Australia is considering a request from the US to extend its air campaign against the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq into Syria, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said yesterday.
The US has been leading a coalition of Western and Arab powers carrying out airstrikes against the Islam State group, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, in Syria and Iraq since last year.
Canberra — using six RAAF F/A18 combat jets and two support aircraft based in the United Arab Emirates — joined the raids in Iraq, but not the strikes on targets in Syria, citing legal concerns.
Australia has also sent about 500 soldiers, including about 170 special forces troops, to serve as advisers in Iraq.
Abbott said that while there were legal issues related to any involvement in Syria, Australia would “carefully consider” the Pentagon’s request and reveal its decision in a few weeks.
“We have a formal request from the Americans to extend our airstrikes into Syria,” Abbott told reporters in Perth, Australia. “[IS] is a movement of almost incalculable, unfathomable evil and it is very important that Australia play its part in the campaign to disrupt, degrade and ultimately destroy this death cult. While there is a little difference between the legalities of airstrikes on either side of the border, there is no difference in the morality.”
Australian Defence Force Chief of Joint Operations Vice Admiral David Johnston said in a media briefing on Wednesday that his nation’s involvement in Syrian airstrikes, if it does occur, would not be a “game-changer.”
“The contribution of Australia, while always welcome, is not a game-changer one way or the other,” Johnston said. “In part, there is a bit of a zero-sum game. We have got a number of aircraft there. Whether we are operating in Iraq or in Syria, the capacity is the same.”
The request from Washington came as the Australian government on Thursday said it stopped seven young suspected militants from leaving the nation this month to fight for militant groups in the Middle East.
Australia has become increasingly concerned about the number of citizens seeking to fight overseas.
Canberra estimates that about 120 of its nationals are still fighting in Iraq and Syria, while at least 30 have been killed.
The nation has introduced new national security laws, raised its terror threat alert level to high in September last year and conducted counter-terrorism raids in various cities, foiling several attacks.
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