Operations in East Timor: Experiences of the Australian 3d Infantry Brigade Intelligence Officer

Operations in East Timor: Experiences of the Australian 3d Infantry Brigade Intelligence Officer

Major John C. Blaxland

The views expressed in this article are Those of the author and may not reflect the official policy or position of Headquarters, 3d Brigade, the Australian Army, or the Australian Defence Force.

A version of this article also appeared in The Australian Army Journal, Edition 1/2000

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles….The skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without fighting.

Sun Tzu

As the first Australian brigade intelligence officer to deploy with his brigade headquarters since the 1st Australian Task Force deployed to South Vietnam in 1966, I feel a certain responsibility to record the experience. In this paper, I will provide some background on the operation, discuss the S2 cell’s composition, and describe the working relationships within the cell. I will also discuss the relationships with the various attached elements allocated to the Brigade in East Timor. These units’ missions included the management of brigade-level information operations (10), reconnaissance, surveillance, and intelligence (RSI). (1)


The Australian Defence Force’s (ADF’s) Brisbane-based Deployable Joint Force Headquarters (DJFHQ), then commanded by Major General Peter Cosgrove, founded the Headquarters (HQ), International Force in East Timor (HQ INTERFET). The main combat-force component to deploy to East Timor, subordinate to HQ INTERFET, was the ADF’s Ready Deployment Force, incorporating Townsville’s 3d Infantry Brigade as the basis for the Land Component INTERFET. This force deployed by air and sea to secure Dili on 20 September 1999. As soon as sufficient forces moved into East Timor, the Brigade redeployed by air, land, and sea to the border with West Timor in early October. Our mission became securing the border area and preventing further militia activity. At this point, the Brigade, renamed WESTFOR, became the western force of INTERFET with headquarters in the town of Suai. It remained there until the transition to the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET) took over in February 2000 and released the Brigade to return to Australia.

Brigade Composition in East Timor

Figure 1 shows the normal organic and augmented composition of the Brigade. The 3d Infantry Brigade never had its own intelligence company, electronic warfare (EW) squadron, or topographical detachment. Higher headquarters would allocate the necessary attachments from the 1st Intelligence Company, the 1st Topographical Survey Squadron, and the 7th Signal Regiment when the need arose. We practiced this procedure on command post exercises and on combined field exercises such as Tandem Thrust 97 and Swift Eagle 98.

For the second phase of the operation in East Timor, one infantry battalion remained in Townsville. The DJFHQ supplemented the Brigade with–

* A parachute infantry battalion.

* A company of British Ghurkas.

* The 1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment.

* A Canadian infantry company group.

* An Irish reconnaissance platoon.

* A Fijian infantry company.

Preliminary Planning

In late 1998, the Brigade Commander, Brigadier Peter Leahy, directed the Brigade to do preparatory work on contingencies in East Timor for 1999. The 3d Brigade completed a rudimentary intelligence preparation of the battlespace (IPB) by early October 1998. The S2 cell (see Figure 2) produced a product that clearly and graphically explained the terrain, culture, history, and current situation in East Timor and was suitable for the tactical-level planners.

As we neared our departure date, the S2 cell condensed the planning process. We gained the following assets:

* A plans officer (captain), who doubled as a linguist.

* An RSI coordinator and collection manager (lieutenant).

* Detachments from the 7th Signals Regiment, the 1st Intelligence Company, and the 1st Topographical Survey Squadron.

The 3d Infantry Brigade uses battlefield operating systems (BOSs) for planning purposes. The S2 was responsible for coordinating the 10 BOS as well as the RSI BOS, which encompasses much more than just the terrain study and the intelligence estimate.

S2 RSI Supervision

The RSI planning process is a collection plan, integrating priority intelligence requirements (PIR) and converting them into requests for information (RFIs). (3) The S2 cell develops these in conjunction with a list of named areas of interest (NAIs) that spring from the initial IPB work. The cell uses the terrain study and intelligence estimate from the IPB process to determine the NAI locations and the information gaps, which form the basis for the RFIs. The S2 cell then uses the surveillance matrix to task assigned units with relevant NAIs and REIs.

Before deploying to East Timor, the S2 cell completed an RSI plan to cover the primary NAIs and RFIs identified for the Dili area. (4) The main units involved were the 162d Reconnaissance Squadron and the infantry battalions. They completed daily tasking during the first few weeks while operating in Dili, as patrols could report frequently. The Brigade did not use B Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, for reconnaissance in the initial phases of the operation because they were providing armored personnel carrier (APC) mobility support to other units. C Squadron, 2d Cavalry Regiment worked in the APC role except for a brief period when they had their own area of operations. Once the Brigade deployed to the area along the border with West Timor, it made sense to alter the daily tasking program, as patrols would go out for several days at a time. The S2 cell provided the infantry battalions with broad parameters for their RFIs and NAIs. Given the operational constraints, the infantry battalions ran their own patrol programs and reported to the Brigade in accordance with the agreed-upon priorities.

