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Australia ‘ready’ to join US in fight against Islamic State in Iraq
Australia ‘ready’ to join US in fight against Islamic State in Iraq :
DENNIS SHANAHAN AND BRENDAN NICHOLSON
From: The Australian |August 28, 2014 7:53AM
Australia's defence chief says I.S. militants will have to be met 'on the battlefield.'
AUSTRALIA is in a “high state of readiness’’ but is yet to be formally approached to join any US-led military campaign against Islamic State terrorists in northern Iraq.
Defence Minister David Johnston has given his strongest indication yet that Australian forces are preparing to be part of a new coalition, but has declined to be drawn on what Australia “might or might not do operationally’’.
“We’ve got Super Hornets. They’re incredibly capable. They’re exactly what flies off US aircraft carriers. Now, that’s an obvious first port of call were we to consider it necessary to participate with our friends and our ally,’’ he told ABC TV’s Lateline.
Asked if the Super Hornets were in the region, Senator Johnston said: “We’re at a high state of readiness. We’re at a good state of readiness at all times. Apart from saying that, I wouldn’t want to say any more.’’
But Senator Johnston said Australia hasn’t been “approached yet other than with respect to humanitarian relief’’.
US President Barack Obama has not yet formally requested additional Australian support in Iraq or Syria to fight Islamic State fighters, *including Australian *extremists, but, as foreshadowed in The Australian on Monday, he has signalled a widening of US *action and more support from *allies such as Britain and Australia.
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Senior Labor frontbencher Tony Burke this morning called for an urgent briefing for the opposition.
“It’s really important that we don’t get ahead of ourselves and that’s why I’ve said the briefing should happen urgently that we’ve sought,’’ Mr Burke told Sky.
“Clearly from the comments from the Defence Minister last night, there are new issues for us to be briefed on and we want that to happen urgently.’’
Australia’s Defence Chief Mark Binskin told Fairfax overnight that the brutal Islamic State group, also known as ISIL, will sooner or later have to be defeated “on the battlefield’’ and while the terrorist outfit was highly capable, it was “not undefeatable’’.
He said Iraq needed to be given the military strength to defeat the jihadists and the problem was “bigger than Iraq’’.
The Prime Minister told parliament yesterday that as part of the government’s $630 million *security package, the Customs and Border Protection Service had begun operating counterterrorism units at Sydney and Melbourne international airports. “I’m advised that these new units have already intercepted at least one person of interest,” he said.
The Australian has been told a man whose name was on a border protection watch list was stopped on Monday as he tried to leave for Lebanon with his family through Melbourne Airport. The man was prevented from boarding his flight and questioned by officials. He was then released but was being kept under “active supervision” as investigations continued.
Mr Abbott said similar units would shortly be established at all international airports in Australia. Eighty officers would monitor the movements of people on national security watch lists.
“Regrettably, at least 60 Australians are known to have gone overseas to fight with terrorist groups in Syria and northern Iraq, including with the ISIL movement, and about 100 Australians are known to have been supporting or facilitating these terrorist groups,” the Prime Minister told parliament.
“We know what these people can do. We have seen it on our screens and we must make sure that it never happens here in this country of ours. We need the *capacity to deal with people, preferably to stop them from going overseas to join terrorist groups in the first place but, certainly, to stop them, should they seek to *return to this country.”
ASIO director-general David Irvine revealed yesterday that some of the 100 Australians helping terrorist groups had “groomed” suicide bombers.
Mr Abbott has indicated that Australia is ready to continue humanitarian aid in Iraq after RAAF food drops to Yazidi and Christian refugees besieged by Islamic State fighters on Mount Sinjar in Iraq.
Senator Johnston has cautioned that Australia would need an invitation from the new Iraqi government for any military involvement, and the new Prime Minister takes over on September 10.
“We’ll need to settle rules of engagement,’’ he said.
“We’ll need to do a whole host of things before we start talking about any form of deployment. These things are not just done at the turn of a key, although they may seem as much.
“So there’s a long way to go before we start talking about deploying these sorts of systems into the field,’’ he said.
Senator Johnston also said that he, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and US Secretary of State John Kerry had been in discussions about Baghdad forming a more inclusive government.
“It’s not just a simple matter of deploying aircraft, flying them in and doing the work. There has to be a very careful, methodical and appropriate permission from the Government. All of the I’s need to be dotted, the T’s need to be crossed,’’ Senator Johnston said.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister said last night “at this stage” the US had not made a formal request for additional support.
Mr Abbott has made it clear Australia’s preference is to carry out food and water drops rather than combat missions and has ruled out ground troops entering Iraq. He has also said the conditions on support have to include an achievable overall humanitarian purpose, a clear and proportionate role for Australia and a careful assessment of the risks.
The government has also undertaken to consult Labor before any broadening of Australia’s commitment. Senior government sources said last night that while a combat role — such as bombing terrorists who were threatening civilians — was not being ruled out, it was the less preferred option.
The New York Times yesterday quoted Obama administration officials as saying the US had begun to mobilise a broad coalition of *allies *behind potential American military action in Syria. The officials also said the US was moving toward expanded air strikes in northern Iraq.
Officials said the US President was broadening his campaign against the Sunni militants of Islamic State and nearing a decision to authorise air strikes and airdrops of food and water around the northern Iraqi town of Amerli.
The Australian has been told that if Australia did opt to become involved, the most likely role would be for RAAF transport aircraft to join an airlift with US and British aircraft on humanitarian missions and possibly flying weapons and other supplies to Kurdish forces who are providing the strongest opposition to Islamic State insurgents.
Britain has sent Tornado jets to the region and the option of Australia sending Super Hornets is possible. Another possibility is that Australia might be asked to help train Kurdish or Iraqi fighters.
A US embassy spokeswoman last night stressed the importance of Australian support. “We are co-ordinating with countries in the region and building an international coalition, including our closest allies such as Australia, to support Iraqis as they take the fight to ISIL,” she said.
Additional reporting: Stefanie Balogh