of the US or to underestimate the courage and persistence of its opponents.

After the bombing of Serbia, the US was surprised that the Yugoslav army still had most of its tanks. They later discovered that they had expended most of their bombs trashing dummy tanks.


"Pine Gap is an impressive demonstration of our close working relationship with the United States," Senator Hill said during his August 15 visit. It is no coincidence that he decided to visit Pine Gap just as the Bush administration is turning up the heat on Iraq.

And it can hardly be coincidence that the Air Force 3 (Air Force 1 transports the President) was on the tarmac at Alice Springs at the same time as Hill's visit.

Were the US government and military officials at Pine Gap at the same time as Senator Hill to make sure that their 'buddy' made the appropriate sycophantic noises?

The role that Pine Gap plays must be exposed and the base finally closed down. This campaign is part of the struggle to stop US aggression against Iraq.

We appeal to all Australians of goodwill to join us at the gates of Pine Gap for a desert peace protest from October 5 to 7 this year!

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