Home Uncategorized Australia’s Phantom War In Syria

Australia’s Phantom War In Syria


syria australia airforceBy James O’Neill*

A specific part of the general silence that blankets foreign affairs and defence issues in this election campaign is the complete lack of coverage of one of Australia’s wars of choice, the conflict in Syria.

In august 2015 the coalition government announced that they were considering deploying Australian military forces to Syria.  No decision would be taken, they said, until they had received legal advice.

In mid-September 2015 the government announced that it was committing military forces to Syria.  On the assumption that the legal advice had been obtained, a Freedom of Information request was made for a copy of that legal advice.

It would be of considerable interest if that legal advice supported Australia’s military intervention in Syria.  Indeed, such an opinion would set a precedent.  The FOI request was refused, but the list of documents supplied that one could not read included four that were headed “legal advice.”  They were all on the same date.

The significance of the date however, was that it was given a year before the government said it was going to seek legal advice before making a decision.  In short, that announcement was at best an obfuscation, and deliberately misleading the public at worst.

In November 2015 Foreign Minister Julie Bishop appeared on ABC Radio and was asked what was the legal basis for Australia joining the Syrian war.  She said that it was because of a request from the Iraqi government pursuant to the collective self-defence provisions of Article 51 of the UN Charter.

There were two major problems with this answer.  The first was that the Iraqi Prime Minister’s office issued a statement saying that it had not asked for and did not want any assistance from Australia or any other member of the “coalition” in its fight against Daesh.

The second problem was that Article 51 of the UN Charter manifestly did not apply.  It is difficult to believe that Ms Bishop had received any legal advice to the contrary.

Once again, the Australian public were being misled.  And once again the mainstream media were completely silent.

Military operations by Australian forces duly commenced in mid-September 2015.  The Department of Defence’s website provides some operational details of its activities in Iraq and Syria.  Three aircraft are relevant in this context.  The F/A-18 Hornet is a multi-role fighter aircraft.  The E-7A Wedgetail is an airborne early warning and control aircraft.  The KC-30A is a multi-role tanker transport aircraft.

The DOD website also publishes monthly figures for the actions of these aircraft as to whether they were operational in Iraq and Syria.

The air operations in Syria began in mid-September 2015, immediately after the government’s announcement that they were joining that particular war.  The E-7A entered Syrian air space 10 times in September 2015, 11 times in October, 9 in November, and 10 in December.  There are no entries recorded for 2016 thus far.

The KC-30A’s role in Syria has been even more limited, entering Syrian air space 5 times in October 2015 and not since.

The F/A-18 is arguably the most important if the air force was actually fulfilling its mission to “disrupt and degrade Daesh aka ISIL.”  The DOD website records the following “sorties” into Syria since operations began in mid-September 2015:

September 2015                                        18

October 2105                                              0

November 2015                                          0

December 2015                                         10

January 2016                                               6

February 2016                                             4

March 2016                                                  0

April 2016                                                     0

May 2016                                                      0

TOTAL                                                           38

As is well known, the Russians entered the Syrian war at the request of the Syrian government at the end of September 2015.  Their fighters have flown thousands of sorties ever since, to considerable effect.

As the government has not seen fit to make any comment of substance since Bishop’s plainly wrong and deceptive comments in November 2015, we do not know what, if any, role the RAAF is playing that actually disrupts and degrades” ISIL.  The actual figures suggest that the effort is minimal.

The issue assumes greater significance in the light of recent developments in the United States.  The presumptive Democratic nominee for President, Hilary Clinton, is an unrepentant war hawk.   She is on record as wanting to depose Syria’s legitimate President in the familiar US pattern of ‘regime change’.

That is a position supported on more than one occasion by Australia, notwithstanding its complete lack of legal legitimacy.

Clinton’s track record as Secretary of State and comments made as a candidate for the Democratic nomination strongly suggests that she wants a wider war in Syria regardless of the chaos, dysfunction and human tragedy that such policies have brought and will bring.

Among Clinton’s proposals, supported by an extraordinary statement by 51 Department of State employees, and by her equally hawk-like likely Secretary of Defence Michele Flournoy is for a no-fly zone in Syria and increased support for that fictional entity, the “moderate” rebels.

That such proposals are completely lacking in any legal basis appears not to trouble Australian policy makers whose willingness to accompany American policy on one illegal invasion after another is well documented.

The policies and actions of the US and its allies in the Syrian war, principally Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, have been to arm, finance, logistically support and otherwise enable, all the terrorist groups in Syria.  The purported division between “moderate” and other groups is no more than a rhetorical device to obscure the real intent, which is the overthrow of the legitimate sovereign government of Syria and its President.

The recent brief ceasefire was used by the Americans to allow their overtly supported terrorist groups to re-arm and regroup.  They have since resumed full-scale military operations.  That would not have been possible without the assistance of the aforementioned countries, part of the so-called ‘coalition’ that the DOD says is US-led and to which Australia claims membership.

The dangers are obvious.  The real coalition fighting ISIL is Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and Hezbollah.  The Russians and the Iranians will very likely significantly increase their military commitment to Syria.  They are operating within the confines of international law, being in Syria at the invitation of the legitimate sovereign government of Syria.

The US-led coalition, including Australia, is operating outside the confines of international law.  Australia’s purported reliance upon Article 51 of the UN Charter is nonsense.  If the legal advice the government received in 2014 actually said that Australia could involve itself in the Syrian war without either a resolution of the Security Council or an invitation from the Syrian government, the only two possible legal bases for becoming involved, then they should release that legal advice so that it can be properly discussed.

If, as seems far more likely to be the case, the legal advice said that Australia’s involvement without either of the two pre-conditions cited would be illegal,  then the Australian people are entitled to know on what basis this country is being committed to yet another illegal war.

