Battle of Aidabasalala
|Battle of Aidabasalala|
|Part of the 1999 East Timorese Crisis|
An Australian Army S-70 Blackhawk over East Timor
|Commanders and leaders|
|6 man patrol||~20 men|
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Aidabasalala (16 October 1999) was a small but hard fought action during the 1999 East Timorese crisis between pro-Indonesian militia, and a small six-man Australian covert reconnaissance patrol from the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) operating as part of the United Nations-mandated International Force for East Timor (INTERFET). The battle took place near Aidabasalala, 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) from the West Timor border, and saw the Australians repeatedly attacked in a series of fire-fights by a group of more than 20 militia. The SASR patrol had been detected while establishing an observation post and were forced to fight their way to a landing zone, being attacked a further three times over a one-and-a-half hour period, killing a number of their attackers before they were successfully extracted by S-70 Blackhawk helicopter.
A six-man Australian covert reconnaissance patrol led by Sergeant Steven Oddy had been operating near Aidabasalala since 13 October 1999, after being tasked with confirming reports of militia sightings in the area. Indeed, intelligence indicated that there was a significant militia presence in the area, and Response Force—INTERFETs strategic reconnaissance force—began planning a raid on the village. Aged 32, Oddy was an experienced patrol commander with more than 12 years service in the SASR. Over the next three days the patrol moved south-west towards their objective, spending a whole day in a village without being detected.
At 07:00 on the morning of 16 October 1999 the Australian reconnaissance patrol was moving forward when it came into contact with pro-Indonesian militia. The initial contact occurred as the Australians crossed the dry bed of the Moto Meuculi Creek and prepared to establish an observation post in the area which was believed to have been a major militia infiltration route from West Timor. The creek bed was about 10 metres (33 ft) wide with high banks of nearly 3 metres (9.8 ft) surrounded by scrub, long grass and lantana. As the Australians prepared their position a group of five or six militia in camouflage and webbing were observed moving stealthily along the creek bed. Lance Corporal Keith Fennell quietly sank to the ground, but not before he was seen. The lead militia scout levelled his weapon at Fennell who immediately engaged the threat, firing half of the magazine from his M-4 Carbine. Three militia were hit and the rest were forced to withdraw. Oddy then joined Fennell, firing several 40 mm grenades from his M203 grenade launcher at the retreating militia.
With the initial action over Oddy attempted to establish communications, whilst Fennell and the patrol medic/machine gunner re-crossed the creek bed in order to increase their field of vision. Within minutes the militia began probing the Australian position again, and the patrol medic observed another two militia moving up the creek bed from the same direction as the previous group. He engaged the group, killing one of the attackers. Subsequently Fennell and the medic withdrew from across the creek bed as the patrol moved to establish an all-round defensive position. The sound of the intense action attracted further militia to the fight with the enemy growing to more than 20 in number. The militia had previously withdrawn just beyond range following the initial contact, but with the arrival of reinforcements the attacks recommenced. Soon movement was observed by the six Australians, with the militia attempting to encircle and destroy them. Observing them through the undergrowth, five militia were soon sighted with the patrol second-in-command opening fire on the group just 10 metres (33 ft) away. Two were probably hit, whilst other militia pressed their attack, although their fire was mainly high and wide. The fight lasted another hour-and-a-half, with the Australians repeatedly repulsing their attackers. Finally, Oddy decided to break contact and the patrol withdrew across the creek bed, leaving their packs behind.
Responding to the calls for assistance, an Australian RESPFOR Initial Reaction Team was dispatched by S-70 Blackhawk to the position of the contact. During the later phase the helicopters circled the battlefield in an attempt to support the forces on the ground, yet with the militia attack faltering they began to withdraw, presenting enticing yet forbidden targets for the door gunners. After transiting 300 metres (330 yd) from the creek Oddy's patrol spotted two helicopters and attracted their attention with a smoke grenade. One of the helicopters landed and the embattled patrol was successfully extracted. The helicopters then returned to the site of contact, which was by now observed to be clear of militia activity. Three members of the patrol were set down in a small clearing nearby, recovering the previously abandoned packs and a number of weapons from the dead bodies.
At least four militia were killed during the fighting, with another four believed to have been wounded. Local villagers nearby later reported that the attackers had suffered five killed and three wounded although this could not be confirmed. There were no Australian casualties. Regardless, the Australian patrol had demonstrated exceptional fire discipline and one member did not even fire his weapon at all as no militia had appeared in his arc of responsibility. In total they fired just 200 rounds from the machine-gunner's F-89 Minimi and only 67 rounds from their M-4s during the action. Further RESPFOR teams were inserted into the area but they failed to locate any militia, while a company from 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (2 RAR), mounted in M113A1 armoured personnel carriers from B Squadron, 3rd/4th Cavalry Regiment, conducted a sweep of the area six hours after the contact, again with no result. Later, intelligence reports speculated on the involvement of Indonesian military personnel in the attempt to cut off and destroy the Australian reconnaissance patrol, whilst conjecture as to the identity of the pro-Indonesian militias and the source of their arms and training increased in the media. Oddy was subsequently awarded the Medal for Gallantry (MG) for his leadership during the fighting.
- Coulthard-Clark 2001, p. 296.
- Horner 2002, p. 506.
- Horner 2002, pp. 506–507.
- Horner 2002, pp. 507–508.
- Horner 2002, p. 508.
- Farrell 2000, pp. 56–57.
- Lague 2000, p. 1.
- Coulthard-Clark, Chris (2001). The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles (Second ed.). Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin. ISBN 1-86508-634-7.
- Farrell, John (2000). Peace Makers: INTERFETs Liberation of East Timor. Rocklea: Fullbore. ISBN 0-646-39424-X.
- Horner, David (2002). SAS: Phantoms of War (Second ed.). Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin. ISBN 1-86508-647-9.
- Lague, David (2000-03-25). "Gallantry Award For Sergeant Who Led Bloody Timor Battle". The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney: Fairfax Media). Retrieved 2009-07-08.