Lesser Known GWoT Allies #3


As with Poland, Australia sent a number of special forces troops during the initial invasion of Iraq to help scout and take out some important target in advance. I heard that Australian soldiers fired some of the first shots in anger, one or two days prior to the official invasion began. Currently we have a number of soldiers (around 800) on the ground in Iraq training Iraqi soldiers, performing patrols, protecting convoys and guarding the “Green Zone”. The majority of them are deployed, along with 40 ALAVs (a variant of the LAV, I believe) in Al Muthanna in southern Iraq. Up until recently many had been deployed guarding the Japanese engineers (members of the JIRSG) but they’re going home, hence the redeployment scheduled to occur soon. The ALAVs are visible on the photo on at the right and seem to be pretty hand for patrolling the deserts and city roads, which probably not all that different from the desert terrain in the interior of our own country.

There is also an Australian ship (HMAS Ballarat, which replaced HMAS Paramatta) patrolling the Gulf and a number of air assets including C-130 Hercules, AP-C3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft and F-18 attack jets. As well, have around 300 soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan. Australia also provides some logistical support to the overall operation. Considering our remoteness, we have always needed to provide our own transport and logistics, and that seems to be coming in handy. As the saying goes, “Amateurs talk about strategy, dilettantes talk about tactics, and professionals talk about logistics” so I think this aspect of the support is important—we can’t have the USA and UK doing all the heavy lifting (pun intended).

Judging by the number of soldiers, considering that we are such a strong ally and have fought with the US in every major conflict since 1914, the size of Australia’s contribution seems a little disappointing. However I think when you consider all the various assets we have contributed, as well as our peacekeeping forces in East Timor, you will hopefully come to the conclusion that we are serious about helping out. In fact, if you add up the number of personnel involved in all the various air, sea and land activities, there are at least 1500 and possibly close to 2000 involved.

In addition to the interactions with the Japanese, our soldiers also work closely with many of the other countries in the coalition, but especially the US. In fact as I investigate the situation I am surprised by how integrated many of our people are with the overall command structure. Commodore Peter Lockwood is in line to take control of the maritime patrol activities in the northern section of the Gulf of Arabia* soon. And, there are 27 men who are involved in the Multi-National Force Headquarters. As an aside, isn’t Commodore a wonderful rank? If I were in the Navy, I’d rather be a Commodore than an Admiral, it just sounds so much better.

I am only aware of two casualties so far. In one case a soldier patrolling in Afghanistan stepped on a mine and lost some toes. More recently, Private Kovco died under suspicious circumstances. It was initially reported as an accidental discharge but more recently it has emerged that it might have been a suicide. I haven’t been following the story, but either way it’s an unfortunate development. However I think overall we’ve been lucky so far.

For vast numbers of great photos and videos of the Australian effort in Iraq you can go to the Operation Catalyst gallery, and for news and other information visit the News and Features page or the Defence Forces home.

* I like calling it the Gulf of Arabia mainly to annoy the Iranian regime as much as possible.

Below the fold: Denmark and El-Salvador.


Denmark has 550 troops in Iraq, including medical staff, and plan to stay as long as they are wanted there by the Iraqi government. That is a significant contribution for a country of only 5 million people, and they also have some troops as part of the ISAF in Afghanistan. In addition a number of Danes in Afghanistan are serving in logistical and support roles such as cargo handling and air-traffic control. Their other actions in backing us up make them seem like solid friends. In fact, the Danes were one of only five countries to contribute combat troops during the Invasion (Australia and Poland have already been featured at MO; the other two are the US and UK, whom I have not forgotten).

Considering that they are having some problems with radical Islam, it makes sense that they understand it is a problem that needs to be dealt with before it gets any more out of hand. The Prime Minister, Ander Rasmussen, certainly seems to share our values, and kudos to him for demanding an investigation into alleged crimes without discarding the presumption of innocence—unlike some people we know. Here in an excellent article by a Danish MP (Member of Parliament, not Military Police) explaining the reasons why they are in with us. It’s concise and to the point; I like them already:

…one of the lessons learned from leaving Afghanistan unsupervised under the Taliban regime during the 1990’s was that rogue states and the rise of so-called power vacuums create safe havens for terrorists and terrorist organizations. In a post 9-11 environment this is not acceptable.

And there is another fascinating document outlining their plan for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Note that education is the top priority. I can’t disagree with that.

This article suggests they are serious about doing something to help at home, too—in this case using their justice system to charge alleged Iraqi war criminals from the old regime. Denmark has also contributed significantly to the financial aspect of the Iraq and Afghanistan reconstructions. Their charity organizations are helping out too. Note to charity organizations and others who want to do something about poor people in war-torn countries, this is how you do it, find a way to actually help someone rather than just complaining and issuing press releases.

Their contingent is stationed near Basra and the British, Polish and other coalition forces. Four Danish soldiers have died in Iraq so far, three to enemy activity and one to a vehicle accident. I’ll join Mr. Bush in thanking them for their support and sacrifice.

