Monday, November 27, 2006



One of the fiercest, most informed critics of the Howard government's involvement in the 'War On Iraq' has turned out to be the SAS major who helped plan the first insertions of Australian special forces into Iraq and Afghanistan.

He is quietly furious that prime minister John Howard broke a "moral contract" with Australia's defence forces, betraying them in so many words, by pushing the Bush Co. mantra for war on Iraq before proof of the existence of WMDs was fully established.

"I think the reasons that we went to war in Iraq were baseless," said ex-SAS major Peter Tinley.

"The Government sent us there under the idea of looking for weapons of mass destruction and they gave us the impression that there was a clear and imminent danger of them being used. We now know through our own tactical search on the ground in Iraq and certainly from the Iraq Survey Group, that that was not true at all."

Tinley is one of only a few senior key Australian planners of the 'War On Iraq' to now demand the withdrawal of Australian troops from the war zone.

"We've had three years of occupation in Iraq and we've estimated 50,000 Iraqi dead," Tinley said on ABC's Lateline.

"We have some sort of moral connection to those deaths and we really need to take a hard look at ourselves and consider what our strategy should be from here."

Major Tinley dismisses the Howard mantras of "We won't Cut & Run from Iraq", saying the withdrawal of Australian forces should be done so that they can establish comprehensive Army and police and emergency services training bases in countries like Jordan, so Iraqis can complete detailed training regimes free from the threat of suicide bombings and the civil war.

"I don't believe that some approximately 500 troops in the south, under British command, are actually the best type of contribution we can make to Iraq," he said.

"Instead of Iraqis getting blown up in queues, looking for a job to serve their country in things such as the police force and the military, we can provide an outstanding service there. That's a good example for what I'm saying about expanding the way we view it....I’m advocating a change of policy which includes the immediate withdrawal of our troops."

Tinley also criticised the near absolute lack of debate in Australia as to what the long-term strategy is for Australia's involvement in Iraq.

"It was morally bankrupt, the whole notion of us being there, so the pretext is wrong. If that's the case, then we need to take good, hard, courageous decisions now to get out and get out whilst we can. This war will drag us in further and further. It's a civil war and the power vacuum that was created as a result of this invasion is clearly at the feet of this Government."

He also believes that an Australian contribution of only 500 troops, when there are 140,000 American troops on the ground in Iraq, is "purely token".

"(500 Australian troops) aren't going to make any difference whatsoever," he said.

Tinley also rejected prime minister John Howard's claims that a withdrawal from Iraq would mean "victory for the terrorists" and would embolden them to attack coalition targets.

"...we created the honey pot, if you like, from which the terrorist organisations from all around that particular region...get their training. We've provided them with a live training range.

"The fact that we have done that, we've in fact helped out the terrorist organisations that would do harm to any of our coalition partners by giving them that opportunity."

But it was on questions regarding the morality of the War On Iraq that Tinley hit the government the hardest, levelling legitimate claims that Australia's defence forces were betrayed by Howard's rush to war, before weapons inspectors had finished their job.

"I think if you set the premise for your pre-emption - and this is what this is, a pre emptive strike on another sovereign nation, regardless of what you think of the despot that led it. If you set that as the premise, then you want to make sure it's conclusive

"In this case I saw no direct actionable intelligence in the areas that we were looking at from Baghdad west all the way through to the Jordanian border and the Syrian and Saudi border. If that was the basis of it then it was wrong."

Major Tinley began planning the insertion of Australian SAS troops into Afghanistan within days of the attacks on New York and Washington DC on September 11, 2001. But he was then pulled off these duties to begin planning for the 'War On Iraq', before the job was finished in Afghanistan.

He said special forces planners that he worked with from the US and the UK all questioned the sparse intelligence for Iraqi WMDs they were given. Not only was there no verifiable, quality intelligence on WMD programs, but they couldn't even find proof that Saddam Hussein still had a quantity of Scud missiles and Scud missile launching platforms.

"I never saw anything that was newer than 1996 in terms of photographic imagery in relation to Scud missiles...We made the assumption, all the planners did, that there must be something more conclusive and there must be something somebody else knows about that doesn't need to concern us and the rest of country. We know for a fact now that the Iraq Survey Group and our own searches found absolutely nothing throughout the country."

Tinley said he didn't question the lack of intelligence because "as a soldier I was sent to do the planning. Like any good soldier I just did what I was told and I did it enthusiastically."

He described the betrayal of Australia's defence forces by the Howard government as "moral corruption" and said when Australians sign up to the Defence Force, "you put your hand in the air and you make an oath that you will go where your Government sends you. You therefore confer in some way, a moral responsibility for the Government to make sure they send you to a just war."

Tinley said that when SAS troops entered Iraq, there were clear doubts amongst the elite soldiers about the moral case for the war they were about to begin fighting.

"...I did have some quiet conversations in dark corners of tents with young men who were quite unsure about the war they were going into. It was beyond the normal fear that men have when they go into harm's way but we rationalised it. Those men again relied on the moral contract with the Government. They said their moral objection was far outweighed by the fact that they put their hand in the air and they said they would go where they were told to go."

Most members of the Australian Defence Forces now regard Afghanistan as the moral, justifiable war, while viewing the Iraq War as something much less. Even Prime Minister John Howard admitted in Parliment yesterday that "many" in the ADF did not agree with him about the need to first fight the war on Iraq, or to continue it.

"I think we can make a very clear case for Afghanistan," Tinley said.

"If you have a look at it, we did actually leave Afghanistan in undue haste, in my personal view. Evidence of that fact was the fact that we had to reinsert the SAS to help, along with the coalition partners, stabilise the security of the country."

Those comments are key as to why there is growing anger and frustration in Australia's defence forces, and in particular within the special forces.

The Australian SAS is regarded amongst allies as simply the best special forces teams in the world. The swift initial victory in Afghanistan in October-November, 2001, was largely due to the actions of Australian SAS members, who saved the lives of American and British troops on numerous occasions, clocking up hundreds of closely fought battles with Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters.

But they weren't allowed to stay and finish the job, Key war planners, like Tinley, along with hundreds of highly experienced SAS and Australian Army troops were hauled out of Afghanistan to go to work in Iraq by mid-2002.

The decision to back the United States in the 'War On Iraq', and thereby seeing Australian SAS pulled out of Afghanistan before security and a new government was established, is seen widely in military circles as having tarnished the impecable reputation of the Australian SAS, and the Army in general.

They didn't finish the job, and Afghanistan is now beset by thousands of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters, who have re-armed, re-trained and re-grouped when coalition forces pulled out in preparation for the 'War On Iraq'.

"...when you go into a country like that (Afghanistan) and you take out the regime," Tinley said, "you really need to commit yourself to a longer course to actually sustain and get that back on its feet. You don't take on another job like this and expect to be welcomed as the great liberators as they did in Iraq."

Go Here For The Full Interview From Lateline

Earlier Coverage On This Story