Monday, December 21, 2009


Photos: Top-Scottish flag of Saint Andrew. Bottom-Scottish soldier stands guard at Edinburgh Castle, Scotland's capital city (photo by Philip Allfrey 2006).

After centuries of British rule, is it finally 'freedom for Scotland?' And what of Ulster and Wales?

ONLINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate

Scotland the brave, Ulster the unsure?
By Sasha Uzunov - Wednesday, 23 December 2009

There are moves afoot in Scotland for a referendum on independence from the United Kingdom to be held next year. The likelihood of the UK falling apart into ethnic warfare à la Yugoslavia or Soviet Union is unlikely should the Scots reclaim their freedom from London.

However, in the event the referendum is successful (there are signs it may have difficulty getting over the line) then what of the future of the UK, including for Wales and the highly explosive Northern Ireland, also known as Ulster? In addition, there will also be other European Union members, such as Spain with its own restless Basque and Catalan ethnic groups, watching nervously from the sidelines.

The whole concept of “Britishness” is now being called into question. Can you be British and Scottish at the same time?

Hollywood has in recent times played a major part in popularising Scottish independence. High profile Oscar winning actor Sir Sean Connery has thrown his political weight behind it. Mel Gibson’s 1995 blockbuster film Braveheart, full on romance and action and light on historical accuracy, about Scottish hero Sir William Wallace’s brave fight for freedom from the nasty English king, Edward I (The Longshanks) in the late 13th century no doubt has raised public consciousness.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) emerged in the early 18th century with Northern Ireland a later addition. It consists of four major ethnic groups: the English, descendants of northern German tribes known as Angles and Saxons, also related to the Vikings, who arrived in the 5th century AD; and the indigenous Celts: Scottish, Welsh and Irish. The Germanic and Celtic languages are not related to each other. Prior to the Anglo-Saxon invasion, the Romans ruled Britain for three centuries.

The term Britannia and British originally refers to the Celtic inhabitants of the UK and the Celtic Bretons in modern day France. England evolved from the term Angle-land.

By 1066 “francofied” German tribes, the Normans, invaded England and spread a light French veneer over the Angles and Saxons. By the 17th century English dominance spread to most of the “British Isles” including the adjoining island of the largely Catholic Celtic Ireland.

English and Anglicised Scottish Protestants, later dubbed Scots-Irish, were sent as colonisers of Ireland. A fact largely ignored by both modern Irish and Ulster Union nationalists is that some of these Scots-Irish joined the native Irish Catholics in the 1798 Irish Rebellion against the British Crown, which was brutally suppressed with the assistance of the native Irish Catholic Church.

By 1921, the War of Irish Independence led by Eamon De Valera and Michael Collins successfully resulted in an Irish Free State and later, the Republic of Ireland (Eire) in the south largely populated by Catholics and a Northern Ireland tied directly to Great Britain. Some of the early Irish Nationalists were neither Irish nor Catholic but passionately believed in the cause. Robert Erskine Childers, a British Naval Intelligence officer decorated for bravery during World War I, comes to mind.

Since that time, political violence has inflicted Ulster as Irish Nationalists have fought for a United Ireland and the Ulster nationalists to maintain the status quo and their privileges. In 1969 the British government intervened by sending in the army to diffuse tensions between the long suffering Irish Catholic minority at the hands of the Protestant majority. Later the Provisional Irish Republic Army (PIRA), an organisation branded as terrorist by London, took up the fight for a united Ireland. The conflict has largely been viewed as a sectarian one, despite the ethnic dimension to it. Various ceasefires and peace plans have come into effect and at the moment the province is relatively quiet with former enemies sharing power.

One of the underlying fears of the Ulster Protestants has been the thought of becoming a “persecuted” minority in a united Ireland, should it ever take place. But others point out that the Republic of Ireland is a modern democratic state and member of the European Union along with the United Kingdom.

Scotland, Wales (its proper Welsh name is Cymru) and Northern Ireland have their own parliaments but Westminster in London retains control over the purse strings, foreign policy and the armed forces. The Queen, Elizabeth II, is the monarch for all four countries. At the Olympic Games, Great Britain marches as one team. In the FIFA soccer world cup competition the four have their own teams. Watching the Scottish national team play at a World Cup is an incredible spectacle. Instead of hearing the British national anthem of God Save the Queen, usually a lone bagpiper plays the stirring tune, Scotland the Brave.

If the United Kingdom was to unravel would it follow in the tragic path of the former Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, two multi-ethnic federations which spent nearly 70 years in one political form or another before imploding and transforming into many new nation-states? Probably not, but what effect would it have on the peace process in Northern Ireland?

If Scotland were to gain its independence, questions of its economic viability would obviously be raised. Supporters point to the oil rigs in the North Sea, which would fall within Scottish territorial waters. And not forgetting, of course, tourism and its “boutique Scottishness”.

A clever and award winning Australian journalist Alan Attwood has built a niche industry over the years regaling readers with quirky stories about his “Scottishness”.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, Attwood as The Age newspaper’s expert tennis writer would clearly distinguish who was English, and Scottish, as in his own case, even though Scotland has not been an independent nation for over two centuries. There is no separate Scottish passport. Attwood should be applauded for being proud of his Scottish heritage and no one would oppose Scotland regaining its independence in a peaceful manner from London.

Then there is Attwood’s angst about being torn between two cultures, Australian and Scottish:

“Born in Dundee, Scotland but raised in Australia Alan Attwood felt torn between two countries. He went back to Scotland to discover his past but discovered he didn't really belong there either.”

We also have him as a working class hero:

“Alan Attwood was born in Scotland and emigrated to Australia with his family when he was four. He has worked as an abalone packer, a dishwasher and mail sorter, but, since 1978, mainly as a journalist. From 1995 to 1998 he was the New York-based correspondent for The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, and more recently he has been a columnist for The Age.”

Notice, Scotland is mentioned but not the United Kingdom or Great Britain.

But when it came to tennis players from other disputed regions, such as the Soviet Union or Yugoslavia, Attwood would never go into more detail. Surely, as an expert on all things Scottish and tennis, you would think he would be more precise.

Not all who came from the Soviet Union were Russians: don’t forget the Lithuanians, Ukrainians and so on. Likewise, there was no such thing as Yugoslav, only Serbs, Croats, Slovenians, Macedonians, Muslim Bosnians and so on. For many years during the late 1980s and early 90s Attwood refused to listen to those, including myself, who were telling him that Goran Ivanisevic was a Croat, Slobodan Zivojinovic was a Serb; and Monica Seles was an ethnic Hungarian from Serbia.

Regardless of Attwood’s antics, we wish the Scots good luck in their bid for independence and a long term peaceful solution to the troubles in Ulster.

Scotland the Brave (song with lyrics supplied)
Scotland the Brave (bagpipe version)

Tuesday, December 08, 2009



By Sasha Uzunov

Australia’s leading journalists have called upon the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to launch extradition proceedings against an Iraqi Kurd living in Norway and allegedly the mastermind behind the killing of controversial Australian cameraman Paul Moran in Iraq 2003 but strangely the AFP has not been formally asked to investigate.

Mr Chris Warren, the Federal Secretary of the Media Entertainment Alliance of Australia (Australian Journalists Association) has asked the Federal Attorney General to investigate Najmuddin Faraj Ahmad, better known as Mullah Krekar, and his links to UN-listed terrorist organisation Ansar al-Islam.

But an AFP spokeswoman told TEAM UZUNOV today:

"The AFP treats all allegations of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity as serious matters. The AFP decides whether to investigate an alleged offence after evaluating a formal referral and supporting evidence.

"At this stage the AFP has not received a formal referral concerning the death of Mr Moran and therefore has not commenced an investigation. Any referral received by the AFP will be assessed in accordance with the AFP's Case Categorisation and Prioritisation Model.

"The AFP does not initiate investigations based on media reports alone. Allegations of war crimes committed overseas give rise to complex legal and factual issues that require careful consideration by law enforcement agencies before deciding to commence an investigation."

