Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Tuesday that the country may be planning to send combat forces to Iraq, as an effort to “prevent genocide” against the minority Yazidi community. But, his defense minister, David Johnston, appeared to take a more cautious stance stating that the option had not been discussed so far.
The comments from Abbott, who is currently in London, followed Tuesday's security briefings with senior cabinet ministers in the city, while Australian military transport aircraft were preparing to airlift humanitarian aid to refugees trapped in the mountains of northern Iraq. While Abbott suggested that Australia could send troops into Iraq as part of a humanitarian effort, Johnston said that Australia's parliament is so far only working on putting together aid packages for communities fleeing persecution by the Islamic State.
"We certainly don't rule that out," Abbott told the media in London, according to The Guardian, referring to the possibility of sending Australian troops to Iraq, adding: "We are talking to our partners – our partners in this instance are certainly much wider than simply the US and UK – about what we can usefully do to help, but what I want to stress is this is a humanitarian cause."
“Trying to ensure that people are not exposed to terrorists who have been crucifying, summarily executing, decapitating, people who have been dealing in a hideous way with women and children – this is a humanitarian cause and Australia has a long and proud tradition of assisting people in need,” he reportedly said.
According to United Nations estimates, nearly 30,000 Yazidis are stuck on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq while the U.S. on Tuesday dispatched 130 military advisers to help the Iraqi government fight back the Islamist State's advance. Australia's aid effort is expected to begin within the next three days.
Meanwhile, Johnston said on Wednesday, according to the Associated Press: "What we have seen is an extreme act of barbarism by a group of terrorists. What the future holds, no one can predict," and added: "The Australian government has signed off on providing humanitarian relief, and that is all."