Operational Response Group in Solomon Islands

Operational Response Group in Solomon Islands

Introduction

The experience of operations in Solomon Islands for the Australian Federal Police (AFP) has contributed to the creation of an Operational Response Group (ORG), as part of the expansion of the AFP’s International Deployment Group (IDG).

A smaller “Operational Response Team” (ORT) was originally deployed in Honiara under RAMSI in 2005, but the ORG was expanded to increase the IDG’s capacities for activities like riot control.

However the conduct and capacity of Australian police came under renewed scrutiny after the April 2006 riots in Honiara, which devastated parts of the capital city.

Government sources

Operations Response Team, Australian Federal Police Annual Report, 2004-05, p67

“During the reporting period it became apparent that the AFP needed to maintain a tactical capability in RAMSI, and that it would need such services in various forms. In January 2005 the AFP executive directed that such a capability be established and be known as the Operations Response Team (ORT). In January 2005 the ORT was created to maintain a tactical capability in RAMSI. Situations in which the ORT will be deployed include: 

    • tactical operations (high risk search warrants, arrests and searches)
    • public disorder situations
    • disaster victim identification (phase I)
    • bomb searching
    • searches in rural or jungle environments for missing or lost people
    • general policing duties.

“The ORT provides the AFP with an offshore capability to deliver these skills in a professional and efficient manner: At the end of the reporting period the first ORT unit was preparing for deployment to RAMSI. A second team had started its validation period (prior to final training) and a basic course was about to begin for internal AFP applicants.”

Operations Response Team, Australian Federal Police Annual Report, 2005-06, pp68-69

“As the provider of tactical policing services to lDG, the Operations Response Team deployed the first full tactical team into RAMSI on 7 July 2005. Since then, two more teams have been formed, making three teams available for operational deployment on a rotational basis. 

“The Operations Response Team tactical policing services include high-risk entry. high-risk vehicle intercepts, air and waterborne operations, counter-assault tasks, high- risk escort operations, remote rural-patrolling operations, crocodile control, proactive patrolling, remote and covert surveillance, prison-riot response and major civil-disorder interventions.

“Since inception, the Operations Response Team has participated in several high-level crisis resolutions, including:

    • response to the violent Rove prisoner riot in Honiara in the Solomon Islands in October 2005. which resulted in an AFP group citation for bravery
    • Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands water operations. resulting in the arrest of Hei Bokka and Walter Ronni in October and December 2005 for alleged multiple murders
    • assistance in quelling violence in the Honiara riots. Solomon Islands. April 2006.”

ORG Tactical Response Team, AFP website

“The Operational Response Group (ORG) Tactical Response Team maintains a presence in the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) and has done so since 2003. This also marked the first time that Australian police have deployed a complete tactical response team into an overseas mission.

“The nature of the RAMSI mission requires the deployment of a full team of tactical operators. The AFP’s Operational Response Team (ORT) currently maintains a permanent presence in Honiara, and a patrolling capability throughout the rest of the country.”

Commentary and analysis

Statement by NGO worker Luke Johnston in New Matilda, 12 September 2007

“[During the April 2006 riots in Honiara] these guys [the AFP’s Operational Response Group] came flying down the driveway at full speed, right towards the crowd. There were two or possibly three Land-cruisers’ full with all the kit: bullet proof vests, big shields, lots of weapons. The crowd just scattered. That was the first turning point. The second one was when they cleared the driveway, they started manhandling people. The first physical contact was made by the AFP officers. They weren’t brutal, but they were shoving and pushing, and that’s when people got cranky.

“The crowd were saying ‘what are you doing? Who do you think you are to come and push us around in our own country?’ mainly in Pijin — and that’s another thing, so few of the Australian police here actually have an understanding of Pijin, they couldn’t understand what the crowd was saying.

“Then they tried to bust the PM out. They rushed him out to the car under guard of riot squad, and that’s when the first stone came. The police began firing stuff, and that really set the crowd abuzz, because it sounds and looks like guns. They started freaking, shouting ‘you’re shooting us.’ They went mad, just hysterical, and they trashed every vehicle, and they ran down the hill and started burning things down. That made it so much worse, because they dispersed everybody. I mean they had a little crowd that was peaceful and in the end they turned them into this raging mob. The place was littered with canisters, so they used a lot of things.

“But then, knowing that this situation had blown up, they didn’t take control of a single bridge, a single intersection or anything. So I had to stand on my verandah for two nights with a crowbar with the whole town abandoned to these mobs, which just grew and grew, and watch as [the police] dealt with the situation from the air. They put the helicopter over the house and they were firing tear gas out of the helicopter.

“It wasn’t until early Friday morning when the [Australian Defence Force] moved in that the situation finally calmed down. The army is totally different — they’re cool-headed and professional, they don’t have these cowboy elements, and the people respect them.

“It looks to me like the police really stuffed up on this,’ says Johnston. ‘They gave control away — surely somebody should lose their job for that. But immediately [the PPF] spun it, saying: ‘it was a conspiracy, it was much bigger then we ever realised.’ It was a bunch of kids with rocks. I’m sorry, but there wasn’t a single weapon and they’ve got a multi-million dollar police force here. It doesn’t make sense to me. The minimum you would say is that it’s a bad example of incompetence. They really were negligent.”

AFP to raise armoured unit, Cameron Stewart, The Australian, 7 November 2007

“The Australian Federal Police plans to have its own fleet of armoured vehicles to send to hotspots around the globe by late next year. But the AFP denies the move will transform it into a paramilitary force, saying the new so-called “protected armoured response vehicles” will not be mounted with guns or other weapons. Instead the armoured fleet will be used to protect AFP officers from attacks while deployed on peacekeeping missions in areas of civil unrest such as the Solomon Islands and East Timor….

“[AFP spokesman says] ‘The fatal shooting of Officer Adam Dunning whilst on mobile patrol in the Solomon Islands and the injuries sustained by AFP officers during the Honiara riots demonstrate the inherent dangers involved in peacekeeping operations and capacity building.’

The AFP’s armoured vehicles will be used only for overseas operations and will not be used in Australia. The move follows the $500million plan announced last year by AFP commissioner Mick Keelty to double the AFP’s international force to about 1200 officers. The most likely destination for the armoured vehicles is the Solomon Islands, where 213 AFP officers are deployed to help keep civil order…. The armoured vehicles are likely to be used by the AFP’s new overseas anti-riot squad.”


See also:

International Deployment Group in the Pacific

Operational Response Group (ORG) in the Pacific