ADF conceals dark truth about Australia's involvement in Middle East

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An Australian F-18 Hornet during combat (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

There's a lot more to Australia's involvement in the Middle Eastern conflict than the media is telling us, writes Kellie Tranter.

WHEN THE FINAL contingent of the RAAF strike force returned home after its mission in Syria and Iraq, the images presented were of emotional scenes as families embraced their loved ones on the tarmac at the Amberley Base. Rightly so, but left unsaid is the legality and morality of the conflict we were involved in, the irreparable damage done to innocent civilians who will remain strangers to us and the carnage left behind.

Prime Minister Turnbull was a picture of happiness when he thanked defence personnel for their service and reminded them, in case there were any personal doubts, that 'Australia is proud of you.' His speech made no mention of the people of Iraq and Syria. Granted, it was not the appropriate time to discuss the killings and displacement of civilians or the razing of entire neighbourhoods, but when will it be an appropriate time for our leaders to publicly reflect and acknowledge the dark, dirty side of our military incursions.

Australia dropped more than 2,400 precision-guided bombs in the past three years — including in highly populated areas, where ISIS used civilians as human shields. Yet a one-page document titled 'Operation OKRA – Credible civilian casualty report', dated 30 September 2017, is the only recorded official recognition of the deaths of civilians caused by Australian strike aircraft, or ADF members being involved in the target approval process. No public announcements have been made by our Government about compensation for wrongful civilian deaths and injuries, or ex gratia payments for other civilian harm.

At least some of those outcomes are documented. According to an administrative response to a Freedom of Information request, it was formally notified on 31 March 2017 that seven civilians were killed or injured in an airstrike the day before that involved an ADF member in the target approval process and formally advised on 15 September 2017 that Australian strike aircraft were involved in the death of one civilian on 7 June 2017.

After questions were raised in March 2017 about the ADF’s tracking of suspected civilian casualties, in May the same year the ADF commenced releasing information relating to its airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. The ADF’s fortnightly reports provided evidence of its involvement in "recapturing" Mosul – Iraq's second biggest city – from ISIS, with a focus on West Mosul. Drone footage captured by photojournalist Gabriel Chaim, showing West Mosul in the throes of war in May 2017, AP drone footage published in April 2017 and drone footage published by Radio Free Europe reflect the unsanitised reality of "liberation", and the implausibility of Australia’s official statistics of civilian deaths.

It's hard to believe that, over three years, with 2,400 bombs, we allegedly took the lives of only eight people, including two children, and devastated their immediate family and friends.

It is worth noting the report published by NPR on 19 December 2017 that

'... figures obtained by NPR from the Mosul morgue put the number of civilians killed [by the coalition, Iraqi forces or ISIS] at over 5,000. That is likely more than the number of ISIS fighters believed to have been in Mosul and presumed dead.'

The report also noted that

'... months of vicious fighting – the battle started in October 2016 and ended in July 2017 – left destruction so extensive that U.S. commanders compare it to the World War II battle for Stalingrad.'

(Image via stripes.com)

If our Government is to take our country to war, surely it has an obligation to its citizens to tell them the truth about the reasons for and consequences of our involvement. But it doesn't do anything of the sort.

We are sitting complacently on the other side of the globe, being given limited information and fed spin rather than the truth. The little official information we receive, that can only be extracted after much effort, doesn't truly describe what our country is doing by participating in these wars. Rather than straightforward factual accounts and human stories, it comes in meaningless political generalisations, "military speak" and incomplete, anonymous statistics.

Whilst this situation continues, we have no hope of knowing or understanding what Australia is doing in its involvement in these wars, or the legitimacy or desirability of that involvement, given the devastation wars cause, including to our own service personnel. But of course that, no doubt, is what the warmongers would prefer.

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer and human rights activist. You can follow her on Twitter @KellieTranter.

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