Australia and New Zealand, Whats Next?
February 6, 1991
Indonesian military forces have set the city of Dili ablaze on the independence-seeking island of East Timor. Air, naval and ground forces have bombed and shelled the capitol city of East Timor indiscriminately, destroying critical infrastructure and leaving the city without electricity or running water.
Information from the battle area is sketchy; however, it’s believed the Indonesian warships off Dili had begun shelling the city. In response, New Zealand A-4/Skyhawk and Australian FA-18/Hornet fighter-bombers flying out of RAAF Darwin were dispatched to engage the Indonesian warships. At least two warships were sunk in the attack. A third was later destroyed by anti-ship cruise missiles as a small force of Australian and New Zealand naval ships moved into the waters off Dili.
While Australian and New Zealand naval forces took up positions off Dili and began to shell paratroopers entrenched on the outskirts of Dili, fighter-bombers conducted air strikes against the Indonesian airfield at Kupang rendering it useless and most likely destroying numerous aircraft on the ground.
Australian ministry of defense spokesperson Jack Rogers told MNN the ”…operations by Australian and New Zealand military forces were a success and that both governments planned to stay the course in support of independence for East Timor….” Moments later Indonesian aircraft, flying from Hassanuddin AFB caught the naval forces off Dili by surprise and without air cover. The attacks sunk all but two small patrol boats. Dili was left to burn while the Australian and New Zealand prime ministers were left to ponder their next move.
It’s likely Australian F-111 bombers will continue strikes against the garrison at Kupang in response to the devastation of Dili, but most think it’s too little to late. MNN reporters on the scene in Dili report the scene in the city is horrific. The destruction includes the small naval base, the prison, the power plant, the hospital and the radio-TV station as well as many homes. Casualties are high and the International Red Cross is appealing to the world to send aid to the region to help the hundreds of thousands of refugees on East Timor.