Australia to play role in new Iraq mission

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From an article in The Australian News:  “AUSTRALIA will play a role in a ramped-up fight against Islamic State in the Middle East, although a formal request from the US is still to be received.  US President Barack Obama used a prime-time speech to outline his plan to harness an international coalition, including Australia, to tackle extremists in Iraq and Syria.

The strategy will involve an extra 475 US personnel to support Iraq security forces, but not combat forces on the ground.  The limits on air strikes will be lifted to ensure any IS targets can be hit in Iraq or Syria and Congress will be asked to authorise a train-and-equip mission for the Syrian opposition.

In two weeks, Mr Obama will chair a meeting of the United Nations Security Council – also involving Australia – to discuss the issue of foreign fighters and sharing intelligence to prevent home-soil attacks.  Humanitarian assistance missions will continue.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who spoke with Mr Obama by telephone on Tuesday, said Australia had yet to receive a formal request for bolstering its role beyond humanitarian aid and weapons air drops.  “A specific request for military assistance in the form of air capability and military advisers could come, but it hasn’t yet come,” Mr Abbott said.
If a request came it would be considered by cabinet and the opposition would be consulted, he said.

Mr Abbott said the conflict in Iraq and Syria was “reaching out” to Australia, in the form of Australians financing and fighting alongside extremist groups.  He announced Austrac would get a $20 million boost to track money being channelled via charities and businesses to terrorist groups.  Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has assured her new Iraqi counterpart, Ibrahim Al Ja’afari, Australia remained willing to contribute further.  A senior Obama administration official said the broad-based coalition would include countries from the Arab world and Europe “as well as Australia, which has joined us in humanitarian airdrops already”.

The White House was confident there were many countries going to join a broader coalition through a range of actions, including airstrikes, training, equipping and arming Iraqi security forces and the Syrian opposition, intelligence and logistical support and humanitarian assistance, the official said.  Australia’s last mission was a shipment of military stores to Erbil in northern Iraq earlier this week.

Mr Obama said the next phase of the mission had been enabled by Iraq putting together a functioning and inclusive central government.  “Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy,” he said.  “I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are.

American officials are reluctant to put an end date on the fight, saying only that ISIL would be “systematically rolled back”.  Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said it was important the issue of foreign fighters returning to Australia was treated seriously.  “Labor is supportive of what needs to be done in terms of making sure that Australians are secure in Australia,” he said.  Greens leader Christine Milne said Mr Obama’s speech was light on detail and Australians were right to be concerned about an escalation of Australia’s role in Iraq.

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