If, as seems likely, Hilary Clinton is elected to the US Presidency, then one of the most likely consequences will be a ratcheting up in belligerent confrontation with Russia.  In Syria, that could easily involve Australia.  Only a fool would see that as a desirable outcome.

It may be that recognition of the real dangers of the Syrian misadventure is one of the reasons that the RAAF, after that initial flurry in September before the Russian involvement, has effectively ceased operations in Syria.  If that is in fact the case, then it is to be welcomed.

Unfortunately, we are all too often left to draw inferences from observed facts, and that may sometimes be no more than speculation.   We are put in that position because neither the government nor the official Opposition thinks it appropriate that we should be informed and consulted on an issue as important as going to war.

The msm is similarly failing in its duty to inform, analyze, and where appropriate demand proper answers to well directed questions.

Our democracy is all the poorer for these failures.

*Barrister at Law  He may be contacted at joneill@qldbar.asn.au



Adapted Photo: abc.net.au


  1. Well said, James
    Our lousy Opposition seems too happy going along with Liberal Foreign Policy. Why hasn’t the media pointed out the illegality of everyone bar the invited Countries, entry into Syria?
    We need a ‘brexit’ from our US/Israel Alliance!
    Our pandering to the whims of the warmongers, to me, is a very important Election issue!

  2. “The significance of the date however, was that it was given a year before the government said it was going to seek legal advice before making a decision.”

    Reminds me of attending the DMO conference in Canberra in late 2000 where it was announced that the defense budget was going to be DOUBLED. It was already the largest expenditure of the Federal government – and they were going to double it!

    I asked around the dinner table that night “what the perceived threat could be?”, but nobody cared, they only wanted a piece of the pie. – Next year, on Sept 11 – I had my answer.

    Gee, what do you know, a ‘surprise’ attack in the U.S.

    I’m actually surprised that they couldn’t find a hack to give them a bogus legal advice to wave before the public. I’ve dealt with the government liars many times before, the usual course is some ‘junk science’ whether it be the Australian Institute of Criminology about gun control (the actual statistics indicated the opposite of their conclusions), the Australian Greenhouse Office (we are going into global cooling and not because we need carbon credits) or CSIRO and alternative energy.

    I find it reassuring that the government ‘disappeared’ the legal advice, perhaps there may be at least one honest person in Canberra.

  3. Story well told James. Once again it is staring us in the face that there are not two political parties in Australia, just one big group of TRAITORS. The Nation of Australia has signed several Treaties, which all politicians ignore. Every Prime Minister since 2001 should be in jail for War Crimes. How we were ever signed up to NATO when we are half a world away, is anyone’s guess.

  4. Where Young Syrian Refugees Sleep a 2 min you tube video https://youtu.be/E_kP2jMzn24.
    I wonder how well our alleged representatives sleep at night?
    I can honestly say that bombing other countries and/or its people does not represent my beliefs or will.
    WAR IS NOT PEACE, surely we can all see that? WE have so many historical examples to show this…
    I can solve the refugee crisis with one solution: STOP BOMBING THEIR COUNTRIES!!

  5. “We need a ‘brexit’ from our US/Israel Alliance!”

    Hear hear! Damn Eskimos again. Everywhere! but no-one sees them.

  6. Thank You James, for eloquently giving expression to my disgust at our poor excuse for a political system and government in Australia.
    It is a sad state of affairs(and a bitter pill to swallow) that I only, in then last few years woke up to the lies, corruption and criminality which is pervasively systemic in our Western system.
    Voting this week will hopefully emulate the Brexit result and the Trump/Sanders phenomenon, in that many new independent candidates win office to water down the false Left/Right paradigm of control of our country.
    Let’s hope so anyway.

  7. Let us not forget that each bomb that drops from the sky costs around $40,000 . Those poor innocent children in the Middle East. Then when they come to our so called Wild West we suspect them of being terrorists. Shame Australians shame. Our silence is destroying us .

  8. Well msm, on the ball for our democracy and Australia’s interests?
    Have I missed the questions being put by the msm to our candidates to consider our future and continuing role as a member of the coalition of the killing in the Middle East?
    After all, is it not relevant considering our role in killing a couple of million in the Middle East since 2003 when we were sold a lie to invade Iraq? ( not to forget the bombing of Afghanistan based on the 911 lies)
    Have I missed the questions as to what affect the invasions planned before 911 have helped put Australian taxpayers into hock and ARE now paying 40m a day to bankers for our budget deficit?
    (Ref: General Wesley Clark to Amy Goodman in an interview in March 2007 ” going to war sir, ‘going to take down 7 countries in 5 years’ ; planned before 911.
    HAVE I MISSED THE MSM BROADCASTING THE CLARK/GOODMAN INTERVIEW TO INFORM MSM readers and viewers so that the betrayal of Australia is disclosed and the voting public may be competently informed in their decision as to whom may be trusted from july 2nd…….. to not get our kids killed and cause more misery in the ME bringing more sorrowful and distraught refugees to Australia and invading Europe!
    Hey msm: James logged his article a few days ago…… CAN’T YOU USELESS LOT READ.

    • Ned, I know that the articles are read. I also know that some journalists would like to be able to report the issues that Gumshow raises, but their editors will not allow it.
      As for our alleged academics and seat warmers in the so-called think tanks (there’s a misnomer) they are totally captured by foreign sourced grants and lucrative fellowships at US universities and will not raise their heads above the parapet for fear of losing all the goodies that flow therefrom.

      • Berore my time but the ‘just following orders’ did not seem to save many from the end of a short rope after WW11.
        Orders on behalf of one’s country in war are one thing, personal profit for treason, wars, killing, theft and lies suggest something more abominable.

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