The Danish government believe that NATO has a new role; an organization created to defend western Europe in the Cold War is perhaps better used as an international peacekeeping force. Well, it’s certainly not a new concept, Pres. Clinton thought this was a good idea, and I think we coalition members will be pleased to see NATO doing some of the stabilization work. If the UN won’t do it, somebody had better…

El Salvador

It’s difficult to find information or pictures of El Salvadoran troops in Iraq. However, the few mentions I did find suggest that despite highly cynical explanations for why the troops are there at all, when they fight, they display great courage:

“We never considered surrender. I was trained to fight until the end,” said the 25-year-old corporal, one of 380 soldiers from El Salvador whose heroism is being cited just as other members of the multinational force in Iraq are facing criticism.

I am certainly grateful, especially considering El Salvador is neither particularly large nor rich. One reason they have given for their support is that they would like to help other countries through strife as they themselves have recently entered a period of relative stability after a particularly nasty civil war. However I’m sure there is a large element of political capital-making at work as well, given that such a large proportion of their population (something like one quarter) reside in the US and send money back home. I can’t help but think that situation is part of the reason for their economic dysfunction, but at least the fighting has not flared back up so far.

The counter-insurgency warfare their troops are trained in (and some have experience before) is exactly what the “doctor ordered” (or perhaps in this case the General). The similarities between the Iraqi war and their own civil war is not lost on them either. For a fairly dry and what seems to me even-handed explanation of the violence in El Salvador try this article over at GlobalSecurity. Many of the descriptions of the situation I’ve come across while researching it are quite hysterical, so I was glad to find one which doesn’t seem like a political diatribe disguised as a history lesson.

The El Salvadoran troops are not going to stay in Iraq much longer, they are starting to leave next week on June 30th 2006, but despite the now-expected threats of violence from Al-Qaeda they didn’t pull out when they were needed most. It seems as good a time as any for them to bow out. Two El Salvadorans have died in Iraq, one in a violent riot and the other in an accident.

I’ll finish with this quote from their Minister of Defence, Major General Otto Romero:

“We appreciate that historically, we have friends in the United States. They were not fighting in El Salvador. They were our advisors. They gave to El Salvador weapons and munitions and resources to the government. It is why we were able to maintain a democratic system. (One) with many problems, but a democratic system. Those are the two basic reasons: Fighting against the international terrorists and fighting alongside a friend in history. We’ll do it as long as we can.

I find it refreshing that he is willing to admit that no, for them democracy is not perfect. It never is. But, there are a lot worse political systems to be living under. Was the violence in El Salvador worth it? Will they come out of their economic doldrums? Well, there is some hope, and I wish them the best of luck. They are certainly not alone in their struggle.

To be continued…

Other posts in this series: #1 (Romania, Italy and Japan), #2 (Poland, Republic of Korea and Georgia).

Update: Sgt. C. Flowers at CENTCOM Public Affairs wrote to Murdoc after noticing that I linked to the interview with the El Salvadoran Minister of Defense, and provided a link to an interview with Brigadier Gen. Soren Falk of Denmark discussing joint operations. Thanks for the article Sergeant!

I also fixed some spelling/grammar errors. It’s El Salvadoran, not El Salvadorean.

Update 2: I got Dutch and Danish mixed up, which I have done before. Don’t worry, I’m just an idiot. Fixed to reflect that Theo van Gough was in fact Dutch, not Danish.

—posted by Nicholas.


  1. I have seen confused reporting on where the Muthanna TF is redeploying to. Syrian border, DhiQar and Ar Rutbah have been mentioned. Any clarification or is it still in air?

  2. Here’s another country and great ally that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves for all the contributions it’s made, not only in the Stan and the Big Sand Box, but in earlier conflicts as well. Go Aussies!

  3. DJ Elliot, According to press release dated May 31st:

    As part of our ongoing commitment to the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Iraq, the Government has agreed that, from early June, a team of about 30 personnel will mentor and assist Iraqi Army instructors at the Basic Training Centre (BTC) at Tallil near An Nasiriyah in Dhi Qar Province. They will replace British instructors who currently provide this support.

    There will also be a small ADF contingent based at the Counter Insurgency (COIN) Academy at Taji, near Baghdad.

    So it sounds like the TF may be split up and thus some or all of those possibilities might be correct.

  4. god bless the Aussies….America would throw itself in front of a train for them, they’ve been such good allies.

  5. Just to clarify: Theo van Gogh was a DUTCH-man and not a DANE :). Speaking of Dutchies, the Netherlands is, and always has been a supporter BOTH OIF and OEF, with a battlegroup of approx. 1,500 troops committed continuesly. We just recently wrapped up a yearlong special forces OEF detachment of 250 men (150+ commando’s and mountain leaders and 4 SF Chinooks – yes, we have those too). The Netherlands will always have to move cautiously politically; litterally surrounded by large countries (with matching egos) France, Germany and the UK we cannot blatantly disregard our neighbours, but somehow we always meet US troops on equal footing in some faraway desert. The Ozzies did a fine job, but the Dutch (read: Netherlands) can take some honest credit for that too: we laid the groundwork in Al Muthanna. As we do in Afghanistan right now: an Australian engineer force is supporting a Dutch battlegroup, together with a Canadian unit in ISAF. On hardware: we don’t leave home without a contingent of NAH-64D Apaches, F-16AM3 Falcons, Cougar and Chinook helicopters. We are also the first country to bring some major calibers to Afghanistan in the form of 155mm PzH2000NLs – the Ubergun. On domestic terrorism: some national CT operations do not make the (international) news, and some of them were more serious (for lack of a better word) than the van Gogh murder… Greetings from Holland, Marcus Casspir