Sally Neighbour, a self-appointed security expert and reporter for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, who moonlights for The Australian newspaper ,quotes another ABC colleague Mark Corcoran who said:

"`Why has there been no investigation into the murder?" asks Mark Corcoran, presenter and veteran reporter with ABC TV's Foreign Correspondent program. "As of December 2009, I have still not seen any evidence of an investigation, either formally or informally, by any Australian official."

Corcoran is a highly respected figure, who served in the Australian Navy and the super secret Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) before entering journalism.

Calling for a murder trial may in fact open up a can of worms. It may reveal some uncomfortable truths about Moran’s activities.

Moran, 39, was killed on March 22, 2003 by a car bomb while covering the war in Northern Iraq for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation TV. He was an Adelaide-raised freelance cameraman who worked on and off for the ABC as well as US public relations firm Rendon, which had ties to the CIA and the Bush Administration.

Walkely Award winning Australian journalist, Mr Colin James, of the Adelaide Advertiser newspaper, was the first to break the story about Moran’s shadowy past when he attended Moran’s wake in Adelaide.

He talked to relatives who revealed that Moran had a James Bond other life.

“For a freelance cameraman, Moran sure had some incredible access to US State Department officials in Washington,” Mr James said. “How many freelancers get to play games of social tennis with US diplomats?”

Moran had worked for Rendon for over a decade in places like the Middle East and Kosovo, pushing US government spin while doing freelance work for the ABC TV as a combat cameraman.

On November 17, 2005 prominent American journalist, academic and former US Navy intelligence analyst James Bamford wrote in the influential American magazine Rolling Stone a detailed account of Moran’s work with Rendon and its link to the CIA and its selling of the Iraq

The controversy surrounding Moran stems from his exclusive story about an Iraqi defector who had knowledge about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction program. A Rendon colleague gave him the scoop which turned out to be false, but was a pretext for the US invasion of Iraq, according to Bamford.

The Australian cameraman also helped to set up a television station for the Iraqi National Congress (INC). The INC was established by the US as an opposition group to the Saddam Hussein regime.

In January 2003 I was hired as a photographer for Canadian war reporter Scott Taylor ( and we tracked down Mr Gaan Latis, who was recruited by the INC to become a member of a US trained exile army à la Bay of Pigs.

US advisors had set up a training camp at the Taszar Army base in Kaposvar, Hungary. Each new recruit was paid US$3,000. But the plan failed when there were not enough suitable candidates. We went to the army base in Kaposvar and were stopped at the front gate and were threatened with having our cameras confiscated.

I had a front page photo of the Taszar base published in Canada’s national newspaper, The Ottawa Citizen (January 24, 2003), and Esprit de Corp Magazine (February 2003) along with Taylor’s revelations of the exile Iraqi Army in training.

For six years I have been following the Moran story and attempted to gain access to information from the ABC.

Ms Joan McKain, the ABC’s Freedon Of Information Coordinator, in a letter dated July 10, 2007, rejected my request for Moran’s personnel file under Section 41 (1) of the Freedom Of Information Act.

The Act spells out that any documents affecting personal privacy are considered exempt if their disclosure under this Act would involve the unreasonable disclosure of personal information about any person (including a deceased person).

Instead, Ms McKain released a different document, a draft reply from then ABC TV News boss, Mr Max Uechtritz, given to ABC program Media Watch, dated April 14, 2003, about Paul Moran.

Mr Uechtritz, in his reply to ABC program Media Watch aired on April 14, 2003, wrote: “The ABC is not in the habit of following up Adelaide Advertiser stories.”

The Media Watch program had chastised the ABC and Uechtritz: “The story was followed up by some parts of the media, but not by the ABC. It should have been.” (Death in Bagdad, April 14, 2003 episode).

The irony of all this is Mr Uechtritz complained to The Age newspaper on June 30, 2003 about freedom of speech after coming under attack from the then Australian Federal Communications Minister, Senator Richard Alston, for alleged biased reporting by the ABC over the Iraq war.

“It is the duty of independent journalists in a robust democracy to question everything, “Mr Uechtritz wrote. “The senator seems to think the media's duty in time of war is to fall meekly into line with the government of the day.”

But it appears this does not apply to journalists scrutinising Paul Moran! Mr Uechtritz is now a news editor with Al Jazeera, Arabic news network.

In 2006 the ABC’s then Managing Director, Mr Russell Balding, was approached and asked if he would launch an internal inquiry into the Moran allegations. Mr Shane Wells, his spokesman, said there would be no comment.

Moran's covert behaviour had placed all western journalists under suspicion and under danger in war zones. However, I do not condone violence aimed at someone if they are a journalist or an intelligence operative.

I was working in the Balkans in 2002-03 when I was falsely accused by a local Macedonian reporter of being a CIA spy. Later I was pulled off a bus by Macedonian guards and held at gunpoint on the border with Serbia and kicked out of the country. I had to convince the authorities I was not a spy before I was allowed to return to Macedonia.

I know first hand of the danger that journalists face because of the paranoia caused by people such as Moran and others. The cold hard reality is war journalism is a cuththroat business; there is no universal fraternity with members helping each other.

Perhaps a murder trial would finally allow a proper examination of the colourful life and death of Paul Moran.


The Australian newspaper, Terror Kingpin Escapes retribution
James Bamford, Rolling Stone magazine
James Bamford, Rolling Stone magazine
On Line Opinion - James Bond other life
Yet more on Paul Moran,by Christopher Allbritton
The First Casualty
by Paul Rouse on November 30, 2006

Saturday, December 05, 2009


Exclusive - An Australian Army Reserve Special Forces commando unit has been accused of killing 5 Afghan children in an alleged botched raid...But could political cutbacks, and a short sighted defence policy be the real problems?

“Chocko’s” and coppers hung out to dry?

By Sasha Uzunov

The Australian Army’s elite reservist unit, 1 Commando Regiment, is being made a scapegoat over allegations of misconduct in Afghanistan, a former unit member has told TEAM UZUNOV.

The experienced ex-Commando said that he was deeply concerned over claims that poorly trained and led members had breached rules of engagement during a raid on house in Afghanistan which resulted in the deaths of 5 local children after grenades had been thrown last February.

“My concern is the unit has been left out to dry by the Defence Department even before judgement has been passed. Let due process of law take place,” he said. “If people were innocent then that should be shouted from the rooftops but if people were guilty then throw the book at them.”

“Whatever the outcome of the investigation, the responsibility is with the government of the day as well Defence Department bureaucrats. It is they who send troops to war.”

The ex-Commando spent over 20 years with the Sydney based 1 Commando Regiment (1 Cdo Regt) and served in Papua New Guinea, East Timor and the Middle-East.

The unit, he says, consists of a core full time staff, complimented by highly trained reservists from all walks of life. He revealed that there was a high percentage of New South Wales and Victorian Police officers within the ranks.

“The coppers are little group of their own and unfortunately some people see them as a law unto themselves. But that’s not their fault as these guys work together in civilian life as well,” he said.

The ex-Commando laughed at a report in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald newspapers by “defence reporter” Jonathan Pearlman who wrote :


“The Herald/Age understands that some of the soldiers in the sub-unit were reservists who worked as police in Australia and that questions have been raised about the possibility they were not properly trained in military procedures for entering houses.”

The ex-1 Cdo Regt soldier said there was no great major difference between a military and a police procedure for a room clearance. “I’m sure the coppers would’ve picked it within a few seconds of training.”

Traditionally a fierce rivalry has existed between the Australian Regular Army (ARA) and the Army Reserve (Ares). Reservists are known as “chocolate soldiers” or “chockos” for allegedly not being able to withstand combat and melt under pressure.

Some Regular soldiers and officers see the reservists as allegedly incompetent or as “weekend warriors.” Some reservists regard their full time colleagues as “lifers” unable to think outside the box.

1 Cdo Regt has its headquarters in Randwick, Sydney and consists of 1 Commando Company in Sydney and 2 Commando Company, in Williamstown, Melbourne, Victoria.

The unit belongs to the Australian Army’s Special Operations Command together with the Perth based regular army Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) and Sydney-based regular army 2nd Commando Regiment (formerly 4 RAR – Commando).

The ex-Commando said if the politicians and media were not happy with reservists in Afghanistan “then don’t send them.”

