The ‘Know Your Region’ series is designed to support unit and individual professional military education on the Indo-Pacific region.


The Australian Military has played a key role in providing security assistance to Timor-Leste in preceding decades, dating back to 1999 when the UN oversaw a popular vote for independence. With an overwhelming majority voting in favour, the response from pro-Indonesian militias was violent. Australia went on to lead a large UN peace-keeping mission to restore peace and set the conditions for Timor-Leste to be officially recognised as an independent nation. Since that time, Australia has assisted in international reconstruction efforts and security operations, notably following the 2006 Timor-Leste Crisis which saw widespread violence and civil unrest. 


On 12 November 1991 violence began as Indonesian troops opened fire on pro-independence protestors in the capital of East Timor, Dili, resulting in around 200 civilian deaths. This soured international perception of Indonesia and furthered support and solidarity for the East Timorese fight against occupation. 

On 11 June 1999, the United Nations established the United Nations Assistance Mission to East Timor (UNAMET) to support and oversee a public ballot to determine whether East Timor should become an independent nation or be given autonomy under Indonesia. The Australian Federal Police were deployed to serve under the mission from June 1999 and around 50 police officers supported the initial deployment. Thousands of East Timorese slept at polling booths overnight in freezing conditions to ensure they didn’t miss the opportunity to vote. The result was 78.5% voting against autonomy under Indonesia.

The East Timorese crisis of 1999 intensified after the result of the ballot, with around 1,400 civilians being killed by pro-Indonesian militia groups attacking population centres. Around half a million civilians were displaced from their homes as a result of the violence, with many being forced out of their hometowns altogether. The world condemned the actions of these militias and the Indonesian Government for allowing such atrocities to happen. On 12 September 1999, the Indonesian President announced that they would withdraw from East Timor to allow peacekeepers to enter but armed elements continued to murder unarmed civilians. In response to the ongoing violence, on the 15th of September 1999, the UN Security Council authorised the formation of International Force East Timor (INTERFET).

The INTERFET mission was led by Australia and was designed to restore peace and security to East Timor, protect and support UNMET, and facilitate humanitarian assistance operations. It began landing in East Timor on 20 September 1999 by agreement with the Indonesian Government and by November had 22 nations supporting the mission. INTERFET was the largest Australian military commitment since the Vietnam War with more than 5,500 of the 10,000 strong force being Australian. Major General Sir Peter Cosgrove commanded the multinational force until February 2000. 

INTERFET emplyed an ‘oil spot’ method by securing key areas and then expanding influence in surrounding areas. Dili had been secured by the end of September 1999. Once the country had been secured, they placed a defensive line along the western border with Indonesia. 


On 25 October 1999 the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) which directly administered East Timor to oversee peacekeeping, coordinate relief assistance, conduct elections, assist with the drafting of a new constitution and creating structures for sustainable governance and law. ADF deployed elements, now comprised of over 7,500 personnel, prevented insurgency operations by the pro-Indonesia Aitarak Militia forces. Formal independence was achieved by Timor-Leste on 20 May 2002. 


The United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET) was established upon the independence of Timor-Leste. It provided assistance to the new government and law enforcement support and training of the new Timor-Leste police service. UNMISET had 3,200 ADF personnel in support. 


In 2006 Timor-Leste experienced a civil unrest. Almost half of the Timor-Leste defence force was dismissed after protests citing poor conditions and discrimination between soldiers from the country’s east and west. Violence and unrest grew until Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, and Portugal intervened through an Australian-led International Stabilisation Force (ISF). The force was designed to assist in the evacuation of foreigners, restore stability, locate weapons, and assist in communication between conflicting groups to support resolution. Around 1,800 ADF personnel were deployed in support of this operation. 


On 25 August 2006 the United Nations Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) was created to support democratic governance and stability. This mission involved 4 ADF personnel and around 50 Australian police at any one time. UNMIT ceased operation on 31 Dec 2012.

For further information on Australian military assistance to Timor-Leste, see the resource below: 


  1. Australian peacekeepers in East Timor from 1999 to 2013 - Anzac Portal (