Beefing Up For the Final Stretch [+State of Forces]
including: INTERFET: State of forces
Straits Times [Singapore] November 1 1999
Interfet beefing up for the final stretch
Until Untaet comes along early next year, Interfet can only hope its military might will prove a sufficient deterrent against militiamen
By DAVID BOEY
ALTHOUGH it is only a matter of time before a United Nations Transitional Authority (Untaet) takes over the mission of the International Force for East Timor (Interfet), troops and military hardware assigned to Interfet continue to pour into the shattered province.
This military build-up -- which marks the largest deployment of foreign forces in an Asean nation -- continues unabated even as UN officials scurry to cobble together a plan to help East Timor achieve independence through Untaet.
Whether the move towards independence will prove a triumph for international diplomacy or a sad footnote in history will hinge heavily on efforts to beef up Interfet's military muscle.
Interfet and UN officials deployed in Dili, East Timor's razed capital, said the rush to reinforce Interfet has been motivated by three factors:
Necessity: Interfet will find it a challenge to resupply forces, once East Timor meets the full fury of the region's wet season. The wet spell stretches from October till end-February and is usually marked by fierce thunderstorms and heavy downpours.
Rough seas and stormy skies could pose a hazard to cargo-laden ships and aircraft shuttling between Darwin (Interfet's logistics hub) and East Timor.
Unpaved roads in East Timor are also expected to be whipped into mud pools by the rainstorms and thus prove useless to cargo trucks.
Bureaucratic reality: UN sources in Dili said it should take the UN about three months -- with bureaucrats working flat out under a "best-case scenario" -- for it to establish the Untaet, which will administer the territory before a fully independent government is installed. The peacekeeping force due to replace Interfet will have up to 8,950 troops, 200 military observers, 1,640 police officers plus a large and an unspecified number of civilian officials.
Deteriorating operational conditions: Interfet Observation Posts (OPs) strung out along the border with West Timor have reported increasingly-robust attempts by armed anti-independence militiamen to sneak into East Timor. The arrival of heavy showers is expected to encourage militiamen to make more forays eastward, as poor weather conditions could mask their movements to ground and aerial OPs.
These militiamen have said on record that they will launch hit-and-run attacks against Interfet troops, especially Australian soldiers.
Despite appearing to have the odds stacked against it, Interfet spokesman Colonel Mark Kelly said the force remains strongly committed to implementing its "3P strategy" for East Timor.
This plan calls for the Progressive laying down of arms, the Progressive introduction of government services and Progressive reconciliation of all militia groups in East Timor.
"We must engage all parties as part of that progressive reconciliation and the sooner we can actually start that with the militia leadership and the militia members, that obviously will assist with our overall plan."
But before any points in the 3P strategy can be realised, Interfet is hunkering down for the prospect of more probes by militiamen, eager to see if they can grind down the resolve of its troops, or score a lucky kill or two.
So far, fire fights that have flared in the the desolate hills along the border area since Interfet forces landed in East Timor on September 20 have resulted in seven dead militiamen and two wounded troopers from Australia's elite Special Air Service.
With peace still elusive, it is only a matter of time before a luckless Interfet soldier catches a bullet.
And looking at the deployment pattern of Interfet's land component, soldiers from Australia and New Zealand are the ones most likely to fire their weapons in anger.
This is because troops from these countries have been deployed all along the border with West Timor, while soldiers from other nations hold the fort in the easternmost regions of East Timor.
The latter are generally considered to be "safer" than hot spots along the border area, as troops in the eastern regions are less likely to clash with militiamen coming from West Timor.
However, Interfet has brushed aside suggestions that the deployment of its forces has been devised such that troops from Asian countries will not be placed in a hazardous setting, or one where they might have to fire at Indonesian Army soldiers.
Said Col Kelly: "The deployment of all elements of Interfet throughout the entire operation has been agreed between national component commanders, commander of Interfet and the key planning operations staff.
"Each part of Interfet has an important part to play in providing ongoing security, facilitating humanitarian assistance ... those particular Asean and other Asian partners within Interfet -- with the roles they are performing in the eastern regions -- are a key part of our overall scheme of manoeuvre.
He added: "If they were unable to take that part of the operation up for us, there would be little chance of us expanding at the speed with which we have in fact been able to ...," he added.
So until Untaet comes along early next year, the Australian-led Interfet can only hope its military might will prove a sufficient deterrent against any unwise action by militiamen.
How Interfet's warriors will perform against militiamen with a death wish is something that only their training, discipline, superior firepower and surveillance assets can help decide.
And if blood-thirsty militiamen have their way, rain will not be the only thing drenching the East Timor soil over the coming months.
INTERFET: State of forces
The International Force for East Timor (Interfet) is an interim UN-mandated force sent to quash a violent backlash by anti-independence militia after East Timorese voted overwhelmingly to break with Indonesia on Aug 30. Interfet has been steadily expanding its strength since it landed in Dili on Sept 20.
The land component:
With 6,780 soldiers from 14 countries under its command, this force is being beefed up and will have close to 9,000 troops in a few weeks. Soldiers come from countries which include:
Australia: 4,500 troops Britain: 280 Gurkhas from the 2nd Royal Gurkha Regiment in Brunei Malaysia: 27 troops The Philippines: 246 troops Singapore: 30 medical personnel Thailand: 441 troops. Will eventually be the second largest contingent with 1,500 soldiers United States: 136 troops, mainly intelligence and logistics personnel. Also, more than 1,000 Marines offshore on the USS Belleau Wood, a helicopter assault ship. The sea component
About 1,000 sailors from seven countries make up Interfet's naval arm. This number does not include the crew of the warships assigned to Interfet.
The warships deployed for duty include:
3 landing craft -- HMAS Balikpapan, HMAS Brunei and HMAS Labuan 1 guided missile frigate -- HMAS Darwin 1 50-knot fast catamaran -- HMAS Jervis Bay 1 supply ship/oiler -- HMAS Success 1 landing ship heavy -- HMAS Tobruk
Singapore: 2 landing ship tanks, RSS Excellence and RSS Intrepid
Thailand: A landing ship tank, RTNS Surin
The US: A combat store ship, USNS San Jose
The air component:
Six countries have sent about 500 pilots, air-crew men and ground crew to staff Interfet's air component. These countries are Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand and the US.
Interfet's air arm is made up of a fleet of troop transport helicopters and transport aircraft such as the C-130 Hercules and the EP-3C plane. The latter undertakes aerial surveillance and intelligence work.
Helicopters are based at Komoro Airport, but the transport aircraft are not based in East Timor for security reasons. No fighter aircraft have been assigned to Interfet.
Source: Interfet, Author's research
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