Interview with Marius Benson ABC News Radio – 16 September 2015

E&OE……………

Topics: RAAF first strike in Eastern Syria

QUESTION

This news has just broken. What more can you tell us about these Australian strikes in Syria?

MINISTER ANDREWS

I can advise that two days ago the air task group completed its first strike against a Daesh target in Eastern Syria, destroying an armoured personnel carrier. Two of our hornets identified the personnel carrier which was hidden in a Daesh compound. That information was reported back to the combined operation centre by our Wedgetail command and control aircraft and upon receiving authorisation to proceed, one of the hornets employed a precision guided weapon to destroy the target.

QUESTION

And that happened two days ago?

MINISTER ANDREWS

That happened two days ago, Marius, yes.

QUESTION

Do you have any more details about the operation, whether there was any defence fire from the ground, or such like?

MINISTER ANDREWS

I don’t believe there was. This was done from a distance or height that preserved the safety of the Australian aircraft so – and they deployed as I said a precision guided weapon to destroy the target.

QUESTION

Is that a missile rather than a bomb?

MINISTER ANDREWS

It’s a bomb, yes.

QUESTION

And it just took out an APC, an armoured personnel carrier, a single vehicle?

MINISTER ANDREWS

Yes and that’s because we work within very strict rules of engagement and those rules of engagement are to ensure as far as possible, that we don’t have unwanted civilian casualties.

QUESTION

So would you know, was this in not a built up area?

MINISTER ANDREWS

I can’t go into those details for obvious reasons Marius. This is an extension of our commitment to the Middle East that recognises that Daesh operates across the border in Eastern Syria. It doesn’t respect borders and this is about ensuring that we keep Australia safe from terrorism.

QUESTION

Can you say at what rate Australian strikes are being carried out or Australian sorties are being flown over Syria?

MINISTER ANDREWS

Sorties are being flown over Syria and Iraq. The majority of our missions are still over Iraq and we’re doing this on a very regular basis.

QUESTION

And was this a target particularly chosen in Syria because the suggestion was when the extension of the operation from Iraq air space to Syrian air space was authorised, that it would simply allow hot pursuit. Was this a pursuit or was it a specific mission targeting a site in Syria?

MINISTER ANDREWS

Much of the targeting is dynamic, by that I mean, that when the pilots are up over Iraq or Syria, they’re able, often with other assistance, to locate various targets that might be moving around or in particular areas. So there’s a variety of targets and many of them are, as I said, moving targets.

QUESTION

And the Australian planes are at no risk because of the altitude they’re flying at did you say?

MINISTER ANDREWS

Generally the Australian planes, as do Coalition planes from other countries involved in this action, fly at a high altitude so that they’re out of the way. But, the reality is there is always a risk and that’s something that I’m particularly concerned about.

QUESTION

Were people killed by the strike?

MINISTER ANDREWS

I expect that if there were people in the personnel carrier then that would be the case.

QUESTION

So you would expect there were fatalities?

MINISTER ANDREWS

As I said, I can’t answer that precisely but if there were people or personnel in the personnel carrier then there would’ve been.

QUESTION

Is a target like that substantial enough to make the mission worthwhile?

MINISTER ANDREWS

We have to target a variety of things. There are various military equipment such as this that Daesh use. There are facilities and installations that Daesh have control of. In the end we have to remove any of the threats to us; the threats that lead to terrorism in Australia from Daesh whatever the target might be.

QUESTION

This was two days ago, do you know if further missions have been flown since then?

MINISTER ANDREWS

As I said, missions are flown on a fairly regular basis. By that I mean usually on a daily basis.

QUESTION

And can you give any assessment of the effectiveness of these air strikes as opposed to too few and too soon.

MINISTER ANDREWS

This is part of an ongoing commitment, as I’ve said. This is not something that’s going to be over within weeks or months, it’s an ongoing commitment. And if you look back over the last 12 months and look at the area of Iraq, for example, that Daesh controls, it has contracted substantially.

QUESTION

That the area that Daesh controls in Syria at the same time has expanded substantially despite these allied strikes which have now been joined by Australia?

MINISTER ANDREWS 

And that’s why it’s a logical extension of our existing commitment to the Middle East. To fly these missions not just over Iraq, but to join the effort over Eastern Syria as well, because that’s where Daesh tends to operate; have its command and control centres. It moves equipment across the border from Iraq into Syria and back across the border into Iraq, so they don’t respect the border and we’ve got to go and fight them where they are.

QUESTION

Kevin Andrews, thank you very much.

MINISTER ANDREWS

My pleasure, Marius.

ENDS.