Monthly Archives: March 2019
The US has reportedly changed its mind on making Admiral Harry Harris its Australian ambassador.Admiral Harry Harris, the tough head of the US Pacific Command, appears to have shifted course from Canberra to the choppy waters of South Korea.
Admiral Harris was nominated by US President Donald Trump in February to fill the longtime vacant US Ambassador to Australia role, but his appearance before a congressional committee in Washington DC on Tuesday was suddenly postponed.
Then word leaked out the man Mr Trump wants to be the next US Secretary of State, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, wants Admiral Harris to fill the key post of ambassador to South Korea.
A White House official confirmed to the Washington Post Mr Trump was also keen for a switch, although no names were offered on who could fill the still vacant Canberra role.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop praised Mr Trump’s decision to nominate Admiral Harris for the Canberra post.
Unlike many of Mr Trump’s other nominations, Admiral Harris was expected to cruise through the congressional confirmation hearings for the Australian gig.
Admiral Harris was also full of praise for Australia after his nomination was made public.
“Australia is one of the keys to a rules based international order,” Admiral Harris, in testimony before the US House Armed Services Committee in February, said.
“They are a key ally of the United States and they have been with us in every major conflict since World War One.”
Admiral Harris’ nomination will likely not be appreciated by China and North Korea.
The 61-year-old is a China hawk and has controversial theories about North Korea.
He believes North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was pursuing a nuclear arsenal not just to safeguard his rogue regime, but to blackmail South Korea and other countries into reunifying the Korean peninsula into a single Communist nation.
“He is after what his grandfather failed to do and his father failed to do,” Admiral Harris testified in February.
The admiral also told the committee China had built “vertically and dramatically” seven new military bases on the Spratly Islands, where China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines each claim sovereignty.
He also encourages “our friends, allies and partners” to conduct freedom of navigation operations in the area despite upsetting China.
“If they (allies) are operating in the South China Sea that demonstrates to the world the South China Sea is in fact international water space and it is not simply because it has China in its name,” Admiral Harris told the committee.
He said he was “deeply concerned about China’s heavy investments into the next wave of military technologies, including hypersonic missiles, advanced space and cyber capabilities, and artificial intelligence” and warned if the US does not keep pace it will struggle to compete with China on future battlefields.
Admiral Harris added he was concerned “a cult of personality” in China was growing around President Xi Jinping.
Mr Pompeo is also facing a battle to be approved by Congress for the US Secretary role.
Australian Associated Press
Expeditioner Rebecca Jeffcoat has led an Anzac Day service at Casey research station in Antarctica.Snow, ice and below-zero temperatures haven’t dissuaded Australia’s Antarctic expeditioners from paying their respects on Anzac Day.
The team of 26 held a dawn service at Casey research station on Wednesday morning.
It was led by expeditioner Rebecca Jeffcoat, who has been with the Royal Australian Navy for 28 years and served in the Middle East.
“I’ve been to many Anzac Day events over the years and today’s service, held against a backdrop of icebergs in Newcomb Bay, is one I will never forget,” she said.
The team, who are spending the winter at the research station, gathered under the flag-pole in -15C.
“Expeditioners took the opportunity to proudly share their family member’s service experience; in the Boer War, lost at sea in World War II and in Afghanistan,” Ms Jeffcoat said.
“As we dig in for a long winter, we can imagine some of the challenges our defence men and women face when deployed to far-off and often hostile places.”
The service was followed by a gun-fire breakfast and games of two-up.
Australia’s Antarctic program has long links with the Australian Defence Force since it was founded in 1947.
Australian Associated Press
Australia and France have opened the Sir John Monash centre in Villers-Bretonneux.Lieutenant General Sir John Monash revolutionised warfare France, turning the tide of the Great War.
An emotional Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull lauded Australia’s greatest ever military commander as he officially opened a museum in France that is named in Monash’s honour.
The $100 million Australian-funded Sir John Monash Centre, at the Australian War Memorial just outside Villers-Bretonneux in northern France, is a glossy, high-tech multimedia centre three years in the making.
The opening was held on the eve of the centenary of the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux, one of the Australian troops most significant victories of their four years of war on the Western Front.
The Sir John Monash Centre is the centrepiece of Australia’s Anzac Centenary 2014-18, and honours the more than 295,000 soldiers who served on the Western Front and the 46,000 who died there.
It tells the stories of ordinary Australians in a bid to raise the profile of the nation’s efforts on the Western Front in World War One.
Monash, who led the Australian forces to a succession of victories in the final months of 1918, was as an innovator and leader who looked after his troops and won critical battles, Mr Turnbull said.
