Operation Quickstep – Tonga

Operation Quickstep – Tonga


The Australian Defence Force (ADF) deployed three warships and SAS troops off the coast of Fiji between October and December 2006, in a period of tension between the Government of Fiji and the Fiji Military Forces led by Commodore Voreqe “Frank” Bainimarama – a political crisis that culminated in a military coup on 6 December 2006.

The deployment of naval vessels and SAS troops, codenamed Operation Quickstep, ended in tragedy following during an exercise involving a Blackhawk helicopter carrying SAS troops. An accident during a landing on HMAS Kanimbla caused two deaths – the helicopter pilot and an SAS trooper.

Following major rioting in the capital of the neighbouring islands of the Kingdom of Tonga on 16 November 2006, Operation Quickstep was extended from the waters of Fiji to Tonga, as Australian and New Zealand troops and police were deployed in the aftermath of the destruction and arson of central Nuku’alofa.

The operation was effectively over by early 2007, but was only officially terminated in June 2008.

Government sources:

Operation Quickstep, Year Book of Australia 2008, Australian Bureau of Statistics

Operation Quickstep was the ADF response to the coup in Fiji and pro-democracy rioting in Tonga. Towards the end of October 2006, the Australian Government directed the ADF be prepared to conduct an evacuation of Australians and approved foreign nationals from Suva, if required. HMAS Kanimbla, with troops, helicopters and medical support personnel, departed Townsville on 2 November 2006 for Fiji. The ship remained outside Fijian territorial waters, and was joined there by HMAS Success and HMAS Newcastle. All ADF elements assigned to Operation Quickstep (Fiji) were withdrawn on 13 December 2006.

“In response to riots in the Tongan Capital on 16 November 2006, the ADF provided an element to the New Zealand-led force assisting the Tongan Defence Services restore law and order in Nuku’alofa. The ADF’s contribution was drawn primarily from the 1st Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment and included around 30 infantry soldiers and 20 logistic and command personnel. The ADF elements assigned to Operation Quickstep (Tonga) were withdrawn on 28 November 2006 after the Tongan Defence Service confirmed it could carry out its security function without further assistance.”

Testimony, Chief of the Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, 14 February 2007, pp8-9

Operation Quickstep was the ADF response to government direction to be prepared to conduct an evacuation of Australian and other foreign nationals from Suva in response to the deteriorating situation in Fiji towards the end of October 2006. HMAS ships Kanimbla, Success and Newcastle remained outside Fijian territorial waters for 45 days with an embarked evacuation assistance force. ….Concurrent with Operation Quickstep, the ADF also responded to a request for assistance from the government of Tonga. The ADF deployed approximately 50 people to Tonga as part of the New Zealand-led task force assisting the Tongan Defence Services to maintain law and order in their capital. We also evacuated a small number of Australian and other approved nationals. Interestingly, this was the fifth evacuation operation mounted by the ADF in a very busy year.”

Department of Defence responses to questions on notice, Senate inquiry into Australia’s involvement in peacekeeping operations, July 2007

“Headquarters joint operations command saw a need to formalise personnel liaison and exchange requirements between Defence, the AFP, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Emergency management Australia. This issue is relatively new, arising from Operation Quickstep (Fiji and Tonga) and is still a work in progress. However each organisation has identified or embedded liaison and planning officers to work with other organisations.”

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