The relationship between the S2 and the 162d Reconnaissance Squadron differed because the S2 tasked this squadron daily throughout the entire operation. As soon as the helicopters were in-theatre and serviceable, they began monitoring NAIs and responding to on-call tasking. The S2 assigned both day and night missions, particularly during the first two weeks. In Dili, for instance, they monitored the town from the air at night, spotting and reporting on suspicious activity. This had the effect of intimidating troublemakers in town, boosting the confidence of the force, and significantly adding to the Brigade’s situational awareness. They often provided the only imagery available to the Brigade, particularly in the first weeks while the higher echelon support systems were setting up. Eventually, other reconnaissance platforms began delivering crystal-clear vertical imagery of villages, hamlets, roads, and border-crossing points.

S2 IO Supervision

IO is part of the S2 cell’s portfolio because there are close links between IPB and the important IO area of operational security (OPSEC), psychological operations (PSYOP), EW, and deception. These all spring directly from a sound IPB or terrain study and intelligence estimate, including a counterintelligence (CI) estimate. During the operation, as the 3d Brigade Headquarters had so few principal staff members, it was only natural that the S2 took charge of these issues for the S3 and the Commander. Several attachments from outside the Brigade, including the EW Liaison Officer, the PSYOP Liaison Officer (LNO), the Human Intelligence (HUMINT) Control Officer (HCO), and a topographical detachment aided the S2 in this process. This helped ensure that a consistent and coordinated 10 effort would serve to complement the operation of the IO BOS.

At HQ INTERFET, a separate cell-unique to this operation and set apart from the Combined Intelligence (C2) cell–directed IO matters. The Brigade S2 cell conducted liaison between the Battalion S2 cell and C2 cell on a regular basis. In conjunction with the assigned specialist staff, the S2 cell was prepared to handle the IPB while simultaneously handling the other RSI and IO issues.

S2 Relationships with Supplementary Elements

S2 Relationship with 1st Intelligence Company. On predeployment exercises, the PSYOP LNO, 1st Intelligence Company, often helped develop the PSYOP plan with appropriate themes, target audiences, essential messages, and modes of delivery. This preparatory work enabled the S2 cell to tie in PSYOP support during the early stages of the operation in East Timor. Once the Brigade deployed, the PSYOP LNO coordinated the Brigade requirements and effectively pre-positioned assets for the distribution of leaflets and newsletters, as well as loudspeakers for broadcasts.

While the PSYOP LNO worked for the Brigade, the 1st intelligence Company’s PSYOP Platoon was in Dili, focusing on broader tasks and working with the IO cell rather than the C2 cell. The 3d Brigade had to work carefully to accommodate its specific requirements among a series of competing priorities.

The HCO–also detached from the 1st Intelligence Company in Dili–played a significant role in coordinating the field intelligence (FI) reporting. For most of the time, each battalion received a four-person FI detachment (some included women) that worked directly with the infantry battalion through the battalion S2. The S2 then reported the relevant information gathered by the FI detachment. The FI detachments also sent reports directly to the HCO, providing additional detail to complement their original reports and identifying their sources.

The FI detachments often had to work in one-and two-person teams, instead of the ideal four-person teams, due to the limited number of soldiers available. To their credit, they demonstrated their ability to succeed, given the necessary infantry protection and a sufficiently benign environment. However, the lack of a controller at battalion level and the lack of integral, secure communications significantly constrained their ability to report timely and detailed information. Furthermore, the shortage of adequately trained linguists significantly hindered their ability to collect information. Finally, the large collection areas forced them to move continually, leaving inadequate time to develop sources. Despite these difficult limitations, the FI teams accomplished their mission. In fact, the infantry battalions requested additional FI support.

S2 Relationship with 72d EW Squadron. Once the Brigade deployed to East Timor, the Squadron commander (Officer Commanding [OC]) acted as the Formation EW Officer, or FEWO. The OC and Operations Officer coordinated the technical advice, while EW analysts provided timely and valuable reports, which added to the Brigade’s uhderstanding of the situation.

Relationship with 1st Topographical Survey Squadron. Another asset that proved its worth was the detachment from the 1st Topographical Survey Squadron, lead by a lieutenant. He and his team of geomatic technicians greatly contributed to our team. Working with new equipment, they performed tirelessly, both before the deployment and throughout the operation. They created terrain visualization and analysis products ranging from standard map enlargements to a fly-through of three-dimensional maps. One of their most useful products was the Dili township fly-through, incorporating three-dimensional elevation data and high-resolution imagery. All levels of the Brigade appreciated the products that the 1st Topographical Survey Squadron detachment created.

S2 Communication with Subordinate Battalion S2 Staffs. The limitations of the communications network from the Brigade Headquarters to the subordinate units caused great frustrations within the Brigade. The 103d Signals Squadron worked hard to ensure the communications links were working. However, their systems provided only limited communications links down to subordinate units. For example, during the first week in Dili, S2s had to pass situation reports and intelligence summaries over the command radio net, which threatened to clog the net. The 103d Signals Squadron had to establish a dispatch rider service as quickly as possible. Through hard work, the squadron eventually provided a secure message system down to the battalions.