“He pioneered aerial supply drops, and air reconnaissance in near-real time, and showed how to use the trench-busting power of armoured tanks.
“In short, he revolutionised warfare on the Western Front.”
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Monash’s tactics gave the allied forces a critical advantage that was rolled out on a wider scale.
“We will never forget that 100 years ago a young and brave nation on the other side the world made history by writing our history,” Mr Philippe said.
He said the Australian soldiers’ efforts in France marked the relationship between the two countries forever.
“A faraway, foreign country which they had defended, inch by inch … as if it were their own country. And it is their own country.”
In July 1918, Monash led Australian and American infantry in what was then the most sophisticated joint operation in history, involving air drops, artillery and a line of British tanks in the Battle of Hamel.
“He planned to take the village of Hamel in 90 minutes – but was famously three minutes late,” Mr Turnbull said.
“That victory put the German army on the defensive right up until Armistice Day.”
Britain’s Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery later judged Monash to be “the best general on the Western Front in Europe”, Mr Turnbull said.
“Montgomery said ‘the war might have been won sooner, and certainly with fewer casualties’ if Monash had been in command of the British armies too,” Mr Turnbull said.
“This is why we are naming this centre after Sir John Monash – but it is a memorial to all the Australians who served in this terrible war – from the private soldiers like my grandfather Fred Turnbull, to our greatest general.
“We need to know the appalling suffering of the Western Front.”
Watching on was former prime minister Tony Abbott who announced the $100 million centre three years ago, to raise the profile of Australian involvement in international affairs and the Western Front.
Mr Turnbull, who deposed Mr Abbott in a party room spill, thanked his Liberal party colleague for his drive in establishing this centre.
After the opening, Mr Abbott was asked by journalists if it was moving to finally see multimedia stories of the everyday Australians who fought and died so far from home.
“It is hard not to get a bit chokey,” he said.
“Because these were ordinary people who under the pressure of terrible events, did absolutely extraordinary things.”
The centre also aims to ensure the deaths of 46,000 diggers on the Western Front are not forgotten.
It will be open to all from Anzac Day, when more than 7000 people are registered to attend the dawn service in Villers-Bretonneux.
Australian Associated Press
A man is in custody after four people were shot dead at a Nashville Waffle House restaurant.The man who snatched an assault rifle away from a gunman at a Nashville restaurant where four people died has told Tennessee lawmakers he faced “the true test of a man,” drawing a standing ovation.
As the House hailed him as a hero, James Shaw Junior said he acted to save his own life early on Sunday at a Waffle House, and saved others in the process.
“I never thought I’d be in a room with all the eyes on me, but you know, I’m very grateful to be here,” Shaw told House members on Tuesday.
The 29-year-old said he has since gone to see some of the shooting victims in the hospital and they all remembered him. He apologised to the people whose loved ones died in the attack.
Meanwhile, the co-owner of a Colorado crane company where shooting suspect Travis Reinking once worked says she urged federal officials to keep him in custody after he was arrested at the White House last July.
“We told them, ‘Hang onto him if you can. Help him if you can,” Darlene Sustrich said.
Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall said Reinking, 29, had been “compliant” and “cooperative” since he was transferred to the jail after he was captured near the apartment where he lived.
Reinking will remain under close observation at a maximum-security facility in Nashville.
Reinking has been charged with four counts of criminal homicide and also faces four counts of attempted murder and one count of unlawful possession in the commission of a violent felony.
Police say he opened fire outside the Waffle House with an AR-15 rifle then stormed the restaurant, wearing only a green jacket. Four other people were wounded in the shooting.
Reinking escaped on foot and shed his only item of clothing before he was captured in the woods nearby.
Police seized multiple items from his apartment including a Remington rifle with a magazine, cartridges, two rifle scopes and gun cleaning equipment.
When he was captured he was carrying a black backpack with a silver semi-automatic weapon and .45-calibre ammunition.
The arrest ended a 24-hour manhunt involving more than 160 law enforcement officers, but it left troubling unanswered questions about official responses to months of bizarre behaviour before the restaurant attack, including encounters with police in Illinois, Colorado and Washington DC.
Last July, Reinking was arrested by the US Secret Service after he entered a restricted area near the White House and refused to leave, saying he wanted to meet President Donald Trump.
Reinking was not armed at the time, but at the FBI’s request, Illinois police revoked his state firearms card. Four guns, including the AR-15 used in the shootings, were transferred to his father, a procedure allowed under Illinois law.
Tazewell County Sheriff Robert Huston said Jeffrey Reinking pledged he would “keep the weapons secure and out of the possession of Travis.”
