Australian military jets are to join in the US-led air war against the Islamic State group in Iraq, conducting refuelling and support missions, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Wednesday.
Australia deployed some 600 troops and several aircraft to the United Arab Emirates in mid-September as it geared up to join the US-led international coalition.
The RAAF’s E-7A Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft and a refuelling aircraft “will operate over Iraq in support of US and other coalition aircraft”, Abbott added.
The Prime Minister said the Islamic State group was an “apocalyptic death cult” that had “declared war on the world and it must be resisted at home and abroad”.
Opposition Labor leader Bill Shorten said his party supported the Australian military’s involvement in Iraq, but not the deployment of combat units on the ground.
Shorten added that any military involvement “should be confined to Iraq”.
Abbott said previously that the UAE deployment was focused on Iraq and not Syria, adding that Australia does not recognise the Syrian government.
He noted at a press conference earlier Wednesday that “the legalities of operating in Syria are quite different from the legalities of operating in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government”.
US warplanes have been launching multiple strikes against IS jihadists in both Syria and Iraq, while Britain carried out its first air raids against the IS group in Iraq on Tuesday.
Australia has already joined the US in an international effort to transport weapons to Kurdish forces fighting IS extremists in northern Iraq. And it has conducted humanitarian air drops in besieged Iraqi towns.
Abbott has repeatedly said that the violence in Iraq was “reaching out” to Australia, and has warned that some 60 citizens are already fighting alongside jihadists in the conflict overseas.