Australian special forces secretly operating in Africa, says newspaper
March 13, 2012 7 Comments
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
One of Australia’s most prominent newspapers suggested in a leading article yesterday that a secret Australian special forces squadron has been illegally conducting espionage operations in several African countries during the past year. According to Melbourne-based The Age, the 4 Squadron of Australia’s Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) has been deployed in “dozens of secret operations” during the past 12 months, in countries such as Kenya, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. Members of 4 Squadron have been operating dressed in civilian clothing, carrying forged identity papers, and with strict instructions to deny any connection with SASR if captured, said The Age. Although the existence of 4 Squadron has never been officially acknowledged, the unit is believed to have been established in 2004 or 2005, and is currently thought to be based at Swan Island in Victoria, north of the town of Queenscliff. Its initial mission was to provide armed protection to officers of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) whenever the latter are deployed in warzones or other exceptionally dangerous overseas environments. But 4 Squadron’s missions in Africa, which The Age says were authorized in 2010 by then Prime Minster Kevin Rudd, do not include ASIS officers, and instead require SASR members to act both in a military and civilian capacity in espionage assignments. According to the paper’s allegations, 4 Squadron missions have involved regular assessment and evaluation of inter-African border control standards, developing scenarios for evacuating Australians, mapping out landing sites for possible military interventions, and gathering first-hand intelligence on local politics and the activities of insurgents. The paper claims that the scope and breadth of 4 Squardon’s African assignments have raised concerns within the SASR, with some senior officials viewing the unit’s actions as “a possibly dangerous expansion of Australia’s foreign military engagement”. The article quotes an anonymous “government source” as saying that 4 Squadron members are hazardously exposed, as “they have all the espionage skills but without [ASIS's] legal cover”. The allegations by The Age prompted a response by Australia’s Minster of Defence, Stephen Smith, who told ABC News 24 that “[t]he suggestion [...] that somehow we’ve got Australian Defence Force personnel or SAS personnel operating at large in Africa, rubbing up against the boundaries of the law is just wrong, it’s just wrong”.