As revealed in an earlier TEAM UZUNOV story in 2008:


The legacy of the Nelson-Howard military doctrine has the Special Forces doing most of the fighting, because of the fear of casualties to our regular infantry units. The long term effect could be burn out of our full time Special Forces.


"Twice now we have had to deploy special forces in Afghanistan and twice now we have had to withdraw them because they are too tired," said Neil James, of think tank the Australian Defence Association in October 2006.

The highly respected Brigadier Jeff Sengelman DSC CSC, deputy commander of Special Operations, revealed the SAS had faced problems with recruiting and retaining soldiers but put a positive spin by also saying that it did not affect its operational capability.

In fact Australian Defence policy over the past 20 years, including that of the current Rudd Federal government, has been to fight wars by the seat of our pants by listening to desk-bound defence theorists and their crazy ideas.


The farsighted actions of an unheralded Australian Army General saved the lives of Australian soldiers in East Timor.

There is enormous respect for the popular commander of the successful Timor mission (INTERFET) Australian Army General Peter Cosgrove and he deserved to be recognized.
But we must also acknowledge the actions of then Chief of the Australian Army Lieutenant General Frank Hickling.

The Interfet Mission led by Australia intervened in East Timor to avert a catastrophe after the tiny Southeast Asian land had declared its independence from Indonesia in August 1999.

Pro-Indonesian Timorese militia groups supported by Indonesian Special Forces, Kopassus, went on a murderous rampage against independence supporters and later international peacekeepers.

Interfet then handed over control to the United Nations Transitional Administration for East Timor (UNTAET) in January 2000, and the Australian media believed the militia had been defeated. But the militia was simply biding its time and waiting to strike at what it thought was a soft target, Australian Army reservists.

Legendary infantry battalion 6RAR from Brisbane would be the next to go to Timor. It had, over the past decade, been gutted by cost cutting by defence experts. 6RAR had to be rebuilt with reservists grabbed from other units around Australia.

When 6RAR arrived in East Timor in early 2000 it came under ferocious militia attack but held its own.

In 1998, a year before East Timor erupted, the far-sighted Chief of the Australian Army, Lieutenant General Frank Hickling, a combat engineer who saw action in Vietnam, went from unit to unit ordering his senior commanders that he wanted all full time and reserve soldiers to sharpen up their war fighting skills.

He was concerned that the army’s combat troops had gone soft because of the focus on peacekeeping missions. It was his foresight that kept Australian soldiers, both regular and reservist, alive on the battlefield in Timor despite the cutbacks from the bureaucrats.

The brutal murder and later mutilation of New Zealand soldier Private Leonard Manning by militia in July 2000 was a signal of what the militia had in store for Australian and international soldiers.


The Greens win war but lose defence

ON-LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of political and social debate.

Greens win the war but lose defence
by Sasha Uzunov - November 24, 2009

When prominent Australian youth worker Les Twentyman throws his political weight behind the re-introduction of national service or conscription, you sit up and take notice.

Twentyman told the Herald Sun newspaper that a return to national service would help to combat street violence and unemployment.

Whatever the merits are of conscription in terms of taming wayward youth, there may be another benefit.

In recent months we have seen a high profile sacking and a resignation over the direction of the Afghanistan War but without any immediate effect upon American foreign or defence policy. This has enormous repercussions for Australia’s involvement in that conflict.

First, United Nations diplomat the American Peter Galbraith was sacked by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon over refusing to take part in what he claimed was a “cover up” of election rigging during the Afghan Presidential poll. Now we have the resignation of US diplomat in Afghanistan Matthew Hoh, a former US Marine Corps captain.

"I'm not some peacenik, pot-smoking hippie who wants everyone to be in love," he said. "I want people in Iowa, people in Arkansas, people in Arizona, to call their congressman and say, 'Listen, I don't think this is right'."

In Australia, Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon has, in a thought-provoking article, called for a proper discussion on Afghanistan:

In Australia, while opposition to the war is strong, public debate about this country's military presence in Afghanistan and our tactics in fighting terrorism is muted in mainstream political circles.

She adds:

This is an issue our Government can't ignore any longer, and it's one that I will certainly be taking up in Canberra if my run for a NSW Senator seat at the next federal election is successful. The silence within our own political conversation on this issue means that no longer is it just the Taliban who show contempt for democracy. When the regime that we are supporting passes such demeaning laws, we join them in making a farce of any attempt to portray our military involvement as a commitment to promoting democracy and humane values.

Senator Rhiannon may be right about the level of public opposition to the Afghan War but that is irrelevant. Her beef is that the Rudd Government is not responding to opposition to the war. The irony is that the Greens, and their predecessors and fellow travelers the anti-Vietnam War movement protestors, were so successful that they have in fact lost leverage over governments in power when it comes to defence and national security issues.

How on earth can you come to that conclusion, you might rightly ask? The answer is quite obvious but too sensitive or taboo to mention! During the late 1960s and early 1970s the anti-Vietnam War movement only gained ground at the tail end of that conflict. In 1966 and in 1969 federal elections the sitting conservative government which supported the war was returned.

Respected authors on the Vietnam War, Paul Ham and Michael Caulfield, have argued that the impetus for the anti-war movement came about because of conscription. That is when you force members of the general public, namely young men, into a war; then the public becomes interested in the debate. Mortgages and the economy take a back seat when your own life could be threatened by going to war.

Since the ending of National Service in late 1972 by the incoming Whitlam Labor government, the average person in the street has lost whatever leverage he or she had over defence experts and the professional volunteer defence force.

The reality is that professional military forces and politicians do not like conscription, because of the intense public scrutiny it brings. Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard was willing to bleed our special forces, the SASR and Commandos, dry fighting conflicts in East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq rather than have our regular infantry battalions do the fighting or for that matter using conscripts.
From a political strategic point of view it would be in the interests of the Greens to support the re-introduction of conscription, to act as a break against military adventurism. The question remains, will the Australian Greens be brave enough to support such a controversial issue?

History is full of political-ideological u-turns.

Joschka Fischer began his political career as a radical, left-wing, brawling taxi driver in the then West Germany in the 1970s. During a riot he beat to a pulp a German Police officer and almost blinded him. On becoming a Greens politician and later Germany’s Foreign Minister, Fischer apologised to the policeman and also supported the war in Afghanistan.

In 1972 South Australian Premier Mike Rann was a Greenpeace activist in New Zealand who actively worked against the French Security forces in the South Pacific by sending boats to disrupt nuclear testing by encroaching upon French territory. Rann has now moved to the right within the Labor party.

Conscription remains one of the last taboos in an Australian society where drug use, sexual orientation, rape, incest, mental health are now talked about freely.

About the Author

Sasha Uzunov graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Australia, in 1991. He enlisted in the Australian Regular Army as a soldier in 1995 and was allocated to infantry. He served two peacekeeping tours in East Timor (1999 and 2001). In 2002 he returned to civilian life as a photo journalist and film maker and has worked in The Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan. His documentary film Timor Tour of Duty made its international debut in New York in October 2009. He blogs at Team Uzunov.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


by Sasha Uzunov

A man who claims he was an Australian soldier on the East Timor-Indonesia border and viewed through binoculars but was powerless to stop the brutal murder of 3 United Nations aid workers in Atambua in 2000 has had an application for a disability pension rejected by Australia’s Department of Veterans Affairs DVA).

The man, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, is being represented by Mr Brian O'Neill, advocate and pension officer with the Returned Services League, Australia’s veteran peak body.

Mr O’Neill contacted Sasha Uzunov, the Director/Producer of documentary film Timor Tour of Duty, to tell of the man’s plight.

“He witnessed through his binoculars from the border, the mutilation and killing of the three UN workers on 6 September 2000 near Atambua in Indonesian West Timor,” Mr O’Neill said.

Three United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) employees Samson Aregahegn of Ethiopia, Carlos Caceres-Collazo of Puerto Rico and Mr Pero Simundza of Croatia were killed when their office was attacked by militia in Atambua, Indonesian West Timor.

In the official 6RAR tour of East Timor journal (2000) on page 34, the Officer Commanding of Bravo Company, 6RAR, Major John McCaffery wrote:"...after the events of the 6th of September 00 in Atambua and the frustration and anger at the inability to affect the situation as it unfolded..."

