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Operation Astute

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Operation Astute
Part of 2006 East Timorese crisis

Australian soldiers supporting the Dili Fire Service in June 2006
Date25 May 2006 – 25 May 2013
Result Stabilisation of East Timor
 New Zealand
 East Timor (government troops)
 United Nations soldiers
Renegade elements of the FDTL
Commanders and leaders
Bill Sowry
Mick Mumford
Ismeth Nayan Ismail
Jorge Barradas
Taur Matan Ruak
Gastão Salsinha
Alfredo Reinado  
13,536 troops
372 police
9 ships
Casualties and losses
Unknown Unknown

Operation Astute was an Australian-led military deployment to East Timor to quell unrest and return stability in the 2006 East Timor crisis. It was headed by Brigadier Bill Sowry, and commenced on 25 May 2006 under the command of Brigadier Michael Slater. The operation was established at the request of East Timor's government, and continued under an understanding reached between Australia, East Timor, and the United Nations, with the United Nations Integrated Mission in East Timor supporting and helping to develop East Timor's police force. Other countries deploying soldiers to East Timor include Malaysia, New Zealand and East Timor's former colonial power Portugal, operating under independent command.

Initial tasks[edit]

The initial tasks of the operation were to:

  • Allow for the evacuation of foreigners.
  • Restore stability and confine conflict to secured areas.
  • Assess and locate the weapons possessed by conflicting groups.
  • Establish a safe environment for dialogue to resolve the crisis.


UH-1 Iroquois flying over Dili. The Cristo Rei of Dili can be seen in the background

A forward deployment of approximately 200, including a commando company from the 4th Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment & C Coy, 2nd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment, secured an entry point for follow-on forces centred on Dili Airport. The full deployment consisted of a battalion group of about 1,800 personnel drawn from the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment & 3rd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment and other Australian and New Zealand Army units. Evacuations were carried out by C-130 Hercules aircraft from the Royal Australian Air Force, using RAAF Base Darwin as a Forward Operating Base.[1]

Initial assets deployed included the guided-missile frigate HMAS Adelaide, the replenishment vessel HMAS Success and the amphibious landing/hospital ship HMAS Kanimbla. Landing ships HMAS Tobruk and HMAS Manoora were also sent to East Timor with follow-on forces.[2]

A New Zealand ISF soldier patrols Dili on polling day. Support for candidate Horta is displayed in background.

Operation Astute was established at the request of East Timor's government. Troops from former INTERFET nations including mostly from Malaysia, New Zealand and Portugal have augmented the Australian force. Prior to sending troops, each participating government negotiated a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the government of East Timor.[3]

Besides Australia, New Zealand and, for a time, the Malaysian Army forces began arriving on 26 May by air[1] and Portugal had also sent troops to East Timor. Initially, over 3,000 soldiers were deployed, but after the United Nations sent an international police mission (UNMIT) at the end of August 2006 and the situation calmed down, troop numbers were reduced. The ISF and UNMIT now jointly maintained law and order and helped rebuild the East Timorese security forces. An important task of both was also to ensure that the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2007 proceeded reasonably peacefully. Australia, however, insisted that the ISF remain under its leadership and not under UN leadership.

The ISF's attempt to capture the fugitive leader of the 2006 rebel soldiers, Alfredo Reinado, was unsuccessful. An attempted seizure in Same failed despite the deployment of an Australian special force and helicopters. Reinado was later killed in an assassination attempt on the East Timorese leadership on 11 February 2008.

In February 2008, following the attack, Australia initially increased its troops from 800 to 1000. By the end of October 2008, the ISF still consisted of a total of about 1000 men. Australia provided soldiers from the ANZAC Battle Group of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment from Townsville. In addition, there were units from the Army Aviation, Logistics, Military Police and Pioneers. In October 2009, the Australian contingent was down to 650 men.[4] New Zealand still provided 155 soldiers in December 2009. These included an Infantry Rifle Company attached to the ANZAC Battle Group and two Iroquois helicopters with 32 members of No 3 Squadron of the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

Handover ceremony to East Timor Authorities in 2012

In 2010, the force was reduced to 400 Australian and 75 New Zealand soldiers.[5] The rebel movement subsequently collapsed in the following weeks. Troops were gradually reduced due to the progress made in stabilising the country, and it was decided to withdraw foreign security forces after the 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections.[5]


May 2006[edit]

