Dr John Blaxland is a Senior Fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, ANU.
I note Hugh White's response to the comments by Jeffrey Grey and Al Palazzo on East Timor and it strikes me how different perspectives can be from Canberra (where Hugh was based at the time) when compared to the units in the field.
I was the Brigade Intelligence Officer with Headquarters 3 Brigade which deployed from Townsville to East Timor on 19 September 1999. I can assure Hugh the plausible scenarios we were considering involved the militia conducting actions deniable by the authorities that could have resulted in significant Australian casualties. Medical planning allowed for such a scenario but the logistics support capabilities available relied on the situation remaining benign. That part was a gamble.
I agree the Howard Government would not have agreed to send troops without Indonesian endorsement. That was not in question. The question was what would happen with the militias after we got there? No one could be entirely sure that the band of thugs who had razed large swathes of the country wouldn't turn on us as we arrived.
Thankfully, the professionalism of the Indonesian military and commonsense on all sides shone through. Nonetheless, I think it remains fair to say that it was, indeed, 'a near run thing'. The ADF should have been able to deal with a militia threat should it have materialised. The preceding 'lean years' for the ADF meant that wasn't certain.
Photo courtesy of the Defence Department.