authorizes special forces troops to go to Iraq
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[October 03, 2014]
By Lincoln Feast
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian special
forces troops will be deployed in Iraq to assist in the fight against
Islamic State militants, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Friday, and
its aircraft will also join U.S.-led coalition strikes.
Abbott said in a nationally televised news conference the
Australian troops would be engaged in an "advise and assist"
capacity to support the Iraqi army in their battle against the
militant Islamist group.
The United States has been bombing Islamic State and other groups in
Syria for almost two weeks with the help of Arab allies, and hitting
targets in neighboring Iraq since August.
European countries have joined the campaign in Iraq but not in
Last month, Abbott sent aircraft and 600 personnel to the United
Arab Emirates in preparation for joining the coalition. He has since
said it was likely Australian aircraft would join the strikes to
combat Islamic State, which he described as a "murderous death
While the involvement of Australian aircraft had been flagged, the
use of Australian troops on the ground in Iraq was not as widely
"Today, cabinet has authorized Australian air strikes in Iraq at the
request of the Iraqi Government and in support of the Iraqi
government," Abbott said.
"Also, subject to final legal documentation, cabinet has authorized
the deployment of Australian special forces into Iraq to advise and
assist Iraqi forces."
So far Australian aircraft have been limited to humanitarian aid and
delivering arms to Iraqi government-backed forces.
Australia is on high alert for attacks by radicalized Muslims or by
home-grown militants returning from fighting in the Middle East,
having raised its threat level to high and undertaken a series of
high-profile raids in major cities.
Officials believe up to 160 Australians have been either involved in
fighting in the Middle East or actively supporting groups fighting
there. At least 20 are believed to have returned to Australia and
have been said to pose a security risk.
One man was charged on Tuesday with funding a terrorist
organization, while another was arrested last month after police
said they had thwarted a plot to behead a randomly selected member
of the public.
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Prominent Australian Muslims say their community is being unfairly
targeted by law enforcement and threatened by right-wing groups, and
there are concerns that policies aimed at combating radical
Islamists could create a backlash.
Abbott said Islamic State poses a grave threat to both Australia and
the wider world and that Canberra could not afford to shirk its
responsibility to contribute militarily to "degrading" the group's
"The Americans certainly have quite a substantial special forces
component on the ground already," he said.
"My understanding is that there are U.K. and Canadian special forces
already inside Iraq, so we'll be operating on a much smaller scale
but in an entirely comparable way to the United States special
The Australian contingent in the UAE is made up of eight Super
Hornet fighter jets, an early warning and control aircraft, an
aerial refueling aircraft, along with 400 air force personnel and
200 special force soldiers.
(Additional reporting by Matt Siegel in Sydney; Editing by Paul
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