Obama wants RAAF in Syria
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.