The man was an experienced soldier with Bravo Company, 6RAR, the Brisbane based infantry battalion. As a member of a patrol he was following up a blood trail left behind by militia and a day later on 6 September 2000 ended up at Patrol Base Sparrow, southwest of Balibo. PB Barrow is close to the Indonesian border and about 12 km from Atambua township and used as an observation post by Australian soldiers.

“It was here that he saw smoke billowing from the area near Atambua and went up a hill to get a better sight. It was here that he saw through binoculars many of the Militia moving around the UN building with machetes. He observed the armed men entering and leaving the building and observed three people dragged out of the building. They were covered with blood and had been hacked and beaten to death,” Mr O’Neill said.

“He was very frustrated with what he called the stupidity of the Rules of Engagement and that they could not do anything about it. He briefed his chain of command by radio."

Under the Rules of Engagement, Australian soldiers were forbidden to encroach upon or fire into Indonesian territory regardless of the situation. Indonesian Special Forces, known as Kopassus, and militia groups regularly crossed the border in a secret war against Australian and New Zealand soldiers and international peacekeepers as payback for East Timor’s independence from Indonesia.

The man’s claim for psychological trauma was rejected by DVA on the grounds that it was physically impossible for the killings to have been viewed through army binoculars, which might have a standard magnification of x6 or x10 or x20, from 10 or so kilometres away. DVA, for reasons unknown, never called the Bravo Company Commander, Major McCaffery, to give evidence but relied upon a report compiled by Writeway, a private research company.

However, 6RAR's then Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Mick Moon revealed to Writeway: "On a good (and very clear) day you can just see Atambua in the distance from a Patrol Base called Sparrow."

The Writeway report concluded: "It is most likely that the veteran...was at...Sparrow where the veteran may have been able to see Atambua from a distance and see the smoke from fires in the UN compound. He would not have been able to make out individual figures. This could hardly be classified as 'witnessing the killings.' "

"I don’t know all the facts to this story,” Uzunov said. “I’m hoping people with information will come forward to help this man confirm his story. Anyone who can help should contact Mr O’Neill.”

Legendary infantry Battalion 6RAR took part in the famous Battle of Long Tan in 1966 during the Vietnam War, which pitted over a hundred Australian soldiers against 2,000 or more Vietnamese Communist troops. In the last 20 years 6RAR had been reduced because of massive defence budget cuts. In 1999 the unit was strengthened with army reservist.

Respected military journalist John Hunter Farrell and editor of Australian Defender magazine wrote:

"Emerging from Vietnam as the best known of the Royal Australian Regiment’s nine infantry battalions, 6RAR has lived a volatile life, blasted by the winds of change that have swept the Royal Australian Infantry Corps since the withdrawal from Vietnam. 6RAR hit the bottom of the barrel...when the Australian Regular Army’s most revered infantry battalion was reduced to a skeleton staff of less than 200 heads."

The militia believed that 6RAR would be an easy target when it arrived in East Timor in early 2000. However, in 1998 the far-sightedness of Lieutenant General Frank Hickling, the Chief of Australia's Army, ensured that all troops, both regular and reserve, were combat ready and kept causalities to a minimum.

Nevertheless, 6RAR came under ferocious militia attack. In one infamous case, on 2 August 2000, 1 Platoon Alpha Company was engaged in a shootout and with two militiamen being killed.

Hunter Farrell wrote:

"The bodies of the two dead Militia told a big story. Clothed completely with TNI [Indonesian Army] issue DPM uniforms and wearing basic webbing, the KIA [killed in action] Militia were clean- and shorthaired. Underneath their DPM they wore civilian clothes. They carried plenty of ammunition and grenades and had local fruit in their pockets. Weird talismans of silver coins and weird stringy bits of dark frayed organic material were worn in little crocheted bags around their necks along with quantities of a red pharmaceutical drug in thin clear sealed sachets. While not clinically tested it was suspected that the liquid was Ba – a new super speed which is sweeping Asia - which would go a long way in explaining KIA Two’s 200 metre final. "

A former US Army officer and a southeast Asia specialist has confirmed that one of the militia killed was an Indonesian Army intelligence officer who was "on leave and freelancing for the militia."

"I've seen the photos of the dead man in uniform," he said. "What I find surprising is that this was an incredible intelligence find for the Aussies but none of the squad leaders (corporals) in the patrol received any medals or recognition. If they had been Americans they would have been awarded Silver Star medals for gallantry."

Uzunov's film, Timor Tour of Duty, reveals the Indonesian military's secret war against Australia, New Zealand and international peacekeepers in East Timor.

The film made its international debut in New York in late October 2009 and was the subject of controversy on Indonesian websites and blogs with one pundit claiming that it "re-opened old wounds" between Indonesia and Australia over East Timor."

Leading Australian academic Dr Damien Kingsbury has hailed the film:

"There is a prevailing view that Australia's military intervention in East Timor ten years ago was an untroubled affair - it was a successful operation without casualties. The reality, however, was that while casualties were limited, there were many tense moments, and exchanges of fire with Indonesian Special Forces, along the challenging and at times confronting border areas patrolled by Australian soldiers.

"Sasha Uzunov's documentary 'Timor Tour of Duty” graphically captures some of these exchanges and the very real impact that it had on the lives of the soldiers involved.

"Uzunov's experience as an Australian soldier in this area and in his own two tours and through his wider experience as a war correspondent, makes 'Timor Tour of Duty' as close to what it was like, without actually being there, for Australian soldiers in the troubled border region of East Timor between 1999 and 2003."

The film also received a commendation---a 2009 Platinum Reel Award from the Nevada Film Festival.



Official film website:

news story clipping:

Film preview/trailer:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


The 11 of November 2009, Remembrance Day, in honour of Australia's war dead. Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

Photos by Sasha Uzunov copyright 2009

A re-enactment of the legendary Australian Light Horse of World War One fame.

An East Timor veteran from the UNTAET mission reflects on this sombre occasion.

The official party. Victorian State Premier John Brumby and his wife Ms Rosemary McKenzie together with the Governor of Victoria and his wife.

The Leader of the Victorian State Opposition Ted Ballieu.

Major General David McLaughlan (RL), the Victorian State President of the Returned Services League, Australia's veteran peak body, reminds the up-coming generations of the importance of Remembrance Day.


After the ceremony is over...

On this bright and very hot sunny day, an elderly gentleman on a walking sticking nursing a foot injury makes the climb up the Shrine steps on a personal pilgrimage.

Victorian State Minister for Public Transport Lynne Kosky heads down a few steps of the Shrine to a waiting government limousine

The Lord Mayor Robert Doyle also makes a dash for his limousine. Melbourne Town Hall is a 15 minute walk from the Shrine.


Brett McLeod, Television news reporter with the Nine Network in Melbourne surveys the crowd.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Therefore, we encourage diversity of opinion on ths issue

The host of the ABC TV's Media Watch, Jonathan Holmes, responds to the TEAM UZUNOV story: ABC-Fairfax hissy fit at Afghan news.


“ABC and Fairfax big name reporters spit the dummy over not being able to navigate through Afghan warzone without a helping hand from the ADF...”

Not on Media Watch, they didn’t. No ABC journalist was quoted complaining about ADF media policy on our program. Nor was ABC News. The only ‘big name journalist” who was quoted was Ian McPhedran, defence correspondent for News Ltd. And he was complaining about the lack of access to Australian troops on the ground, not about his inability to ‘navigate through Afghan warzones”.

The same complaint as John Martinkus makes in his New Matilda piece.

Paul McGeough, who you so snidely deride, has probably spent more time in the “Afghan war zone” – and in Iraq, for that matter – than any other Australian journalist – including you. The fact that he doesn’t have a military background is to my mind entirely irrelevant.

- Jonathan Holmes


Thank your for your prompt and frank reply..

But asking Paul McGeough why he didnt volunteer for military service is highly relevant, much in the same way we would scrutinise medical doctors, mechanics, etc over their "qualifications."

The general public has an interest in the issue, which is why it keeps me in print and above the poverty-line! (freelanceer's attempt at humour!)

