In a radio- and TV-interview blitz this morning – but without the customary ‘Press Release’ – Minister for Defence Richard Marles announced that the RAAF has already sent an additional two aircraft to the Middle East, to bolster the one already stationed there.
FILE PHOTO (15 October 2023): A Royal Australian Air Force C-17A Globemaster III offloads Australian citizens, their families and other approved foreign nationals from Israel after an ‘assisted-departure flight’ from Israel. Photo by Corporal Robert Whitmore.
As part of Operation Beech, Mr Marles said a C-17 Globemaster and a KC-30 multi-role tanker transport [though the Defence web site says two C-130J Hercules] are being pre-positioned to assist Australians who may be in a position to get themselves out of Israel, The West Bank, The Gaza Strip – or anywhere in the wider Middle East if the conflict escalates.
While Mr Marles did suggest that the aircraft and soldiers might have to go in to certain places to actually rescue Australians in need of evacuation ‘in worsening situations’, he ruled out any aircraft rescue for 79 Australians currently seeking to escape from Gaza or 51 Australians seeking to leave The West Bank.
Mr Marles, who is Acting Prime Minister while Mr Albanese is in Washington for AUKUS talks, said the ADF had sent an additional two aircraft to the Middle East, which takes the total to three, and the support crew for them, which is a significant number of personnel – plus a small command detachment.
“We’re not saying where in the Middle East for operational reasons, but we are putting this in place as a contingency to support Australian populations in the Middle East, bearing in mind that this is a very volatile situation and we just don’t absolutely know which way it goes from here as the world really holds its breath watching it,” Mr Marles said.
“But I think the message I really want to give today is that if you are in the area, or in a place like Lebanon, for example, and you want to leave, you should be taking all the options that are available to you now.
“This is really about making sure we’re in a position to help if that help is required.
“But again, the message we really want to give Australians in the region right now is – don’t rely on [these aircraft].
“We are taking these steps to put a contingency in place, but if you want to leave – leave – take whatever commercial options are available to you now.”
Mr Marles said the contingent of Australian Defence Force personnel sent to support the aircraft was significant – although, asked in a separate interview about how many ‘soldiers’ were sent alongside the aircraft-support personnel, Mr Marles confirmed that ‘soldiers’ were also included in the deployment.
Defence confirmed that “Australian Army personnel have deployed from Townsville and Brisbane”.
“Look, we’re not saying the number of soldiers, but it is a significant contingent which goes with these two additional aircraft.
“They are there to support the aircraft and to support what that aircraft might ultimately have to do,” he said.
“I want to emphasise, all of this is a contingency and the purpose of it is to support Australian populations that are in the Middle East, if in fact this conflict gets worse.
“Obviously, we take every precaution we can to make sure that our personnel operate in the safest way possible, but as we’ve seen so often, when you wear the Australian uniform in our Defence Force, there is risk.
“Our Defence Force personnel engage in dangerous activities and they do that on behalf of our nation.
“But we do need to be ready in the event that Australians need to be supported in the region and that’s why we’re taking the steps that we are.”