24 May
  • 21:59 (Canberra) Acting Prime Minister of Australia, Peter Costello, announced in a press conference that East Timor had requested Australia "send defence forces to East Timor to help in maintaining and re-establishing public order". Australia would send an advance party including the Vice Chief of Defence force to negotiate conditions of the deployment the following morning.[6]
25 May
  • 07:00 (Canberra) Prime Minister of Australia John Howard arrives back in Canberra from Dublin early, though not officially because of the East Timor crisis.
  • 12:30 (Darwin) A RAAF 34SQN Challenger 604 (VIP jet) was tasked to fly the Australian Vice Chief of Defence Force from Canberra to Dili via Darwin, to negotiate the rules of engagement of the Australian operation, and other conditions of deployment. However, on arrival in Darwin the Chief of the Defence Force ordered the aircraft to remain in Darwin, due to a dramatic increase in violence in Dili.
  • (Dili) RAAF 37SQN C130J Hercules aircraft arrive at Dili from Darwin with 130 commandos on board, together with 4 Australian Army Black Hawk helicopters. The Vice Chief of Defence Force was also on board the C130, after being unable to fly to Dili on the RAAF VIP jet. Dili Airport is now under Australian military control. However the VCDF is unable to leave the airport due to security concerns.
  • (Dili) HMAS Adelaide arrives in Dili Harbour.
  • 18:43 (Canberra) Prime Minister John Howard announces in a press conference that the deployment will "go ahead without any conditionality" and that 1300 troops would be in place "in a very short order", despite a failure to negotiate conditions of the deployment with the East Timorese Government. He explains waiting for signatures could lead to significant further bloodshed and the East Timorese Government is desperate for Australian troops to arrive.[7]
  • (Darwin) The Royal Australian Air Force commence transporting troops to Dili. A 33SQN Boeing 707 ferries troops between Townsville and Darwin, whilst 36SQN C-130Hs and 37SQN C-130Js transport troops and supplies between Darwin and Dili. The flights also commence evacuations of civilians on the return legs. The flights continue throughout the night and the following day to form an air bridge between Darwin and Dili.
26 May
  • (Dili) Malaysian Army soldiers begin arrive in Dili. RAAF aircraft continue to transport troops and equipment.
  • United States Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team platoon arrives in Dili to protect the US Embassy.
27 May
29 May
Australian ISF troops land in Comoro (2006)
  • The initial deployment of Australian soldiers is completed.
  • A platoon of 42 New Zealand soldiers arrives in Dili to secure the New Zealand embassy.
31 May
ISF soldier provides security to UNOTIL compound
  • Delta Company, 2/1 Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment of 123 New Zealand soldiers arrives in Dili.

June 2006[edit]

2 June
3 June
7 June
16 June
  • Rebel Timorese soldiers begin handing their weapons over to Australian troops.[8]
27 June
ANZAC Vehicle Check Point (VCP) near Hera, a few kilometres east of Dili.
  • It is announced that a New Zealand soldier fired a warning shot during the week of 18–24 June. This is apparently the first shot fired during the intervention.[9]

July 2006[edit]

1 July
  • 50 soldiers from 2/1 RNZIR and other units fly to Timor Leste to replace members of the initial New Zealand force.[10]
18 July
  • Australian Prime Minister John Howard visits Timor Leste. During his visit he announced that the Australian force in the country will be gradually reduced.[11]
19 July
  • HMAS Kanimbla departs Timor Leste for Australia carrying 250 soldiers and four S-70A Blackhawk helicopters.[12]

August 2006[edit]

3 August
  • The Australian Government announces that the ADF has commenced a gradual drawdown of forces in Timor Leste due to the improving security situation. An infantry company, 23 armoured personnel carriers and support personnel are scheduled to depart Timor Leste over the next few weeks.[13]
7 August
14 August
27 August
28 August
  • It is announced that 44 New Zealand military personnel will return home from Timor Leste on 31 August.[16]

September 2006[edit]

7 September
  • It is announced that a rifle company from 1 RAR will be deployed to Timor Leste by 9 September to reinforce the Australian-led force following Alfredo Reinado's escape from prison on 30 August.[17]
19 September

October 2006[edit]

26 October
  • Brigadier Mal Rerden takes command of Joint Task Force 631, replacing Brigadier Mick Slater.

December 2006[edit]

17 December
  • Protests against UN troops intensify after they are accused of being responsible for the killing of a rebel gang member during factional clashes.

January 2007[edit]

26 January

March 2007[edit]

4 March
  • After cornering Reinado at a compound in Same, Australian Special Forces enter the town and conduct an assault. Reinado evades capture but five of his men are killed in the Battle of Same. The Timor Leste government subsequently called off the manhunt, preferring to pursue a dialogue with the rebels instead.

