Wednesday 25 Nov 2020 | 02:47 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 25 Nov 2020 | 02:47 | SYDNEY

Our Timor troops have a well-defined role

15 February 2008 07:52

Guest blogger:  Associate Professor Damien Kingsbury (pictured), Associate Head of the School of International and Political Studies at Deakin University.

Thanks to Hugh White for his considered response to my earlier post. Because Prime Minister Rudd was not precise about the role of Australian troops in East Timor does not imply that they do not have a role, and that  such a role is not properly determined by the force commander on the ground in consultation with East Timorese political leaders, notably Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, ISF partners and the UN. Australian troops are already engaged in the hunt for Reinado's men, and more troops doing the same thing is entirely consistent.

Yes, the situation in Dili has been calm, but that has been because APCs and troops are on the streets, and locals are, frankly, scared. One plea I received was for the ISF to step down, as it was scaring everyone. But perhaps such a robust profile is necessary as a show of force in support of order. That is, the relative calm is very likely a result of this show of force, not because there is no anger at Reinado's death in some quarters.

As for the possible role of the SAS, it may be that its members have been redeployed, but they were certainly on the ground during the elections in 2007. I bumped into three of them on patrol in Bobonaro district, close to where Reinado was. One might reasonably expect a few of them are still there, even if they don't usually advertise their presence.

In terms of strategic benefit, if the prime minister of a friendly country asks for assistance, and Australia can deliver it, it seems appropriate to do so. That Australia has a direct strategic interest in East Timor, for a range of reasons, adds 'realism' to such 'idealism'. Perhaps based on what we can see in Australia, the decision to send more troops does not have a clear purpose. But Hugh White would know better than just about anyone that 'what we can see' is very rarely the whole picture, much less when it comes to strategic decisions, or tactical decisions within an overarching strategic framework. Hence we also need to consider what we know, place 'what we can see' within that context, and develop our analysis accordingly.