ADF deployment to Tonga, 2006

ADF deployment to Tonga, 2006


In November 2006, following riots in the Tongan capital Nuku’alofa, the ADF deployed 50 personnel to Tonga, to support a New Zealand-led Joint Task Force to restore order. The ADF troops were accompanied by 34 Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers, under Operation Tokini.

Government sources

ADF support to Tonga – update, Department of Defence media release 308/06, 19 November 2006.

“Australian Defence Force personnel arrived in Tonga at 7.10 pm local time (5.10pm AEST) yesterday and commenced their mission as part of the New Zealand led combined military force to support the Tongan Security Forces in stabilising the situation….The contingent of around 50 ADF personnel has linked up with their New Zealand Defence Force colleagues who are providing security to the Fau’amotu International Airport.  Today planning will occur with the Tongan Security Forces to confirm the way ahead in returning normalcy to Nuku’alofa.”

ADF support to Tonga – update, Department of Defence media release 309/06, 20 November 2006.

“Today, elements of the ADF contingent are conducting joint patrols with Tongan Defence Service personnel in Nuku’alofa.  Other Australian personnel are assisting with security at the airport. HMAS Newcastle’s Seahawk helicopter will conduct a resupply flight into Fau’amotu International Airport later today.  A Royal Australian Air Force C-130-J Hercules aircraft departed Amberley this morning to deliver additional rations, water and general stores to our deployed personnel.”

ADF support to Tonga – update, Department of Defence media release 310/06, 21 November 2006

“The Commander of the Australian Contingent, Major James Hammett praised the Tongan Security Forces who remain in control of the security situation. ‘The Tongan Defence Services and the Tongan Police have been doing a magnificent job,’ Major Hammett said.

“The ADF contingent continues to provide support to the Tongan Defence Service personnel in Nuku’alofa while other Australian personnel assist with security at the Fau’amotu International Airport.”

Triumph in Tonga, Captain Al Green, Army News, Volume 11, No. 58, 14 December 2006

“1RAR’s Ready Company Group completed another successful mission when it returned to Townsville on November 30 from its third overseas deployment for 2006 after helping to restore calm in Tonga. At the heart of the successful execution, according to Australian force commander Maj Jim Hammett, were proven systems and mechanisms from the strategic through to the tactical side of operations…..

“The operation’s catalyst was a request from the Tongan Government for ADF assistance. The operation called for a stabilising effort in direct support of the Tonga Defence Services: a simple aim perhaps, but complex in detailed planning and execution.…..The Aussies initially provided a quick reaction force to deal with any flare-ups. The next task involved joint patrolling of exclusion zones and key point security.”

Australian troops return home from Tonga, Minister for Defence Brendan Nelson  media release 153/06, 30 November 2006.

“Australian personnel deployed to Tonga will return to Townsville today.  The situation in Tonga has now stabilised and the Tongan Security Forces can control security without Australian military support. On 18 November around 50 ADF personnel were deployed to Tonga where they served with the New Zealand led combined military force that has supported the Tongan Security Forces in stabilising the situation. The joint force provided security at the Fau’amotu International Airport before moving some elements to support the Tongan Defence Service personnel in Nuku’alofa.”

Australian soldiers complete mission in Tonga, return home, Government of Tonga media release, 1 December 2006

“The Prime Minister, the Hon. Dr. Feleti Sevele, was at Fua’amotu airport yesterday to farewell the fifty two men from the Australian Defence services who have completed their mission in Tonga, and have now returned home to Australia…..

“The arrival of Australian and New Zealand forces helped to alleviate the burden of duty placed on an adequate, but quickly overextended Tongan security force, during and after the tragic events of 16 November. The contingents from our neighbouring partners also brought much needed forensic and investigative tools and expertise that would be of great assistance with bringing the perpetrators to justice…..

In an interview on local television, Major Hemmet [sic], the leader of the Australian forces in Tonga, said that when they arrived they found a country at peace, but saw the need for their presence only when they toured the devastation in downtown Nuku’alofa. The Major said he felt that the people welcomed them in Tonga, and Tongans showed their appreciation by bringing food to the various checkpoints where they performed sentry duties. It is widely acknowledged that Tonga’s own Defence Forces were ready to restore law and order, but the timely infusion of professional reinforcement from the Australian and New Zealand Defence Services, was a most reassuring development for all the people of the country.”

Commentary and analysis

Pacific democracy: dilemmas of intervention, Jon Fraenkel, Open Democracy, 28 November 2006

“Australian and New Zealand troops descended on riot-torn Tonga on 18 November 2006, after demonstrators burned down most of the business district in the capital, Nuku’alofa. The deployment represents the latest stepping up in Antipodean intervention along the southwest Pacific “arc of instability”. The regional formula implanted in many minds in recent years – local riots, security breakdowns, government crises, coup fears – appears to lend itself naturally to a call for such intervention as the most appropriate solvent for the Pacific Islands’ internal political tensions. But is it?”

Howard’s doctrine, Shahar Hameiri, On line opinion, 28 November 2006

“The dispatching of Australian troops and Federal Police officers to the Kingdom of Tonga demonstrates just how much Australian foreign policy in the Pacific has changed in recent years. Australian Prime Minister John Howard called the Tonga mission an “act of brotherly generosity”, but in the not-so-distant past Australia had been very reluctant to commit its security forces to tackle the domestic security problems of its Pacific neighbours…..

“…..What the pro-democracy riots in Tonga represent, more than anything else, is the dissatisfaction of many Tongans with the market-friendly policies pursued by the late monarch Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, which have led to even greater concentration of wealth. The Tongan Government’s reputation has also suffered in recent years as a result of a series of shady and unsuccessful investments and an unpopular clamp-down on media freedom in 2003. Combine this with a relatively well-educated population and the picture is not so much that of lawlessness but of political discontent. As with the April riots in Honiara, we once again see disaffection turn into racism, with Chinese shop-owners targeted by rioters.

“The Australian Government, through its aid program, has attempted to shore up the very same market-friendly reforms that partly led to the recent riots. Furthermore, it is clear that there is no substitute for the current undemocratic power structure if economic reforms are to be further embedded, considering the country’s very uneven wealth distribution. Ironically, then, one arm of government was sent to contain a conflict that emerged in part due to policies promoted by another arm of government. Of course, Australian aid is only a fraction of the sum-total received by Tonga each year, but the emphasis on state building for market-led development is common to all major donors. For as long as the fundamentals of the government’s development dogma remain unquestioned, Australian troops and police officers will continue to be deployed to Pacific states to put out spot-fires, without truly addressing the root of the problem.”

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