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Operation SPITFIRE, Operation STABILISE, Operation WARDENINTERFET Brassard

Australia: 6 September 1999 – 18 February 2000.

AO: Indonesia, Darwin Australia and East Timor (including Oecusse district in the western part of the island of Timor).

History: Australia’s 1999 East Timor peace enforcement (peacemaking) operation dwarfed previous peacekeeping efforts as the new nation achieved independence from Indonesia. The former Portuguese colony was occupied by Indonesia from 1975. In 1999, after 25 years of Indonesian rule, Indonesia agreed to a United Nations sponsored referendum for independence, shortly after Indonesia’s first democratic elections.

The United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) was established to organise and conduct the vote at the end of August 1999, which resulted in an overwhelming vote in favour of independence. In the lead up to the election and once the result was declared, pro-Indonesian militias launched a campaign of violence, rape, murder, looting and arson throughout the country. Many East Timorese were killed and almost half a million were displaced from their homes.

During the period 6-19 September 1999, ADF Special operations, under Operation SPITFIRE, managed the evacuation of 2475 Australian and other nominated nationals from East Timor.

As the violence remained uncontrolled, Indonesia agreed to the deployment of a multinational peacekeeping force. A United Nations Security Council resolution authorised the International Force in East Timor (INTERFET) which was the Australian Government initiative to re-install law and order to East Timor.

INTERFET, with the role of restoring peace and security, protecting and supporting UNAMET, and facilitating humanitarian assistance operations, began arriving on September 16, 1999. INTERFET was the largest deployment of Australian Troops since the Second World War and was the first time Australia was a central participant in forming and leading an international coalition force. At the peak of INTERFET, the coalition of 23 troop-contributing countries provided more than 11,000 personnel.

Then Major General Peter Cosgrove was the force commander of INTERFET in what was a politically and militarily tense atmosphere. The first five aircraft to land in Dili carried Special Forces and the lead elements of the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR), who secured the airport along with British forces and established contact with the Indonesian military. The main 3 RAR Group included soldiers from 108 Field Battery and B Squadron and the 3rd /4th Cavalry Regiment, who left Darwin on HMAS Jervis Bay and HMAS Tobruk. In preparation for the naval elements, troops from the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (2 RAR) deployed by air and secured the port at Dili. In all, 33 sorties by C-130 Hercules from Australia, the United States, United Kingdom and New Zealand deployed 1500 troops in the first 24 hours. By the second day almost 3000 troops were in country.

The 5/7th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (5/7 RAR) Battalion Group including 2nd Field Troop (Mechanized) from 1st Combat Engineer Regiment, Communications and Information Systems Detachments from 1st Combat Signals Regiment, a forty man Civil-Military Liaison Group from 103rd Medium Battery and a 2nd line logistic Company from 1st Combat Service Support Battalion, deployed to Dili by a combination of C130 sorties, RAN and civilian shipping over the period 7 to 20 Oct 99. The Battalion Group relieved both 2 and 3 RAR of their AOs centred on the capital by 11 Oct 99, with the enhanced mobility, communications, firepower and protection allowing the Battalion Group to undertake wider security tasks than the two light battalions.

The intensity of military operations in East Timor continued and after the 30-day mark, Major General Cosgrove said nearly 80 per cent of the country was returned to a state of peace and stability, which allowed most East Timorese to get on with their lives.

On 3 Jan 00 the 5/7 RAR Battalion Group assumed responsibility from 2 RAR for the northern sector of the border region. With the draw down of Australian troop commitments in Jan/Feb, the 5/7 RAR Battalion Group remained in position and worked to Commander SECTOR WEST based in Suai which had previously been the 3rd Brigade HQ. The border region lent itself to hostile activity by the militias, now predominantly based in West Timor. Incursions across the border by these groups continued throughout the following months.

On 21 Feb 00, the 5/7 RAR Battalion Group donned ‘blue berets’ to become the first Australian infantry battalion to be permanently assigned to a UN force since the Korean War. After a memorable Anzac Day service the 5/7th Battalion handed over to 6th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (6 RAR) who became AUSBATT II.

INTERFET completed its tasks on 23 February 2000, with a formal transfer of military command and control responsibility to the Headquarters of the UN Peacekeeping Force, part of UNTAET.

Deployed: The size of Australia’s military deployment fell from a peak of 5700 at the end of November 1999 to approximately 1600 in 2001-2002. Australian troops were gradually drawn down over several years after 2000, however major rioting in Dili in May 2006 prompted more Australian Defence Force members to be deployed to East Timor as part of Operation ASTUTE.

DOI: 1 Lance Corporal Russell Eisenhuth, RACT, on 17th of January 2000.

Wounded: Approx 10

Veterans’ Entitlements Determination dated 2 November 1999: Warlike Service - member of the ADF assigned for service during any period 6 September 1999 to 19 September 1999 with OPERATION SPITFIRE.
Veterans’ Entitlements Determination dated 21 June 2000: Warlike Service - member of the ADF on OPERATION STABILISE during the period 16 September 1999 to 23 February 2000.
Veterans’ Entitlements Determination dated 21 June 2000: Warlike Service - member of the ADF on OPERATION WARDEN during the period 16 September 1999 to 10 April 2000.

Awards: Australian Active Service Medal (AASM) with Clasp 'EAST TIMOR' ; INTERFET Medal - INTERFET-S159-00-Letters-Patent.pdf. MUC awarded to the Army’s 3rd Special Air Service Squadron, 2nd Airfield Defence Guard (RAAF), and RAN Task Unit 645.1.1 .

AASM 1988 INTERFET Medal  

AASM with Clasp