May 2007[edit]

9 May
  • Australian forces successfully supervise round two elections, with no reports of violence.[20]
10 May
  • An unmanned Australian spy plane on operations over East Timor crashes into a house in the densely populated eastern suburb of Becora in Dili. Military helicopters were quickly sent to locate the wreckage, and an investigation was scheduled to begin the next day into whether the crash was due to technical failure or operator error.[21]

August 2007[edit]

2 August
  • Brigadier John Hutcheson takes over command from Brigadier Mal Rerden.[22]

January 2008[edit]

31 January
Joint New Zealand - Australian ISF projecting air power in the village of Aileu
  • Brigadier James Baker takes over command from Brigadier John Hutcheson.[23]

July 2008[edit]

Brigadier Mark Holmes
31 July
  • Brigadier Mark Holmes takes over command.[24]

January 2009[edit]

16 January
  • Brigadier Bill Sowry takes over command from Brigadier Mark Holmes.[25]

Military units involved[edit]

Operation Astute is an Australian military operation. While the Malaysian and New Zealand contingents operate under overall Australian command, the Portuguese contingent operates under Portuguese national command.[26] The initial Australian units deployed as part of the operation fell under the operational command of Brigadier Michael Slater, the commander of the Australian 3rd Brigade. The major unit involved in land operations was the 3rd Battalion under its commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Mick Mumford. This force was replaced in early September 2006 by a battalion group based around the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment designated the ANZAC Battle Group.[27]


Australian Army[edit]

Australian ISF equipment and tactic demonstration to the PNTL
Australian ISF soldiers in Dili on bike patrol (2009)

Australia currently has approximately 404 personnel deployed to Timor-Leste, the majority of whom are formed into the ANZAC Battle Group, named due to the presence of a rifle company from the New Zealand Army integrated in its structure.

The initial Australian Army force consisted of:

Royal Australian Navy[edit]

The Royal Australian Navy force committed to Operation Astute is apparently the largest amphibious task force in the Navy's history.[33]

Royal Australian Air Force[edit]

33SQN are assisting the operation by transporting troops from RAAF Base Townsville to RAAF Base Darwin, however only 36SQN and 37SQN have been flying from Darwin to Dili.


Malaysian Army[edit]

Royal Malaysian Navy[edit]

Royal Malaysia Police[edit]

The Malaysian Government currently anticipates replacing the Malaysian military force with Pasukan Gerakan Khas and General Operations Force operators of the Royal Malaysia Police at the end of July.[37]

New Zealand[edit]

New Zealander ISF Soldiers welcoming the arriving personnel with a traditional Māori Powhiri (welcome ceremony) on Thursday, 03 November 2011.
Honouring of New Zealand ISF soldiers by President Ramos-Horta (2011)

New Zealand Army[edit]

Royal New Zealand Air Force[edit]

Royal New Zealand Navy[edit]


While the Portuguese forces deployed to East Timor are not operating under Australian command, they are acting in co-operation with the Australian, Malaysian and New Zealand forces which are under Australian command.[26]

United States[edit]

Australian soldiers disembark from a USAF C-17 at RAAF Base Richmond on 28 May 2006

The two United States aircraft flew transport flights between Australian air bases (mainly RAAF Base Townsville and RAAF Base Darwin) and were not deployed to East Timor. The aircraft did, however, visit the Solomon Islands in order pick up Australian equipment and personnel.[39] The USAF force completed its mission on 3 June.[40]

In addition, a platoon of the United States Marine Corps Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team was flown into Dili by a United States Navy C-40 Clipper on 26 May to secure the US embassy in Dili.[41] This platoon does not appear to have fallen under Australian command as part of Operation Astute.


The cost of Operation Astute has represented the third largest operation expenditure between 2006 and 2008, and the second largest from 2009. Below is the yearly expenditure on Operation Astute of the Australian Defence Force.

