Peter Tinley, the former SAS officer who devised and executed the Iraq war plan for Australia’s special forces says that the nation’s involvement has been a strategic and moral blunder.
“It was a cynical use of the Australian Defence Force by the Government,” the ex-SAS operations officer told The Weekend Australian yesterday.
“This war duped the Australian Defence Force and the Australian people in terms of thinking it was in some way legitimate.”
As the lead tactical planner for Australia’s special forces in the US in late 2002, Mr Tinley was in a unique position to observe intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program and the coalition’s military preparations in the lead-up to the war.
In Iraq in 2003, Mr Tinley served as deputy commander for the 550-strong joint special forces task group that took control of western Iraq.
Part of his command was 1 SAS Squadron, which was awarded a US Meritorious Unit citation for its “sustained gallantry”, contributing to a comprehensive success for coalition forces in Iraq.
He served 17 years with the elite SAS regiment, leaving the army as a major last year. In 2003 he was appointed a member of the Order of Australia (AM) for “dynamic leadership and consistent professional excellence”.
During war planning with US and British special forces at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in 2002, Mr Tinley says he never saw any hard intelligence that Saddam Hussein’s regime possessed weapons of mass destruction.
“When I pressed them (US intelligence) for more specific imagery or information regarding locations or likely locations of WMD they confessed, off the record, that there had not been any tangible sighting of any WMD or WMD enabling equipment for some years,” he said.
“It was all shadows and inferenced conversations between Iraqis. There was an overwhelming desire for all of the planning staff to simply believe that the Iraqis had learned how to conceal their WMD assets away from the US (surveillance) assets.”
After the initial invasion, the search for WMD became something of a “standing joke” with neither coalition troops nor the Iraq Survey Group turning up anything of consequence.
“The notion that pre-emption is a legitimate strategy in the face of such unconvincing intelligence is a betrayal of the Australian way,” he said.
“During our preparations for this war I remember hearing (ex-defence chief) General Peter Gration’s misgivings and assumed he did not possess all the information that our Prime Minister did,” he said. “I now reflect on his commentary with a completely different view and am saddened that other prominent people in our society didn’t speak louder at the time and aren’t continuing to speak out in light of what we now know.”
He said the Government had broken a moral contract with its defence force in sending it to an “immoral war”.
The Government’s stance on Iraq and later on issues such as the Tampa had gradually allowed fear to become a motivating factor in the electorate, he said.
Mr Tinley said the Howard Government had failed to be honest with Australians about Iraq and “you can’t separate the sentiment of the defence force from that of the people”. (snip)