It only seems journalists without actual military experience who oppose such scrutiny. If it is irrelevant why not put it to the test? Why not ask the public?

Why do certain sections of the media, namely ABC Media Watch, avoid this issue? Is it because by opening up this debate to the public that big name reporters at the ABC will have their lucrative business of writing books and appearing on television threantened?

Furthermore, when McGeough refuses to answer the question put to him but then complains when politicians deny him information it is hypocritical. It is a case of wanting to have his cake and eat it too.

Mate (Jonathan Holmes), you're a big name ABC reporter and you sounded as though you were upset at the ADF denying reporters info....Therefore my story is correct...

I can supply you previously published stories with quotes from your former colleagues Chris Masters and Max Uechtritz and their "views" on military service....


MEDIA WATCH (Jonathan Holmes): News Ltd is not the same as Fairfax. Or hadn’t you noticed?

TEAM UZUNOV: I wasnt focusing on News Ltd but Fairfax.... You're forgetting Cynthia Banham's gabfest at ANU..

Thanks for your email Sasha. I appreciate your perspective.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009



By Sasha Uzunov

Australia’s big name journalists who write on defence and national security issues have the double advantage of making a lot of money as well as indirectly influencing government policy but without having to face the electors.

However, in recent times certain sections of the media have been chucking a hissy fit at the Australian Defence Forces and its public relations arm for allegedly denying journalists access to combat troop operations in Afghanistan.

Johanthan Holmes got on his very high moral horse on the ABC TV’s Media Watch: “By contrast, until this year, the Australian Defence Force only permitted what the media derisively calls 'bus trips' - a few days on the ground, most of them spent on heavily fortified bases, escorted at all times by an officer from Defence Public Affairs.

Self appointed Defence Expert Cynthia Banham, who wears two hats as a Fairfax journalist and as an academic at the ANU, is organizing a taxpayer-funded gabfest with the usual suspects, such as Paul McGeough, to bemoan:

“The Australian Defence Force, for instance, uses its own photographers and video operators to create the images it prefers. These then get posted on the ADF website where the public can access them directly, in the process cutting out the traditional news reporters who might have taken a more objective view of whatever story the ADF is trying to push.”

All of this indicates that not all is well with the current crop of big name “war reporters” who because they have no previous military training are having a difficult time in navigating through a war zone. Should the taxpayer pick up the tab for reporters who make a killing, pardon the pun, in writing books, appearing on television and symposiums but who refuse to open up Australia’s defence debate and allow the taxpayer a voice?

Respected journalist and author Phillip Knightley in a brutally honest manner revealed:

“…we allowed those with a vested interest to exaggerate the terrorist threat. Counter-terrorism has proved a boom business, providing thousands of new jobs for security and intelligence officers, surveillance and forensic experts - and, yes, authors and journalists. All of these naturally tend to paint any threat in strong colours, because it is in their professional and financial interests to do so.” link:

Richard Farmer, a former ALP strategist, was hired in the early 1990s as a lobbyist by Australia’s Macedonian community to convince the Australian Federal government to recognise The Republic of Macedonia under its consititutional name. Neighbouring Greece had and still does object to that name. At a meeting at the Macedonian Community Centre in Epping, Melbourne, Farmer explained to his audience, largely made up of migrants who spent decades working in factories, Australia’s political process.

“Politicians are interested in only two things. They want to be elected and then re-elected.”

You could say that Farmer’s brilliant maxim, which people with low English language skills can clearly understand, still holds true. Politicians need the oxygen of publicity to achieve election and then re-election. Therefore, whatever big name journalists report or do not report has enormous influence. This would also apply to shaping government policy, namely on defence and national security issues.

It is the tax payer who eventually has to pick up the tab but journalists do not have to face the electors every 3 or 4 years.--power without scrutiny you might say. Commercial television stations are required to pay for a broadcast licence from the Commonwealth, that is they rent the airwaves from the landlord, the Australian public. But we know that the “tennant” holds more power than the “landlord.”

The media, both commerical and public owned, have in recent times scrutinized servants of the Crown: politicians who receive campaign donations, police officers and soldiers who take a leave of absence to work a second job as private security advisers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Should we not also examine currently employed public media journalists, those from the ABC and SBS, who take on second jobs and influence defence and national security policy? First and foremost, there is nothing immoral or unethical in a journalist, who is paid tax payer dollars, from using their initiative and creating a niche for themselves. But we have to look at whether the tax payer gets value for money.

In the past Australian soldiers and Air Force fighter pilots were required to serve a miniumum amount of years in order to pay off their training. Soldiers who undertook expensive training courses incurred a Return of Service Obligation (ROSO) and had to serve more than their allotted minimum to pay back the Commonwealth.

Trying to extract information from ABC and SBS journalists is like having your sore wisdom teeth pulled: its is very painfull but very necessary. In trying to discuss defence and national security issues over the past couple of years I have encountered either silence or a haughty manner from our public funded journalists.

Media tough guy Peter Charley has a reputation for speaking his mind. As Executive Producer of ABC TV program Lateline in 2006 he issued this statement to me over my criticism of why Lateline was reluctant to open up Australia’s defence debate:

“It is neither wise nor clever to suggest that "little ol' Lateline” is "afraid" to have anyone on the program…” (Friday 13 January 2006, email).

The rhetorical question is why is it not wise or clever?

I had observed that Lateline had only used one Australian journalist with actual military experience to comment on defence issues and that was legendary newsman Gerald Stone, the founding producer of Australia’s version of 60 Minutes on the Nine Network in 1979 and a former US Army officer. You would think that Stone would have been utilized more often and other journalists with military experience given a chance to speak on Lateline.

Sally Neighbour is an award winning ABC TV journalist with the Four Corners program who also writes for the commercially owned The Australian newspaper on terrorism and is an author of “In the Shadow of Swords.” Sally, who has no previous military, policing or security experience, also lectures on the lucrative public speaker circuit. In October 2007 at Monash University she thundered from her pulpit:

“I have to say I tire of people complaining that the media makes Muslims look bad, makes all Muslims look like terrorists. It may sound trite to say this, but the media didn't crash those planes or bomb those nightclubs. Militant Islamists did it, and they did it invoking the name of Islam. The media doesn't make Muslims look bad. Terrorists who kill civilians while shouting "Allah Akhbar" make Muslims look bad.”

We can safely conclude that Sally's expertise comes from her time as an ABC journalist, that is at the taxpayer's expense. We do not know whether the ABC, that is the taxpayer, receives a slice from her second income.

Then there is Peter Hartcher, a Fairfax journalist and strategic analyst with the Lowy Institute think tank, who boasts of his political influence: “He has been called twice to testify as an expert witness to Federal Parliamentary inquiries into Australia's relations in the Asia-Pacific and commissioned to write essays on Asia for the Washington-based foreign policy journal The National Interest.

Not forgetting Greg Sheridan of The Australian newspaper:“Greg Sheridan is the most influential foreign affairs commentator in Australia. A veteran of over 30 years in the field, he has written five books and is a frequent commentator on Australian and international radio and TV.”

Freedom of speech is a valuable commodity and a two way street. If big name reporters from the ABC, SBS or Fairfax have a special licence to investigate, then that should also apply to humble freelancers, bloggers and the average Australian tax payer.

But it would appear that is not the case. Where ABC, SBS and Fairfax reporters believe they have a god-given right to go into war zones and stick cameras and microphones into people’s faces and on themselves wearing flak jackets to get the story, trying to scrutinise the credentials of these reporters is almost impossible.

I have emailed Paul McGeough of the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper asking him why he had never volunteered for military service in his youth considering his enthusiasm, passion and “expertise” in covering war but never got a response. Perhaps my question is more dangerous than facing a Taliban bullet or IED (Improvised Explosive Device)!

McGeough in defence of his “own freedom of speech” told the ABC:“If our government is eavesdropping on people's phone conversations and on their email, without having a warrant, without any check or balance in the system, I think we have a right to know. I think we have a right to debate it.”

What Jonathan Holmes and Cynthia Banham need to do is not blame the ADF when the media itself is too afraid to open up Australia’s defence debate.

Only one man is the exception and that is brave John Martinkus, who has been able to navigate his way through a battlefield without help from the Australian Defence Force.

