Australian troops engaged in US covert action in Iraq
* Report says 30 to 40 trained Australian soldiers are taking part in special operations
* Australia denies report
SYDNEY: Around 30 to 40 specially trained Australian soldiers are taking part in US-led covert jobs in Iraq, including kidnapping and the “full gamut” of special operations, a report said on Saturday.
The Australian Financial Review’s report contrasts with government claims that Australian forces are only carrying out a limited role in Iraq since most troops were withdrawn in May.
The 30 to 40 Australian troops engaged in the programme were described as mainly “extremely fit young men” who already have training in the elite Special Air Service (SAS) or similar elite units.
They are supported by more than 200 personnel in back-up roles in the Middle East and Australia, the newspaper said.
The information had been confirmed by sources in Australia, the United States and France, the newspaper said, without specifying the sources. The report comes ahead of a general election in which the government’s honesty is expected to be a key issue. The Review said the Labour opposition, which has vowed to bring troops home from Iraq, had not been briefed on the programme.
The government denied it was carrying out covert work in Iraq, the Review said.
“There are no Australian special operations being conducted in Iraq,” a spokeswoman for Defence Minister Robert Hill told the newspaper. Australian members of the group are based at a location in one of the Gulf States, the Review said, adding it had agreed not to disclose the location. An Australian civilian is in nominal control of the Australian contingent, but the programme is run as part of a US special operations programme.
Despite French opposition to the Iraq invasion, training occurs on a base outside Paris used by France’s National Police Intervention Group (GIGN), it said. Although a police unit, GIGN is similar to a military Special Forces team with a global counter-terrorist role. Instructors are from the covert action arm of the CIA and from GIGN staff, the newspaper said.
“The course includes instruction in assassination techniques which the Australian graduates have not yet been asked to put into practice, so far as can be ascertained,” the newspaper said.
“However, Australian officials are aware that assassinations are carried out by other teams under French and US supervision.” It said the French target non-Iraqis designated as terrorists in the Middle East. Although serving in the Australian army, the soldiers’ fatigues give no indication of their units, the newspaper said.
Tax-free pay is up to 8,000 Australian dollars (5,626 US) a week, it said. afp