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"Howard"--Australian for Loyalty

Let's not forget the important friendship and help of one of the unsung coalition allies: Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi!

9:00 AM, May 1, 2003 • By DAVID HACKETT
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ONLY FIVE WORLD LEADERS have been invited to George W. Bush's ranch in Crawford--Tony Blair, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, Russian Premier Vladimir Putin, and Chinese president Jiang Zemin. Now there is a sixth. On May 2 and 3, Australian Prime Minister John Howard will visit Texas. Called "a strong ally and close friend" by White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, Howard, and Australia, have been good friends to America.

Howard consistently supported the coalition. After September 11, an attack he called "worse, in a psychological sense, than Pearl Harbor," Howard grew to "understand . . . the profound change that was to come over America's attitude and her absolute determination to do everything she could in the future to prevent a repetition of that attack." He also decided that Saddam Hussein had to be disarmed, with or without the help of the United Nations. In an interview with Fox News' Neil Cavuto, he was direct: The response of many countries hostile to the American position "has been misguided," he said. "We don't think countries like Iraq being allowed to keep chemical and biological weapons, encouraging others to think they can do the same, and ultimately, those weapons getting into the hands of terrorists--we don't think that is a world we ought to be living in."

But Howard went beyond simply supporting the American position and ultimately argued against European appeasement politics. Since the September 11 attacks and the Bali bombings, he said, "I think we're . . . increasingly aware that you can't buy yourself immunity from terrorist attacks by taking different political stances on difficult international issues. . . . the terrorist attacks . . . are based on a blind hatred of Western values and Western civilization." He also took a stronger tone against Osama bin Laden than many Continental leaders: Were bin Laden captured, he said, "I think he would be dealt with in accordance with United States law and that does provide for capital punishment." Would he welcome such a sentence? "I think everybody would."

The Howard government backed up his tough talk with action. "Operation Falconer," as the Aussies code-named their coalition efforts, included:

--250 personnel on 14 F/A-18 RAAF Hornet aircraft

--600 personnel on two Royal Australian Navy frigates, HMAS Anzac and Darwin

--150 personnel deployed with three RAAF C130 Hercules transport aircraft

--A Navy clearance diving team capable of locating and disposing of mines

--500 personnel in a "Special Forces Task Group" (including a Special Air Service squadron)

--350 sailors and soldiers embarked on the sea transport ship HMAS Kanimbla

In all, 2,000 Australian personnel took part in Operation Falconer, though they received short shrift in media accounts of the conflict. Perhaps this was due to the stringent regulations placed on war reports by the Australian Defence Forces (ADF). While American and British military officials embedded reporters with troops, ADF policy was extremely secretive. As the Australian reported, "the Australian military insists readers should not be told the soldier's surname, home town (unless it is a major city), their base or the country they are in." Such a policy no doubt maintained operational security, but it also limited coverage of Australia's role in the coalition.

The information that has been reported confirms the importance of the Aussies' contribution. Australian troops were "the first into action in this war," President Bush informed Howard in a mid-April phone call, referring to Australian Special Air Service actions in western Iraq one day before the official start of the campaign. In late March, the Australian Navy diving team participated in mine-clearing missions in Umm Qasr, allowing early shipments of water and emergency rations to reach Iraq. Australian special forces uncovered "much of the surviving Iraqi air force (including 51 MiG fighters) . . . and nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) protective equipment on an Iraqi airbase west of Baghdad," reported By April 19 the Australian Hornets had flown 130 combat sorties, as well as 70 strike missions. Amazingly, in the four weeks of Operation Falconer, the ADF did not suffer a single casualty.

Fortunately, the support of the Australian forces and the loyalty of the Howard government have not gone unnoticed by the Bush administration. The American media and public should also remember the vital contributions of our steadfast friends down under.

David Hackett is an intern at The Weekly Standard.

Correction appended 5/1/03: The article originally stated that only four other world leaders had been invited to President Bush's Crawford ranch; five have been invited. Chinese president Jiang Zemin visited in October 2002.