In a thought provoking story for New Matilda: (What Does The Australian Military Have To Hide?) Martinkus tells of his frustration at being denied access to speak to Australian troops on camera in Afghanistan. Having been to Afghanistan myself I can empathise with Martinkus but also understand that the ADF's micro-management of the news flow is because during the Vietnam War the Australian Army got its fingers severely burnt and soldiers' lives were destroyed by a bogus Viet Cong water torture story that was not true.

It propelled reporter John Sorrell to fame and fortune whilst Vietnam Veterans were tarred with the brush of brutal savages.


Saturday, October 10, 2009



By Sasha Uzunov

South Australia’s Premier Mike Rann has literally been in the wars lately and the media spinners have done the best to paint him as a man of peace but the feisty politician has a radical past where he took on the likes of the French security forces in the 1970s.

Rann, born in 1953, chose to join environmental group Greenpeace in New Zealand in the early 1970s and battle French nuclear testing in the South Pacific region instead of joining the New Zealand military and fight in Vietnam as a rite of passage into young male adulthood.

(We are not referring to any National Service scheme but enlisting voluntarily in the regular New Zealand armed forces)

He was a member of NZ Greenpeace’s ruling body and as a backroom general plotted the sending of ship Greenpeace III to Mururoa Atoll, a French possession in the Pacific, in 1972. This involved the ship trespassing into French territorial waters and tangling with the French authorities to stop nuclear testing.

France, a traditional ally of Australia, has been invaded during two world wars by Germany, and as a reaction to its vulnerability created in the 1950s what it calls Force de frappe, a nuclear weapons deterrent.

Anyone or any organization interfering with France’s nuclear program in the Pacific is seen as a direct threat upon its territorial sovereignty. In 1985 French intelligence agents bombed and sank the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior, in Auckland, New Zealand in retaliation in this undeclared war. One activist was killed.

France was condemned for the bombing.

In 1978 Australia passed the CRIMES (FOREIGN INCURSIONS AND RECRUITMENT) ACT, which forbids Australian citizens or residents from entering foreign states and in engaging in hostile activities. TEAM UZUNOV explicitly states that Premier Rann broke no Australian law.

French sources have revealed that since becoming a middle of the road politician, Premier Rann has not made a formal apology to the French state for his anti-nuclear activities.

“We don’t now see him as an enemy of France and accept his youthful radical past,” the source said. “But for the sake of good diplomatic relations between our two countries it would be a step in the right direction if he apologized for his anti-French activities.”

Rann was born in England and immigrated to New Zealand with his family before moving to Australia in the mid 1970s to work for Don Dunstan, the colorful reformist minded ALP Premier of South Australia.

His father served with the British army during World War II and fought at El Alamein.

Premier Rann is married to Sasha Carruozzo, an actress and Greens party member.

A response will be sought from Premier Rann in the next few days.


Thursday, October 08, 2009


Victoria Barracks, Melbourne, vandalised with anti-Afghan War slogans. Photos copyright Sasha Uzunov 2009.



Photos taken Thursday, 8 October 2009 at 4pm.

In eerie overtones of the controversial Vietnam War (1962-72) where opponents targeted war memorials and military installations, anti-Afghan War graffiti was daubed all over the front wall of the historic Victoria Army Barracks in the heart of Melbourne, Australia

The slogans in white paint read: WHITE WASH, 8 YEARS TO(O) LONG, TROOPS OUT.

A small protest was held outside the gates of Victoria Barracks with no more than 5 or so people.

Victorian State Police were seen confiscating blue buckets with white paint. It is not known if any arrests were made or who had vandalised the historic bluestone walls of Victoria Barracks, which contains no combat troops.

Three protestors, two dressed in white jump suits and a beared gentleman held a media conference at the front gate. The bearded man said that "Afghan was becoming another Vietnam."


Friday, October 02, 2009

Afghan dress code
By Sasha Uzunov - Wednesday, 30 September 2009

An extraordinary war of words has erupted in the Canadian press over the controversial issue of Islamic dress for women in Afghanistan and Western involvement or interference, depending on your political point of view, in that country.

Highly decorated war reporter Scott Taylor, who is a staunch critic of American involvement in the Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan wars, has fired a powerful broadside at Canadian colleague Rosie DiManno over whether western journalists should “when in Rome do as the Romans do,” that is dress according to Afghan Islamic custom.

He wrote: “I also understand that being a western female journalist in such an Islamic fundamentalist society would pose an even steeper cultural hurdle to overcome. On the flip side of that, the entrenched and firmly enforced divide between the sexes in that part of the world makes it all but impossible for a male foreign reporter to get any sense of a female Afghan viewpoint.

“That said, I do take issue with those foreigners, reporters included, who feel no compulsion to conform to Afghan societal rules while they are visiting. In particular, a recent column by the Toronto Star’s Rosie DiManno piqued my ire for her blatant condescension and disregard for local customs.

“Playing, no doubt, to the feminist sympathies of her Canadian readers, DiManno paints herself as a crusader for religious and gender freedoms. To those of us familiar with the cultural sensitivity and fierce pride of the Afghans, DiManno instead simply comes across as an oafish boor.”

Taylor, who was taken hostage by Islamic terrorist group Ansar al-Islam in Iraq in 2004 and survived to tell the story, is no fuddy-duddy. Having traveled with him to the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan as his cameraman/photographer I can attest to his open mindedness and genuine curiosity in going beyond the spin.

At issue here is whether female journalists who visit Afghanistan should cover up their bodies? Speaking from a male reporter’s view I can only say that in my two trips to Afghanistan I have grown a beard and worn Afghan attire for security reasons and for not wanting to offend the local people. Because of my dark features, my parents are Macedonian migrants to Australia; I was constantly mistaken for an Afghani and once barred from entering an English pub in Kabul, the Afghan capital!

Also, having been invited to meals by our Afghani hosts we would sit on the floor cross legged, something I am not used to. Taylor writes: “While our western laws are completely liberal when it comes to dress codes (which allow clothing optional beaches, etc), our society still self-regulates what is appropriate attire in business, casual or formal surroundings. If someone comes to my house, I would not expect I would have to "accommodate" their nakedness because they profess to be a nudist, nor would I allow them to defecate on my lawn because they claim to be environmentally conscious. This would not make me a bad host. It would simply make them an outrageously rude guest.”

The dress code issue is very sensitive because of the underlying treatment of Afghani women. SBS TV Dateline reporter, Sophie McNeill has been strident in her reporting of the lowly status of women in her article “In Karzai's Afghanistan, Women Are Dirt” on September 10, 2009, she says:

“The Karzai Administration continues to treat women like second class citizens. So what, exactly, are we fighting for? “Allegations of electoral fraud linger, but the recent presidential election in Afghanistan has been declared a resounding victory for Hamid Karzai over his nearest rival, former foreign minister Dr Abdullah Abdullah. For many Afghani women, however, it didn't really matter which of these men won - because it seems that whoever rules this country, they are condemned to lives of pain and suffering.” It is a very brave article from McNeill. The dilemma for journalists is if they criticise Afghani customs they are seen as interfering or arrogant, if they remain silent they endorse mistreatment.


Monday, September 14, 2009



Mr Paul Copeland, National President of the Australian Peacekeeper & Peacemaker Veterans’ Association (APPVA) has called upon the Rudd Federal Government to officially recognise 14 Setepmber as National (Australian) Peacekeeper & Peacemaker (Enforcement) Day.

"The first step for this recognition would be through the proclamation of National (Australian) Peacekeeper Day for the 14th of September each year," Mr Copeland said.
"Secondly, is to adequately recognise those who have served on these operations with appropriate and fitting medallic recognition by the striking of an Australian Peacekeeping (Non-warlike) Service Medal and other Operational medals for Peace Enforcement (Warlike) Operations such as Somalia; Rwanda; Cambodia; East Timor (post INTERFET); Namibia and the 1991 Gulf War. "

More information:

Australian Peacekeeper & Peacemaker Veterans' Association,

Friday, September 11, 2009


FEMALES AT THE FRONT--women at war?
By Sasha Uzunov

The Rudd federal government is pushing for women to be allowed to serve on the frontlines of war in infantry, armoured or combat engineers within the Australian Army.

