Born of Fire and Ash: Australian operations in East Timor


Born of Fire and Ash

Australian operations in response to the East Timor crisis 1999–2000
Vol 1. Official History
By Craig Stockings

Published by Australian War Memorial/UNSW Press
RRP $99.00 in hardback | ISBN 9781742236230 

This first volume in the Official History of Australian Operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and East Timor, Born of Fire and Ash comes in at a hefty 976 pages.

Almost as interesting as the book is the political battle to get government approval for the project, first proposed by the eminent Official Historian Emeritus Professor David Horner, and then taken up by his successor Craig Stockings.

Finally, a well-funded team was assembled to undertake the project of recording the facts surrounding Australia’s engagement in East Timor in 1999–2000.

It was this nation’s largest mission conducted under United Nations auspices, the single largest deployment of ADF personnel since the Second World War and an instrumental part of Timor-Leste gaining its independence.

Critically, it was also one not nestled within a larger or lead nation’s logistics and administrative support. It was the first time Australia had led such a large multi-national force. In short, International Force East Timor was the most complex politico-strategic challenge Australia had faced, at least since the 1940s.

Generally viewed as a successful intervention, the ADF’s involvement in East Timor did however expose its weaknesses and lack of preparedness. For example, the lack of live fire training and the ‘paucity of adequate logistics doctrine’. Logistics policy had not moved anywhere near as fast as the structural reform of commercialisation undertaken in the 1990s.

Insights into the political machinations are interesting and informative too as is the awareness that a ‘mission accomplished’ statement by MAJGEN Peter Cosgrove speaks only to the military component, not to the nation-building component that must, of necessity, follow in a country ill-prepared for independence.

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