Australia likely to reject US request to send more forces to fight Islamic State


The Federal Government looks likely to reject a United States request to send more military assets to the Middle East.

US secretary of defence Ash Carter made the request earlier this week to all countries involved in the coalition battling Islamic State (IS) targets in Syria and Iraq.

“Along with, as I understand it, 40 other or so nations we have received correspondence from the US secretary of defence which we’re considering at the moment,” Defence Minister Marisa Payne said.

“We of course are making a very significant commitment in the Iraq and Syria conflict at the moment, one which we are pleased to see other nations joining in more recently as well.

“We know that the British government, for example, has recently increased their engagement.

“The United States, in pursuing that with a number of the coalition partners, is exploring other opportunities.”

The request, at this stage, does not extend to putting Australian troops on the ground.

“We’ve been asked to, along with as I said 39 other nations, to look at what we’re already contributing and what more we might do,” Senator Payne said.

“Where we can play very important roles is perhaps in command positions, and we’re responding to the United States in relation to that as well.”

She highlighted Australia was already making the second largest contribution to the coalition campaign, suggesting Australia may be more likely to wait for other nations to intervene before expanding its own efforts in the region.

“We will respond to the United States in due course,” Senator Payne said.

“But if you bear in mind what we’re already doing in our air operations and our building partner capacity work … these are significant undertakings, and Australia is already making a very significant commitment.”

Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) jets were deployed to the region to carry out airstrikes against terrorists in Iraq in October 2014.

In September this year, then-prime minister Tony Abbott announced an expansion of that campaign to Syria.

Earlier this month, the UK Parliament voted in favour of its air force joining military operations in the region.

Syria has been embroiled in a vicious civil war since a popular uprising against dictator Bashar al-Assad in 2011.

More than 200,000 people have been killed and an estimated 4 million have been forced from their homes amid fighting between Mr Assad’s forces, IS and other Islamist militants, and other rebel groups.

Australian troops are also involved in training Iraqi forces who are fighting Islamic State in that country.

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