Don Aaron, a Nashville Police spokesman, said Reinking’s father “has now acknowledged giving them back” to his son.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives special Agent Marcus Watson said the father’s action was “potentially a violation of federal law.”
Australian Associated Press
Australian troops overcame massive odds Villers-Bretonneux to achieve a significant WWI victory.It seemed to be another disaster in the making, a counter-attack launched at short notice at night across unfamiliar ground against an entrenched enemy force armed to the teeth with machine guns.
Yet Australian troops overcame these odds to achieve one of the truly significant victories of their four years of war on the Western Front.
This was at Villers-Bretonneux, a town in north-western France seized by German forces at the high point of their 1918 Spring Offensive, then speedily recaptured by Australian troops in some of the most brutal fighting of a savage war.
Villers-Bretonneux is now home to the main Australian Memorial of the Western Front – since the victory there was, after all, a notable triumph and achieved at modest cost by Great War standards. It also happened on the third anniversary of Anzac Day, in 1918.
This impressive stone memorial stemmed from a design competition open only to veterans and families. It was built in 1936 and 1937 and opened in 1938, just in time for the next great war.
The Australian National Memorial displays the names of almost 11,000 Australians killed in France who have no known grave.
Close by is the new Sir John Monash visitor interpretive centre, explaining Australia’s role in the events of 1918, certainly the only time when Australian forces have contributed significantly to victory against the main enemy on the main battleground in a global conflict.
It was officially opened on Tuesday, the eve of the centenary of the battle this Anzac Day.
It is also due to host the main Australian commemoration marking 100 years since Armistice Day on November 11.
The Aussie victory at Villers-Bretonneux was all the more notable as it followed appalling losses in fighting in the battle of Passchendaele in Belgium the previous year.
By the time the five battered Australian divisions withdrew from the line in November 1917, they had suffered 38,000 casualties, including 12,000 dead, and there were doubts they could ever again be a significant fighting force. Yet they did recover.
Following Passchendaele, the Australians had been recuperating and rebuilding in the relatively quiet area around Messines in French Flanders when the Germans launched their offensive on March 21.
This proved devastating. Supported by massed artillery fire and poison gas, German shock troops overwhelmed thinly spread British forces in days, pushing them steadily back from territory seized at such enormous cost during the previous three years.
But this was really Germany’s last throw of the dice – to try and win the war before American troops arrived by using forces released from the Eastern Front after Russia withdrew from the fighting.
The front was quickly in crisis and Australian troops marched south to plug gaps in the defences. For the Germans, capturing Villers-Bretonneux would open the way to Amiens, an important road and rail hub.
The town was fought over for much of April but finally fell to a strong German attack on a weak British division at dawn on April 24.
That attack involved four infantry divisions, massed artillery fire, poison gas and Germany’s first use of tanks.
They couldn’t be allowed to stay and a counter-attack, involving some British but mostly Australian troops, was organised, so hurriedly that official correspondent Charles Bean believed it would fail disastrously.
Yet it succeeded so spectacularly that British Brigadier General George Grogan VC described it as perhaps the greatest individual feat of the war.
Two Australian units – the 13th Brigade of the 4th Division and the 15th Brigade of the 5th division – were set the main task of retaking Villers-Bretonneux, now well defended by large numbers of entrenched German troops with machine guns.
They kicked off at 10pm and, battling intense enemy fire, encircled the town in a pincer movement. They then set about clearing after dawn on April 25. The attack was so ferocious that initially few German prisoners were taken.
Australian War Memorial senior historian Ashley Ekins said this was ruthless and bloody battle, fought with rifle, bayonet and bombs up close and personal, with no quarter given.
In his official history, Bean quotes some of the participants as follows: “With a ferocious roar and the cry of ‘into the bastards boys’ we were down on them before the Boche realised what had happened.
“The Boche was at our mercy. They screamed for mercy but there were too many machine-guns about to show them any consideration as we were moving forward.
“Each man was in his glee and old scores were wiped out two or three times over.”
Bean wrote that later, as the men tired of killing, prisoners came back in droves.
This victory wasn’t achieved without significant casualties – 1464 dead and wounded – but it established the Australians as a premier fighting force on the Western Front.
Allied commanders heaped praise on the diggers and historian Joan Beaumont said that with such accolades Villers-Bretonneux rapidly assumed a central place in Australian memories of the war in France.
“More than nine decades later it remains a, possibly the, dominant (Australian) site of commemoration of the Western Front, overshadowing even Pozieres and Fromelles,” she wrote in her history of Australians in the Great War “Broken Nation.”
Australian Associated Press