Australian prime minister Tony Abbott has said the nation’s air force will launch strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq.
The announcement had been widely anticipated since six F/A-18F Super Hornet jet fighters were pre-deployed to the United Arab Emirates more than two weeks ago in response to a formal request from the United States for specific contributions to the international coalition.
Mr Abbott told reporters that the deployment to Iraq “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,” Mr Abbott said, referring to the acronym of the name Islamic State used to be known by, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
“ISIL must be disrupted and degraded at home and abroad, so it is absolutely in Australia’s national interests that this mission go ahead,” he said.
The seven cabinet ministers who make up the government’s National Security Committee approved the deployment after an official request was received from Iraq overnight.
Two unarmed Australian air force planes – an E-7A Wedgetail surveillance and communications jet and a KC-30A refuelling plane – joined operations over Iraq from the al-Minhad Air Base outside Dubai for the first time on Wednesday in support roles.
The Australian government said the number of Super Hornets could soon be increased to eight.
The deployment also includes a 200-strong ground force, including special forces, to advise security forces inside Iraq, plus 400 air force personnel.
The special forces will also deploy to Iraq to “advise and assist Iraqi security forces” once the appropriate legal arrangements are in place with the Iraqi government, Mr Abbott said.
Mr Abbott has restricted combat operations to Iraq and has ruled out Australian troops fighting on the ground.
Australia is among dozens of countries from Europe, Middle East and including Canada that have signed up to the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The Turkish Government also voted overwhelmingly in favour of using its military forces to fight the Islamic State.
Contributions vary and include military assistance and humanitarian aid as well as carrying out air strikes.