Somalia gave chief David lesson in war and peace

Halkaan ka akhri

MONTHS spent commanding Australian peacekeeping troops in Somalia gave David Hurley vital experience in handling peacekeeping operations that have become a crucial part of modern military missions.

He played a key role in evaluating and passing on the lessons learned, in a document that became the blueprint for stabilisation operations in hostile environments, which was used later in East Timor and the Solomons.

In Somalia, in 1993, he was a lieutenant colonel commanding the 1st Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment.

Yesterday, at 57, he was named as the next chief of the Australian Defence Force and, as a full general, he will take over from Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston on July 4.

Lieutenant General Hurley still plays rugby as a breakaway in the Army Old Boys team and he relaxes after a tough day by listening to classical music. A favourite is Bellini’s Casta Diva.

“Great song,” he said last night. “When I go home at night, if it’s been a difficult day, the Meditation from Thais. It’s a great piece of music. I’ll put that on and listen to that before I do any work.”

The general is very protective of the 58,000 men and women of the ADF and says recent scandals do not reflect the culture. “We get really high-quality people and they are very dedicated,” he said.

“When the ADF is asked to do a job, it goes and does it excellently. We could not do that if we were an organisation that had fundamental flaws in character or the nature of these people.

“I think people should just bear that in mind.”

In Somalia, the troops had no vests able to stop bullets and wore lightweight armour that could protect them only from bomb fragments and knives.

General Hurley said an early challenge for the new leaders would be to manage Australia’s military involvement in Afghanistan over the next three years with the transition to Afghan control of security.

“That involves getting our force balance there right and working through how we do that transition to hand more and more capability and authority across to the Afghan security forces,” he said. “That will be a challenge in itself.”

In 2014 and 2015, there would be big changes in ADF capability with the arrival of the first Joint Strike Fighters.

“That aircraft brings enormous capabilities to the ADF, not just in air combat but with its electronic warfare capability and intelligence-collection capability,” General Hurley said. “They’ll have to be knitted in to our structures.”

The navy’s massive new landing ships would bring a game-changing capability and give the ADF a far greater reach in the region, from humanitarian and disaster-relief operations to peacekeeping.

The army was now reaching the end of its Plan Beersheba, setting down the lessons from operations over the past 10 years.

“What we got out of Somalia was the development of our capability to sustain a force offshore,” General Hurley said.

“It was the first time we’d put a battalion offshore since Vietnam so there were a lot of lessons there we learnt about out ability to sustain it.”

Source: The Australian

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