S2 Relations with Other Subordinate S2 Staffs. Working with subordinate unit S2 staffs from the United Kingdom (UK), Australia, and New Zealand gave the S2 cell an ideal opportunity to compare its methods and standards with those of these other nations. The UK Intelligence Officer with the Ghurkas demonstrated that British S2 formats and procedures were compatible with those of the Australian 3d Brigade. The New Zealand Infantry Battalion S2 procedures were also compatible, effectively validating the combined training conducted with the 3d Brigade in the past.

The most noticeable differences occurred between the Australian Battalion S2s. The differences related directly to different levels of experience and training. We learned that the S2 staff should have completed regimental training in one of the combat arms. (5)

S2 Relationship with HQ INTERFET


Several factors affected the way Headquarters, 3d Brigade, related to HQ INTERFET. These included the different cell responsibilities, the multinational nature of HQ INTERFET, and the fact that many on the staff of HQ INTERFET were augmentees who had not worked as part of the DJFHQ before the operation. The head of the intelligence cell (or C2) of HQ INTERFET, a Lieutenant Colonel, also controlled a wide range of intelligence organisations, including the 1st Intelligence Company (incorporating PSYOP, HUMINT, Fl, and CI teams), attached U.S. teams, and other international allied staff working with HQ INTERFET. This meant that the C2 cell had to establish and operate a multinational intelligence system, a feat never before attempted on such a scale by an Australianled headquarters. Providing intelligence support to a wide range of national components while supporting subordinate units and providing the intelligence advice to the force commander and to higher authorities was quite a task. The challenging circumstances meant that C2 INTERFET had difficulty providing comprehensive and timely collection management and forward-looking analysis support, particularly in the first few weeks of the operation.

Operations at brigade level, including the RSI, 10, and topographical systems, worked well. Moreover, the allocation of responsibility for RSI and 10 matters appeared to fit well within the confines of the S2’s domain, as long as the S3 and commander provided clear guidance and actively participated. The cell composition provided appropriate support for their assigned tasks.

The preliminary planning period demonstrated the value of forward-looking intelligence assessments and estimates at the tactical level. The work of the various RSI assets demonstrated that, despite the limited “eyes and ears” available to the Brigade, we could establish a significant degree of situational awareness with effective coordination of the RSI collection effort. The IO components demonstrated the clear need for such assets to be readily available for the tactical ground forces commander to use. This intelligence perspective taught us an important lesson: it is very difficult to lead and coordinate a multinational force and maintain its situational awareness, while making the most of specialist and sensitive collection assets.

Overall, it is fair to say that the tactical-level intelligence system proved equal to its complex tasking in East Timor. The fact that the operation under the INTERFET mandate went so well was a direct consequence of the Brigade’s training as it deploys.

My successor as S2, Major Dan Weadon, who took over in early December 1999, and the 83. Major Marcus Fielding, have kindly contributed their comments to this article.

Major John Blaxland left the Australian Army’s 3d Brigade in December 1999. His previous publications include Organising an Army: The Australian Experience 1957 to 1965, SDSC, ANU, Canberra, 1989; and Swift and Sure: A History of the Royal Australian Corps of Signals 1947 to 1972, Signals Committee, Melbourne, 1999. He is currently working as an Exchange Officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency in Washington, D.C. Readers can contact him via E-mail at John blaxland@hotmail.com.


(1.) we generally consider IO to incorporate aspects of psychological operations (PSYOP), electronic warfare (EW), operations security (OPSEC), deception, and–in wartime–destruction. At the tactical level, we also call IO “command and control warfare” or “[C.sup.2]W” The Australian term “RSI” is equivalent to the U.S. term “ISR”.

(2.) Map courtesy of www.theodora.com. Map used with permission.

(3.) The Australian term “requests for information” is equivalent to the U.S. term “specific orders and requests” (SOR).

(4.) we did not call it a Surveillance and Target Acquisition Plan or STAP because target acquisition was not the highest priority.

(5.) Infantry (and Armour) units in Australia have a preference for corps-coded intelligence, signal, and transport officers. When given the choice of a poor to “middling” non-infantry officer, or a good infantry officer with training, the choice is clear.

[Figure 2 omitted]

Figure 1. Normal Composition of the 3d Infantry Brigade.

RELATED ARTICLE: The 3d Infantry Brigade normally comprises:

* Two light infantry battalions.

* Combat engineer regiment.

* Light artillery field regiment.

* Logistics battalion.

* Armored personnel carrier (APC) squadron.

* Signals squadron.

* Headquarters company.

Common augmentation consisted of-

* A light reconnaissance helicopter squadron.

* Blackhawk helicopters from the 5th Aviation Regiment collocated in Townsville.

Figure 1. Normal Composition of the 3d Infantry Brigade.

* Special Forces teams (if required).

COPYRIGHT 2001 U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School

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