  6. N.B. The Netherlands recently decided to move its efforts (and its troops) from Iraq – which IS stabilizing, regardless the battery of precision strikes by certain press on both sides of the Atlantic – to the unruly southern Afghanistan. We, together with the Australians, Brits, Canadians AND the Afghan army are taking over responsibility (as NATO ISAF) from the US, officially doing the Hearts-And-Minds-dance, but unofficially bashing heads with any Taleban that just so happens to wander in our path. Check out the hardware that’s going over there, some serious heavy metal.

  7. Argh, I hate it when I get Denmark and Dutch (i.e. Netherlands) mixed up! Sorry! I’ll update the article when I have time. But I am still correct that radical Islam is a problem in Scandanavia, right? That’s what I have heard.

  8. Hah! No worries mate, we prefer to keep a low profile, easier to operate that way. And yes, western-Europe does has a problem with radical islam (and no, the Netherlands lies not in Scandinavia – lol). Freedom of speech, freedom of religion: can be a wonderfull thing. Not wanting to go off-topic, but just to inform: there have been a number of incidents, especially in the Netherlands/Holland/the Dutch regarding Islam. Ayaan Hirshi Ali (named by Time Magazine as Influential Person or other) is a Dutch politician who for the last 2 years had to live with constant security because of Islamic deaththreats. Keep in mind that the 911-hijackers got support out of Germany (a neighboring country), then remember Madrid and London. Never mind the French riots in the so-called Banlieus (ghettos), the thwarted attack on the Pope in Italy: the list goes on and on and on. And those are just the Big Ones. Small ones include a mass passport theft in Belgium which were later used by Al Qaida to assasinate the Afghan Northen Army leader (Shah Masood). As open and free democracies Europe will always protect the weak and shelter the (politically) prosecuted. But it also makes it possible to be abused by any nutter with a turban who has a beef with MacDonalds. Beauty of it is, in an open and free democracies I am entitled to ram a model X-Wing up someone else’s a$$ and congratulate myself for finding the only weak spot if they ever even *think* of messing with my country. Right?

  9. Yes, I know the Netherlands is not in Scandanavia. But Denmark is. I was using Theo van Gough as a bad example – since he isn’t from Denmark – but my point is Denmark still has some issues (as I confirmed with a google search). Anyway, thanks for the discussion. I am very busy but when I have time I will write something about Holland. By the way, does ‘Netherlands’ refer to both Holland and Belgium? I believe it does. I suppose I should refer to ‘Holland’ as the country with soldiers in Afghanistan, since as far as I am aware they are not from Belgium?

  10. I forgot to mention: what Denmark did had to deal with was the Cartoon Issue. Dunno if Murdoc followed that fun shindig, a couple months ago, but it demonstrated as no other the global reach and impact of Islamic radicalism, because it gave the Danes (and the Norwegians, never mind they are a different people) a rough time all the way over in Afghanistan. Nope, the Netherlands does NOT include Belgium. It did before the year 1648s, but not anymore. ‘The Netherlands’ (plural) is like ‘the United States’ instead of just ‘the United State’. Has to do with the mini-states/provinces that formed it. We are also referred to as ‘the Low Countries’ which, unlike popular belief, referres to our geographical peculiarities, and not so much to our moral standards, though opinions differ about that one (re our ‘liberal’ drug policies). We do have a mini-economic & military union with Belgium and Luxemburg referred to as the BENELUX so we have a bigger voice within the European Union (heck, we practically founded that monstrocity). But the truth to the matter is that Belgium is more in France’s influence than the Netherlands (Belgium is a French/Dutch Federation with matching language, cultural and political divisions) hence their sometime violent opposition against the GWOT. The term ‘Dutch’ is somewhat the same as ‘Yanks’, we (both) don’t like it since it doesn’t properly reflects our peoples (yours and mine) but since it doesn’t go away we just accept it, I guess. Dutch troops can be categorized under ‘the Netherlands’. We currently have a deployment task force there (600 troops) to prepare for our Task Force Uruzgan (1,500 troops) which will ‘run’ Uruzgan province coming August, together with the Aussies for (initially) 2 years. We recently concluded commanding the (international) Naval Task Force 150 (now commanded by a Pakistani) and the earlier mentioned Special Forces Task Force. We also ended after two years a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Pol-e Khomri (North Afghanistan), now taken over by Hungaria. Perhaps it’s worth mentioning, that both Belgium and France (and Germany) DO have troops in Afghanistan. Funny how some scream pure bloody hell against supposed ‘American Imperialism’ on the one side and still support that same ‘imperialism’ and the GWOT on the other… Don’t worry about how to adress the Dutch. We, as a people, are honored and revered to be mentioned at Murdoc at all :).