Touchdown in East Timor

On the 20th of September 1999 eight Royal Australian Air Force C-130 Hercules transport aircraft touched down at Komoro Airport, in the Indonesian province of East Timor. Aboard the aircraft were members of the 2nd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment (2RAR), part of an Australian-led, United Nations mandated mission to secure and stabilise East Timor known as the International Force East Timor (INTERFET).

East Timor had descended into chaos following the August 1999 referendum that saw the East Timorese vote overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia. Pro-Indonesian militias, assisted by elements of the Indonesian Army, began an increasingly violent campaign against the East Timorese – which led to the deployment of INTERFET.

Tom Richardson explores Australia’s important role at this momentous time in Timor Leste’s history.

Air mobility played a critical role in the Australian Army’s ability to move personnel and supplies rapidly around East Timor. The 5th Aviation Regiment was initially deployed to provide airlift and mobile fire support for ground troops, but their role evolved over time to include aeromedical evacuation capabilities as well as providing a rapid platform for the insertion and extraction of ready reaction forces.

To read more about Australia’s involvement in East Timor, purchase a copy of Issue 88 here.