Australian warplanes will conduct airstrikes as part of the United States-led coalition's campaign against the Islamic State group’s strongholds in Iraq, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Friday, after the country's cabinet gave its approval. Abbott also said that special forces troops would be deployed in the country.
“The Government will commit up to eight Australian F/A-18F Super Hornet aircraft to participate in airstrikes in Iraq as part of the international coalition formed to disrupt and degrade ISIL (Islamic State)… Once the appropriate legal arrangements are in place with the Iraqi government, Australian Special Forces will also deploy to Iraq to advise and assist Iraqi security forces,” Abbott said, in a statement released Friday.
“This decision reflects the Government’s assessment -- shared by a growing coalition of Middle Eastern and Western partners -- that ISIL represents a significant threat not only to the people of Iraq but to the wider region and to our domestic security,” Abbott added.
Speaking to journalists at a press conference in Canberra on Friday, Abbott reportedly said that the decision to join the coalition had been taken at the request of the Iraqi government, adding that the entire operation “could be quite lengthy, certainly months rather than weeks.”
“Yes, it is a combat deployment, but it is an essentially humanitarian mission to protect the people of Iraq and ultimately the people of Australia from the murderous rage of the ISIL death cult,” he said, according to media reports.
Australia’s decision to join the anti-ISIS coalition comes just a day after the Turkish parliament authorized the government to carry out military operations in Iraq and Syria, and amid increasing concerns over the number of Australians fighting for the Islamic State group. The Australian government believes that at least 60 of its citizens are fighting for militant groups in the Middle East, Abbott said in his statement.
Australia has already sent 600 soldiers, including members of Australia's Special Forces, and six warplanes to a U.S. military base in the United Arab Emirates in preparation for the airstrikes, according to a BBC report.
Abbott, however, reportedly said that there were no plans to extend Australia’s participation to Syria.
In the recent months, Australia has sought to clamp down on domestic support for militant Islamist groups by carrying out anti-terror raids and strengthening its counterterrorism laws. In its most recent counterterrorism operation, the Australian police arrested a man on Tuesday on charges of funding terrorist organizations in Syria.