Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The mess within Defence

By Sasha Uzunov,
warrior journalist

Former soldier and freelance journalist Sasha Uzunov has broken major defence stories in recent years. Today, he unveils and analyses the "civil war" racking the Defence Department. Urgent action is needed - and the first head to roll should be Brendan Nelson. Read on:

THE controversy surrounding the cause of death of Private Jake Kovco in Iraq and the subsequent mix up with his coffin is an outrage - a bloody outrage. As a journalist and ex-serviceman who served in East Timor the time has come for me to tell it as is, no holding back.

The Kovco family and the Australian people need to know the truth about the stinking mess within the Defence Department.

The time has come for some tough talking and for heads to roll. The Prime Minister, John Howard, needs to demonstrate once and for all he takes defence issues seriously.

He needs to bring in Mal Brough as Defence Minister immediately. No pussyfooting around this time! Brough is an ex-Army Officer and knows his stuff.

It is time for the amateurs and “desk warriors” to go. I would urge Prime Minister Howard to hire experts like David Horner and Clive Williams, ANU academics who both have combat experience in the Vietnam War.

The mess in which Defence finds itself can be traced back to the 1990s when the Hawke-Keating Labor governments started sending troops on various missions in an attempt to act tough on the world stage after Australia had for a long time retreated since the Vietnam pull-out in 1972.

The rise of the "desk warrior", that is a defence expert without any hands on military experience, is the root cause of the problem.

Desk warriors could not wait to send Australian troops into Rwanda in Africa in 1994 in order to score international brownie points. The mission was a disaster because our troops were undermanned and had crazy rules of engagement, which didn’t allow them to stop the inter-ethnic massacre of rival Hutu-Tutsi tribes.

The ALP government sent Australians sailors to the first Iraq War in 1990-91, of which some ended up suffering from Gulf War syndrome. A civil war - that is those in civilian clothing versus those in uniform - within defence has erupted. This war has been going to this day with disastrous results.

The Kovco scandal is a symptom of the "civil war" raging within the department between desk warriors and those in uniform. There is a disconnect, as each side tries to out-do each other.

This is best demonstrated by Defence Minister Brendan Nelson's performance after Kovco's depth: he has been out of his depth, and showed this clearly with his initial blunder - wrongly explaining Kovco's death.

I was the first Australian journalist to raise the issue that many of our leading media commentators and defence experts do not volunteer for military service, and that this would eventually lead to disaster. The Kovco fiasco means the chickens have now come to roost, sadly.

The irony and hypocrisy is that those very same "respected defence writers" without military service who took umbrage at my scrutiny have now been ringing me wanting background information.

I once asked a "desk warrior" in an email a few years ago why he never served in the military. "If those in uniform can get involved in management civilian roles in weapons acquisitions for the Defence Department, then why not civilians as defence experts," he said.

That to me sounds like tit for tat, rather than civilians working harmoniously hand in hand with those in uniform for the benefit of the nation. It goes to the heart of the problem.

The Kovco family and the Australian people should be putting the heat on the current government - but they should also be asking questions of the Desk Warriors. But don't hold your breath waiting for out media to ask such questions, as it would raise too many embarrassing questions about the so-called highly paid experts.

The Kovco scandal has even reached the Balkans, as Kovco's father, is an ethnic Croat from the Western Bosnian town of Tomislavgrad, according to Sydney based freelance journalist Branko Miletic.

Hugo says: Unlike the Desk Warriors, Sasha Uzunov served two tours in East Timor with the Australian Army, using his experience to report from the Balkans and Iraq. His views are not colored by ideology or political expedience - but by an understanding of what it takes to maintain an effective defence force. Check out his website


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said, unfortunately its not mainstream news worthy. The Kovco incident should not be let lie and everybody in government and the military must stand to account. I think the polititions in the armed services need a shake up and the men who know what its like and what the armed services need to be placed in positions of authority.

6:17 pm  
Blogger Hugo said...

The "serious" media has missed this story so far. Yet this may be a touchstone issue, as Michael Brissenden explains in today's edition of
New Matilda I reckon this will resonate in the electorate because Jacob Kovco was one of us. And by screwing with Kovco's family, they're screwing with us.

3:09 am  
Anonymous gordon38 said...

If you need any indication of years of total "foul ups" by ALL Governments;think of the F111 Deseal Reseal debacle;also the contempt that Australian Nuclear Veterans are held in. Justice was just recently denied ---Once Again.


11:16 pm  

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