Australia launches anti-ISIS support missions in Iraq

This U.S. Navy photo obtained August 8, 2014 shows sailors directing aircraft, as an F/A-18E Super Hornet takes off from the aircraft USS George H.W. Bush in the Gulf.

This U.S. Navy photo obtained August 8, 2014 shows sailors directing aircraft, as an F/A-18E Super Hornet takes off from the aircraft USS George H.W. Bush in the Gulf.

Australian air force personnel have completed their first operational missions in Iraq as part of efforts to combat Islamic State of Iraq and Syria extremists.

Defense said a Wedgetail early warning and control aircraft and refueller aircraft supported missions flown by U.S. and other coalition forces on Wednesday.

The missions were conducted without incident and both planes have now returned safely to Australia’s support base in the United Arab Emirates.

The Iraqi government was yet to make a specific request for Australia to take part in a specific combat operation, the foreign minister, Julie Bishop, said.

Once that request comes, something that is expected within days, the national security committee and then cabinet will consider it.
“We are being prudent and measured and cautious in relation to this matter,” Bishop said.

Australia has six F/A-18F Super Hornet jet fighters waiting on standby in the United Arab Emirates for final authorization from the Iraqi and Australian governments to begin combat missions in Iraqi with the U.S.-led coalition.

Iraq’s Ambassador to Australia, Mouayed Saleh said Thursday that Iraq welcomed Australia’s request to launch combat missions, but his government’s cabinet had yet to consider it.

Saleh said a decision could be made on Thursday, which is the last working day before Independence Day and a weeklong holiday. But he says a decision might not be made until after the holiday.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Wednesday his country will join the U.S.-led coalition in air strikes against ISIS in an initial support role, ahead of a final decision to undertake bombing missions.

The United States has been bombing ISIS and other groups in Syria for a week 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 Syria.

“We have not yet made a final decision to commit our forces to combat but Australian aircraft from today will start flying over Iraq in support of allied operations,” Abbott told parliament. “Australian air strikes await final clearances from the Iraqi Government and a further decision by our own.”

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 either been involved in fighting in the Middle East or actively supporting it. At least 20 are believed to have returned to Australia and pose a security risk.

 
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