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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