5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment - History - Iraq

Iraq

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 saw not only the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime by coalition forces in a three week campaign but also the beginning of a violent insurgency and, in time, a Sunni-Shia civil war and widespread communal violence. In 2005, amidst much debate about the success or otherwise of coalition operations to stabilise Iraq, the Australian Government announced that it would deploy a battle group to southern Iraq, filling a gap that would have otherwise been created by the withdrawal of a Dutch unit. Initially known as the Al Muthanna Task Group (AMTG) this combined arms organisation was officially tasked with providing security to the Japanese Iraq Reconstruction Support Group (JIRSG) undertaking humanitarian assistance and conducting construction work in Al Muthanna. On 13 July 2006 Al Muthanna became the first Governate to transition to what the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) called 'Provincial Iraqi Control'. At this time the role of the Australian Battle Group transitioned to 'overwatch' and AMTG 3 was renamed as the first Overwatch Battle Group (West) (OBG(W) 1). The unit also redeployed from its base, Camp Smitty (which was originally named by the Dutch), just outside Al Muthanna's capital As Samawah to the coalition forward operating base (FOB) known as Camp Adder at Tallil, Dhi Qar.

The fourth Battle Group rotation to Iraq (OBG(W) 2), led by 2nd Cavalry Regiment, included D Company, 5/7 RAR (Combat Team Tiger), and commenced operations in late 2006. On 22 September 2006 Dhi Qar became the second Governate to move to provincial Iraqi control, prompting the Italian Defence Minister to declare 'la misiona completa' at a ceremony to mark the occasion. At the same time the Italian Government authorised the withdrawal of its 1,600 troops from the province. This saw OBG(W), of about 500 people, became responsible for overwatch in Al Muthanna (population 550,000) and in Dhi Qar (population 1.5 million). The return of 5 RAR to the Australian Army's order of battle in December 2006 meant that OBG(W) 2's infantry combat team was retitled D Company, 5 RAR, making it the first element of the Battalion to serve on operations since Vietnam.

In March 2007 5 RAR was warned for service as the fifth rotation of forces in southern Iraq (OBG(W) 3). The Battalion provided the headquarters, C Company (Combat Team Sabre) and logistic elements to the Battle Group. Other elements were provided by A Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment (Combat Team Courage); 2 Troop, B Squadron 3rd/4th Cavalry Regiment, nicknamed Snoop Troop, which crewed the Battle Group's Bushmaster Infantry Mobility Vehicles; forward observer parties from 8th/12th Medium Regiment Royal Australian Artillery and other supporting arms and services. OBG(W) 3 deployed in late May 2007, by which time the Australian battlegroup was based at Camp Terendak, named after the cantonment in Malaysia where a number of RAR Battalions had served in the late 1950s and early 1960s, part of the larger coalition cantonment at FOB Adder, Tallil, Dhi Qar. 5 RAR conducted counter-insurgency operations in the Al Muthanna and Dhi Qar Governates from June until December 2007 as a part of 1st (UK) Mechanised Brigade in Multi-National Division (South East). When Battle Group Tiger rotated out of theatre shortly before Christmas 2007 it was replaced by the sixth and last Battle Group to serve in Iraq, OBG(W) 4, which was withdrawn at the Australian Government's direction in June 2008.

The complex nature of the environment in Iraq meant that during its tours of Iraq the members of OBG(W) 3 conducted a wide range of security, stability and counter-insurgency operations under difficult conditions. Its soldiers patrolled extensively by day and night to counter the improvised explosive device threat (especially against coalition lines of communication northwards to Baghdad) and the indirect fire threat against the coalition FOB at Tallil. Contacts with insurgents occurred during both tours, the longest running of which was a series of contacts involving OBG(W) 2 over 48 hours on 23 and 24 April 2006. Both tours had personnel wounded but fortunately did not suffer any killed in action. OBG(W) 2, including elements of 5 RAR, commenced support to strike operations undertaken by United States Special Forces, which continued regularly during OBG(W) 3's tour and notably resulted in the detention of a Corps-level high value target. OBG(W) 3 also conducted a challenging passage of lines operation with the British Army's Kings Royal Hussars Battle Group through An Nasiriyah, Dhi Qar's capital. Both tours trained and mentored the Iraqi Army and Police, as well as undertaking construction and reconstruction work. Lieutenant Colonel Jake Ellwood, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his command and leadership in action as the commanding officer of OBG(W) 3.

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