The Minister for Defence Personnel Greg Combet, who has never served in uniform, is an enthusiastic backer of the scheme. There are those who strongly oppose it. Both sides present strong arguments. Women in combat will probably become a reality more by default than by a political commitment to equal opportunity or grandstanding.

The fact that recruitment numbers are down, that is not enough men volunteer to fight, will cause any future government to open the gates to women in combat. Minister Combet himself has admitted in an article by Christian Kerr of the Australian newspaper, September 09, 2009 that it will not happen overnight and probably not during his watch.

As a clever politician, Combet has commissioned the Defence Science and Technology Organization (DSTO), the military boffins, to test whether women are strong enough for direct combat roles. And who knows how long that will take?

Australian society has been able in a reasoned manner to discuss and debate sensitive issues such as drug abuse, homosexuality, immigration, and so on but for reasons unknown asking why some people volunteer or do not volunteer for military service remains the last taboo.

As a freelance photo journalist and former Australian soldier who in 2003 began to examine why some of those who play an influential role in shaping defence policy or sending others into combat but do not volunteer to fight in uniform, I met fierce resistance.

In August 2008, the Sunday Age’s self-appointed defence expert Tom Hyland called this a “curious crusade.” Why this is a curious crusade beats me? The media is now talking about the possibility of women in direct combat roles.

Questioning the credentials of “defence experts” is a very tough business. The irony of it all is the reason why we are now debating the issue of women in combat roles is the shortage of manpower, pardon the pun. The chickens have come home to roost.

When young Australian men see defence experts who do not serve in uniform it turns them off joining the Australian Defence Force (ADF). But the media will not go there because it is a “curious crusade” and the issue gets silenced.

Dr Anthony Bergin, member of the think-tank Australian Strategic Policy Institute, joined a call in 2007 with Hugh White, former Fairfax journalist turned defence expert, for Pacific Islander immigrants to be given Australian citizenship in return for military service. see link:,20867,21209445-31477,00.html

In theory all of this sounds good but in reality one of the major reasons why young Australians do not volunteer for military service is quite obvious, when they see experts such as White, who have never served in uniform, lecturing from their pulpit, they simply turn off. Then having to drag poor migrants in to do the fighting just adds insult to injury. It is the age old lesson of practice what you preach.

Australia is a democracy where we encourage everyone, including defence theorists to have a voice. But it seems that certain sections of the Australian media have been reluctant to scrutinise these defence theorists.

For reasons unknown the so-called hard-hitting ABC TV Lateline program has been afraid to examine this “touchy subject.”

Lateline has only ever had one journalist with an actual military background on the program. It was the legendary Gerald Stone, founding producer of the Nine Network’s 60 Minutes and a former US Army officer (1954-56) who has appeared a few times. You would think with Stone’s credentials he would be aregular?

Moreover, ABC TV reporter Mark Corcoran served in the Royal Australian Navy and with the super secret Defence Signals Directorate (DSD). Corcoran is the ABC’s only badge-qualified defence expert but for reasons unknown has never been called to provide expert comments.I asked why Lateline was so afraid of opening up the defence debate.

The then Executive Producer Peter Charley, whose wages were paid by the taxpayer to safeguard our freedom of speech, issued this statement to me on Friday 13 January 2006:

“It is neither wise nor clever to suggest that "little ol' Lateline” is "afraid" to have anyone on the program…”Why is it neither wise nor clever? Charley is now the Executive Producer of SBS TV’s Dateline program

In 2004 Lateline host Tony Jones played hardball with Liberal political head kicker Tony Abbott over his alleged secret meeting with Catholic Cardinal George Pell to discuss government policy. There were overtones of a dark conspiracy between the Abbott and the Catholic Priest! It was actually more high farce on Jones’ part. Perhaps he is a fan of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code?

But when it comes to defence experts, Jones’ blowtorch is nowhere to be seen. Perhaps Jones is saving himself for a sequel to his Da Vinci Code episode, Angels and Demons, where he questions Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for allegedly getting political advice from the martyred German theologian Dietrich Bornhoffer through visions and dreams!

Perhaps a voice, either an angel or a demon, depending where you stand on women in combat roles, is telling the Prime Minister to send women into combat!


Wednesday, September 09, 2009


Real heroes and media heroes
By Sasha Uzunov - Wednesday, 9 September 2009

All the fuss surrounding Victorian State Minister Tim Holding surviving a two-day ordeal in the state’s snow country after being lost would suggest a society yearning for real life heroes and role models.

read on...

Tuesday, September 01, 2009



by Sasha Uzunov

Victorian State Minister for Water and Tourism, Tim Holding, has survived a two day ordeal high up in the state's snow fields after fears that he would not be found alive but the Minister is a former Australian Army Reservist with the elite 126 Signals Squardon, 1 Commando Regiment, in Melbourne.

The Herald Sun newspaper today revealed he had received Commando survival training... Read the story.

In January 2009, I first revealed on my blog, TEAM UZUNOV, about the worsening relationship between the then Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon and his own Department when an outsider, Mr Tim Holding, a Victorian State Minister, was being floated as go-between or trouble shooter in Afghanistan to gather information not being passed onto the Rudd Government by the Australian Army Chain of Command. Suzanne Carbone, of The Age newspaper, quoted me in her “The Diary” column take down of Holding on February 3.

It was because of these qualities that Mr Holding possess that he was touted as a political trouble-shooter in Afghanistan, even though some in the mainstream media did not take it seriously at first and only began to pay attention when the then Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon had a falling out with his own department.

Once again it comes back to "only big name journalists" have special permission or a media sheriff's badge to break stories not independent freelance journalists and/or bloggers.

Archival stories....

Monday, March 02, 2009


Tim Holding the peace-maker/ circuit breaker in Defence Dispute?

By Sasha UzunovCopyright 2009

It what would have only taken a few minutes to confirm or deny if Victorian State Government Minister Mr Tim Holding was being considered to head a trouble shooting mission to Afghanistan on behalf of the Prime Minister, has turned into a month long saga with the PM’s media office refusing to comment either way.

With tensions mounting between the Defence Department‘s civilian top brass and the Federal government over the SASR pay dispute, perhaps it has been wise not to add fuel to the fire.
The Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has launched a well crafted media campaign where he has vented his “anger” at his department over being kept in the dark on a number of issues. In an unusual move, his predecessor, Dr Brendan Nelson, from the opposition, backed him up in Federal Parliament.

Subsequent events, such as the SASR pay dispute, have confirmed what Team Uzunov blog revealed more than a month ago about the break down in communication.

Nearly three weeks ago a media query about Mr Holding was put to PM’s Chief of Staff and highly paid Wiz kid advisor Alister Jordan but there was no response. Ms Jamilla Rizvan of the PM’s Media unit was contacted but again no response.

Team Uzunov blog, in an exclusive story on 30 January 2009, revealed that a leading Australian strategic analyst, who has the ear of the government, floated the idea of Mr Holding to act as a kind of circiut breaker in the break down on communication between the army brass and the government over the flow of information about Afghanistan.

Pundits say Mr Holding is a well respected politician and a former Australian Army Reserve Special Forces soldier who would be able to “talk the talk” whilst Mr Fitzgibbon, a former automotive electrician without military experience, has been waging a losing battle to bring to heel the civilian top brass.

Below is the story published on 30 January 2009, which was also quoted in The Age newspaper:----------------

Friday, January 30, 2009 - TEAM UZUNOV

ExclusiveTim Holding - Brumby’s man turned PM Rudd’s international man of mystery?

By Sasha Uzunov
Copyright 2009

Mr Tim Holding, a Victorian State government minister who is a former Australian Army Reserve Special Forces soldier, will not confirm nor deny speculation about him undertaking a short fact finding mission to Afghanistan on behalf of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

A prominent strategic analyst, who has the close ear of governments, and speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he wanted to “float the idea of Mr Holding undertaking a fact finding mission to the Australian base in Tarin Kowt province [in Southern Afghanistan].”

“Mr Holding is an intelligent young politician with links to Special Forces. The Australian media underestimate his ability, which is why he would be ideal for the mission: he would slip under the media radar,” the strategic analyst said. “Mr Holding has not been informed of the proposed trip.”

