Twenty years ago this September, the Australian-led international peacekeeping forces known as INTERFET touched down on the scorched-bare sands of newly-independent Timor-Leste: a country mere days into a hard-won and blood-soaked independence from Indonesia, and one desperately in need of help.
We were there and we were ready. Australia led what eventually became a peacekeeping force of 11,000 people from 22 nations; one which was considered an unmitigated success. John Howard calls the intervention a "significant foreign policy triumph" and has said he wouldn't change a thing about it, and Indonesian soldiers withdrew completely by the end of October. Australian defence personnel were properly lauded for their efforts.
But INTERFET is just one small part of Australia's story with Timor-Leste. And, in a tale threaded with manipulation, deception, bullying and greed, INTERFET is not the centrepiece we'd like to believe -- in fact, its legacy is an outlier. Our true Timor-Leste story starts years before then-major-general Peter Cosgrove led his soldiers into the sticky Dili heat to help build a new country.