The Courier-Mail

Obama wants RAAF in Syria

- SI­MON BEN­SON

AUS­TRALIA is in talks with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion on join­ing air strikes into Syria for the first time, in mis­sions that could di­rectly tar­get Aus­tralian ji­hadists.

A se­nior for­eign in­tel­li­gence source con­firmed that Aus­tralian of­fi­cials and US de­fence chiefs had been in “in­for­mal dis­cus­sions” over the past two weeks about Aus­tralia join­ing the air cam­paign in north­ern Syria.

It is be­lieved Prime Min­is­ter Tony Ab­bott had in­di­cated to the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion he sup­ported an ex­pan­sion of Aus­tralian F/A18 Su­per Hor­net oper­a­tions into Syria.

It is un­der­stood the pos­si­ble ex­pan­sion of oper­a­tions to knock out ISIS com­mu­ni­ca­tion lines has been dis­cussed at the most se­nior lev­els of the Ab­bott Gov­ern­ment but had not been taken to the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee of Cab­i­net.

A for­mal re­quest for as­sis­tance is ex­pected to come from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in the com­ing weeks. Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials have said pub­licly they want coali­tion part­ners to step up their com­mit­ments to fight­ing ISIS forces.

Aus­tralian in­volve­ment in the fight against ISIS has been lim­ited so far to air strikes against tar­gets in Iraq – based on re­quests from the Iraqi Gov­ern­ment.

Oper­a­tions in Syria have been lim­ited to run­ning re­fu­elling and re­con­nais­sance mis­sions over Syria for US air strikes.

The in­tel­li­gence source con­firmed the US has now asked Aus­tralia, the UK, Canada and the Nether­lands to con­sider join­ing the Syr­ian cam­paign. UK Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron has said he would seek the sup­port of his MPs to be­gin Bri­tish bomb­ing raids in Syria.

The ma­jor­ity of Aus­tralian ji­hadists fight­ing for ISIS are lo­cated in north­ern Syria.

Aus­tralia has been re­luc­tant up un­til now to ex­pand bomb­ing oper­a­tions into Syria – a move La­bor is op­posed to – due to in­ter­na­tional le­gal sen­si­tiv­i­ties around the regime of Bashar al-As­sad.

How­ever, it is be­lieved le­gal ad­vice has con­firmed there was an in­ter­na­tional le­gal frame­work un­der which Aus­tralia could op­er­ate cam­paigns against ISIS tar­gets in Syria in line with the agree­ment on the col­lec­tive de­fence of Iraq.

As­sur­ances would have to be given to Iran that any such air strikes would not be di­rected at the As­sad regime.

The Prime Min­i­sis­ter’s of­fice would not con­firm the US de­fence dis­cus­sions.

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