Skip to main content


Fighting for independence

Timor-Leste has had a long and sometimes brutal passage towards its independence.


The Royal New Zealand Air Force is deployed into East Timor as part of a multinational peacekeeping force to restore order, after violence breaks out following a referendum for independence.

Mounting the East Timor operation puts NZDF’s military capability to the test, and follows months of planning and preparation. This preparation and deployment to East Timor demands collaboration and co-operation from all parts of the NZDF, often under significant time pressure and in an environment of uncertainty, for what is to become a complex and large-scale military operation.

The area of operation covers some 1,700 square kilometres of rugged terrain, characterised by poor infrastructure, difficult supply routes, limited communications, and considerable destruction by the retreating militia.

Pro-Indonesian militia are burning buildings and killing people in raids around East Timor, and the International Force East Timor (INTERFET) forces – from New Zealand, Australia, Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand – are welcomed by the populace.

An Air Force element of 130 personnel (including aircraft crews and mechanics) and up to six Iroquois helicopters (now retired from service) are used in support of New Zealand and other nations’ ground forces. Two Hercules and one Boeing aircraft transport troops and equipment between New Zealand, Australia, and East Timor.

From 1999 to 2002 New Zealand deployed 5,000 NZDF personnel to the INTERFET deployment and then to United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), making it the largest single deployment of New Zealand military personnel since the Korean War. It provides the foundation for a warm and close relationship between Timor-Leste and New Zealand. Timor-Leste became independent on 20 May 2002.

For their work in East Timor, No. 3 Squadron, operating the Iroquois helicopter, was awarded the Australian Meritorious Unit citation in 2002, for sustained outstanding service in a warlike operation. All personnel of No. 3 Squadron are entitled to wear an adapted citation badge as a unit honour.


In May 2006, following significant unrest in Timor-Leste, including murders in Dili, the NZDF deploys a company sized group to assist in the restoration of peace and security. A substantial contingent is maintained in Timor-Leste until 2012 with a wide variety of personnel involved including the deployment of our Air Force Iroquois. Our personnel contribute to the Australian-led military operation and work alongside the New Zealand Police among others. Elections take place successfully and Timor-Leste takes full responsibility for its internal security. When the final of 13 contingents departs in November 2012, we continue to support the Timor-Leste military with advisers.

NZDF remains committed to Timor-Leste’s security and stability and maintains a strong partnership through the NZDF’s Mutual Assistance Programme, which provides training assistance to the Timor-Leste military.