The analyst said Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was not happy with the flow of information about Afghanistan coming from the army chain of command and needed his own “eyes and ears” on the ground for a couple of weeks to assess the situation.

Mr Holding’s office was contacted a week ago to confirm or deny if Mr Holding knew the speculation about the Afghanistan trip. But no comment has been forthcoming.Mr Holding served as a Signaller or communications expert with the elite Army Reserve Special Forces unit, 126 Commando Signals Squadron, then attached to 1 Commando Regiment, 2nd Company, at Fort Gellibrand, Williamstown, Melbourne, Victoria from 1991 to 1993.

Greg Sher the eighth and most recent Australian soldier killed in Afghanistan was also a member of 1 Commando Regiment (1 CDO Regt).Mr Holding is the Minister for Finance, WorkCover and Transport Accident Commission, and Minister for Water, Minister for Tourism and Major Events in the John Brumby ALP state government.

A former Australian intelligence agent, with extensive Middle East experience, and also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he believed that Prime Minister Rudd would change Australia’s current military policy and commit a regular army infantry battalion (about 500 soldiers) to Afghanistan very soon.

Current military policy is for Australia’s Special Forces units, SASR and 4RAR (Commando) to do the frontline fighting in Afghanistan, which according to standard doctrine should be carried out by regular infantry.

SASR and 4RAR (Cdo)’s traditional roles include surveillance of the enemy, information gathering or carrying out raids against targets or securing entry and exits points for other army units.

SASR, 4RAR (Cdo) and 1 CDO Regt fall under the Australian Army's Special Operations Command (SOCOMD).

In contrast the Canadian army, after decades of peacekeeping, has regular infantry fighting the Taliban in the dangerous southern Afghanistan province of Kandahar. But over 100 Canadian soldiers have been killed.

The Age, Diary Column, Tuesday, 3 February 2009.

Timmy, don't forget to pack the water canteen


TIM Holding was dubbed "Twinkle Twinkle" because he was considered a little star, and he's really made an impact in the water portfolio with those faulty four-minute shower timers that last for 40 minutes or four hours. But Dim's moment to shine may have arrived.

Former Australian soldier Sasha Uzunov, now a photo-journalist, writes in his blog that Holding (below) could be destined for Afghanistan as Kevin Rudd's "eyes and ears" on the ground. You see, Holding is well credentialed as a former member of the Army Reserve in the 1st Commando Regiment - and he's Tourism Minister.

A "prominent Canberra strategic analyst" told Uzunov: "Mr Holding is an intelligent young politician with links to special forces. The Australian media underestimate his ability, which is why he would be ideal for the mission: he would slip under the media radar."

The analyst claimed the PM was not happy with the flow of information from Afghanistan so the analyst would suggest Holding embark on a "fact-finding mission" to the Australian base in Tarin Kowt. Diary asked Commando Holding about swapping a fluoro vest for a flak jacket, and he said:
"While I will sit by my phone awaiting the Prime Minister's call, I will make it clear to him that I will only travel to Afghanistan in the company of my friends at The Age Diary."

Who knew Twinkle had a sense of humour? We'll only go if he acts as our human shield. And brings a shower timer that works


At war with his own Defence Department
By Sasha Uzunov - posted Tuesday, 31 March 2009

The Australian media have finally laid down their pom-poms and ended the cheerleading routine in reporting how tough the Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon was in his war with his own Defence Department.

In January, I first revealed on my blog, TEAM UZUNOV, about the worsening relationship between the Minister and his own Department when an outsider, Mr Tim Holding, a Victorian State Minister, was being floated as go-between or trouble shooter in Afghanistan to gather information not being passed onto the Rudd Government by the Australian Army Chain of Command. Suzanne Carbone, of The Age newspaper, quoted me in her “The Diary” column take down of Holding on February 3.

Paul Daley, in The Sunday Age, on February 1, got the ball rolling in Fitzgibbon’s war against his own department:

But there appear to be some serious Government doubts whether the facilities the young Australians are risking their lives to build are actually being used by the Afghan people.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that through its proven methods of intimidation and murder, the Taliban punishes Afghans who dare to use such facilities. There are also stories that, for fear of Taliban reprisals, Afghans are reluctant to work in them.

During both visits to Afghanistan, the feisty Fitzgibbon had wanted more than just briefings. But despite his best efforts, sources are adamant Fitzgibbon has not been "outside the wire" - a euphemism for leaving the comparative safety of the Australian base - during either visit, much to his frustration.

Later, we had the SASR pay scandal with the Minister now officially at war with his own department over being kept in the dark.

Recently, we had Mr Fitzgibbon apologise for not declaring trips he undertook to China after the story was leaked allegedly by his enemies within the Defence Department.

I am not suggesting anything untoward in Mr Fitzgibbon's behaviour and respect his privacy. However, the sideshow has taken the focus off the real shooting war raging between the Taliban and Australian soldiers in Afghanistan ...

He can vent his “anger” as much as he likes through the media but it will not change the situation. With Australian soldiers fighting and dying in Afghanistan, the Defence Department cannot afford to be distracted by political squabbles over who controls turf.

The Defence Department is a universe of its own. Outsiders who do not know how to operate in this environment get chewed up pretty quick. Mr Fitzgibbon, through no fault of his own, lacks two things: he has never served in uniform and second, he does not hold the aces when it comes to playing political poker with his own Defence Department.

Only one man is capable of doing so: Colonel Iron Mike Kelly, Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Support. “Iron Mike” Kelly is a former Army Colonel and lawyer who has served in Somalia, East Timor and Iraq.

He has the runs on the board: as an Army lawyer with the rank of Major he once wrestled and fought, in true Crocodile Hunter fashion, a warlord during the 1993 mission to African nation Somalia.

To demonstrate his political cunning, he turned the tables on his opponent, the sitting member for the New South Wales Federal seat of Eden-Monaro during the 2007 election.

Iron Mike, who was critical of the then Howard government’s decision to go to Iraq, was holding an election meeting and was heckled by Mr Peter Phelps, the chief of staff of the sitting Liberal member of parliament, Mr Gary Nairn.

Mr Phelps, criticising Iron Mike’s opposition to the Iraq War and the fact that he still served on the mission, said “… And you took part in it willingly because you weren't sent over there, you volunteered, didn't you?”

Mike Kelly: "No, I was a soldier, and I did what I was ordered to do."

Peter Phelps: "Oh, like the guards at Belsen, perhaps? Are you using the Nuremberg Defence? No, no, come on."

The Nazi Germany comparison would have lost a lot of public sympathy for Mr Nairn’s election campaign, which saw Iron Mike take the seat.

Moreover, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is no stranger to using military glory, such as the awarding of the first Victoria Cross medal for bravery in 40 years, to score political brownie points. So why not appoint Iron Mike Kelly as Defence Minister?

If this present government is serious about the Defence portfolio and in breaking with bad habits from the past, then it needs to practice what it preaches.

However, the underlying problem and largely ignored by some in the media with their own agenda is that when you place politicians who have never served in the Defence Forces as Defence Minister, they are too busy trying to make up for it by “acting tough”. We do not need those with emotional baggage to prove their manhood by risking soldiers’ lives.

The delicious irony in all of this is that a new war has emerged, that between the “Desk Warriors”: journalists, strategic analysts and defence experts who have never served in uniform but who hold a vice-like grip on the debate.

Daley, in The Sunday Age article “Unfriendly fire”, on March 29, wrote:

Fitzgibbon has polarised Defence in pursuit of his reform objectives, where a string of ministers before him have effectively surrendered. He has also upset those his allies call the "visiting fellows" - the many strategic studies and defence academics, journalists and think-tank commentators who are close to the generals but whose views Fitzgibbon has largely dismissed.
Up until recently, Daley was a charter member of the Desk Warriors, so why has he turned against his brethren? Maybe there is trouble in paradise?

As a freelance journalist I have, over the years, scrutinised why people without hands-on military experience dominate the defence debate. Daley, together with his Sunday Age colleague Tom Hyland, has dismissed such questioning as irrelevant. Hyland calls it a “curious crusade”.
Oh the delicious irony!