Year 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Cost (AUD$ million) $107.7[42] $169.1[43] $213.8[43] $151.1[44] $170[44] $160.2[45] $89[46]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Troops pour into Dili". ABC News. 26 May 2006. Retrieved 27 March 2023.
  2. ^ "Dili calmer but still dangerous, Houston says". ABC News. 26 May 2006. Retrieved 27 March 2023.
  3. ^ "Status of Forces Agreements, May 2006". laohamutuk.org. Retrieved 27 March 2023.
  4. ^ Everingham, Sara (24 October 2009). "East Timor discusses future role of Australian soldiers". ABC Radio Australia. Archived from the original on 5 January 2016. Retrieved 13 July 2023 – via Archive.org.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  5. ^ a b Darwin, Lindsay Murdoch (23 December 2010). "East Timor wants Diggers to leave". The Age. Retrieved 13 July 2023.
  6. ^ East Timor – Press Conference, Parliament House, The Commonwealth Treasurer, 24 May 2006
  7. ^ John Howard holds press conference on East Timor engagement, ABC News Online, 25 May 2006
  8. ^ Barker, Anne (16 June 2006). "E Timorese rebels surrender weapons". ABC News. Retrieved 27 March 2023.
  9. ^ Goff, Phil (28 June 2006). "Warning Shot Fired in Timor-Leste". The Beehive. Retrieved 27 March 2023.
  10. ^ More New Zealand Troops for Timor New Zealand Defence Force press release. 29 June 2006.
  11. ^ "Troops not leaving Dili yet, says Howard". ABC News. 18 July 2006. Archived from the original on 21 January 2008. Retrieved 27 March 2023.
  12. ^ Montlake, Simon (16 June 2006). "East Timor rebels hand over weapons". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 27 March 2023.
  13. ^ Drawdown of Timor Deployment Starts. Australian Department of Defence media release. 3 August 2006.
  14. ^ Returning troops praised. Townsville Bulletin. 8 August 2006
  15. ^ Emotional welcome for troops. Townsville Bulletin. 28 August 2006
  16. ^ NZDF Troops to Return from Timor Archived 9 October 2006 at the Wayback Machine. New Zealand Defence Force press release. 28 August 2006
  17. ^ Deployment of Troops to Timor Leste. Australian Department of Defence media release. 7 September 2006.
  18. ^ Battle Group Faithful Returns from Timor-Leste. Australian Department of Defence media release. 19 September 2006.
  19. ^ Memorandum of Understanding between the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, the United Nations, and Australia on the provision of assistance to the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, 26 January 2007.
  20. ^ "All quiet in Timor-Leste presidential vote", United Press International, 9 May 2007
  21. ^ "Australian spy plane crashes into Timorese home", News.com.au, 10 May 2007.
  22. ^ "New commander takes over in East Timor", The West, 2 August 2007.
  23. ^ Change of command in Timor-Leste Archived 20 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine, Hon. Joel Fitzgibbon MP, Australian Minister for Defence, 29 January 2008.
  24. ^ Operation ASTUTE: Brigadier Mark Holmes, MVO: Commander International Stabilisation Force (CISF), East Timor, Australian Government Department of Defence.
  25. ^ Change of command in Australian East Timor mission, media release, Australian Government Department of Defence, 19 January 2009.
  26. ^ a b Portuguese military land in East Timor. Wikinews. 4 June 2006.
  27. ^ Cpl Mike McSweeney 6 RAR off to Timor. Army News. 7 September 2006.
  28. ^ Australian Department of Defence Operation Astute. Retrieved 31 March 2007 and Capt Al Green '1RAR spread far and wide' in Army News Edition 1162, 22 March 2007
  29. ^ John Hunter Farrell, 'Dili Madness. The ANZAC Intervention in Timor Leste' in Australian and NZ Defender. No. 55 Spring 2006. Page 34.
  30. ^ Delivering the goods. Army. 13 July 2006.
  31. ^ Making Most of Flying Time. Army News. 27 July 2006.
  32. ^ Restoring calm and stability. Defence Magazine. June 2006.
  33. ^ Troubled Waters. Navy News. 1 June 2006.
  34. ^ John Hunter Farrell, 'Dili Madness. The ANZAC Intervention in Timor Leste' in Australian and NZ Defender No. 55 Spring 2006. Page 38.
  35. ^ Malaysia Sends 209 Soldiers To Help Quell Unrest In Timor Leste Archived 4 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine. Bernama. 26 May 2006.
  36. ^ Malcon bantu perdamaian Timor Leste Archived 30 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine Utusan Online.
  37. ^ M'sian Police To Take Over From M'sian Troops In Timor Leste Archived 29 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine Bernama. 30 June 2006
  38. ^ Timor-Leste Archived 4 May 2012 at the Wayback Machine. New Zealand Defence Force. 29 May 2006.
  39. ^ Loadmasters help reposition Australian Defense Forces. Air Force Print News. 30 May 2006.
  40. ^ Isle jets move aid for E. Timor Archived 25 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Star Bulletin. 8 June 2006.
  41. ^ FAST Platoon to Provide Security at U.S. Embassy Dili Archived 15 June 2006 at the Wayback Machine. United States Pacific Command. 26 May 2006.
  42. ^ http://www.defence.gov.au/budget/07-08/pbs/2007-2008_Defence_PBS_03_s1_ch2.pdf Page 23
  43. ^ a b "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 February 2014. Retrieved 9 February 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  44. ^ a b "Department of Defence Ministers". 5 September 2021.
  45. ^ "Australian Defence Force (ADF) operations".
  46. ^ "Defence Ministers » Minister for Defence – Budget 2012-13 Defence Operations Funding". Archived from the original on 21 October 2013. Retrieved 11 November 2013.

External links[edit]