Australia to send troops to Iraq to help in fight against ISIL

PM Tony Abbott reassured Australians saying mission would be as long as necessary but short as possible

Australia's cabinet Friday authorized the deployment of special forces and military air strikes to tackle the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), Prime Minister Tony Abbott said, a day after the Turkish government won parliamentary approval to deploy troops in Iraq and Syria.

"Today, cabinet has authorized Australian airstrikes in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government and in support of the Iraqi government," Abbott said. "Also, subject to final legal documentation, cabinet has authorized the deployment of Australian special forces into Iraq to advise and assist Iraqi forces."

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About 200 troops, including special forces soldiers, arrived in mid-September in the United Arab Emirates, a staging post for military operations into the region, as part of a 600-strong deployment as Australia geared up to join the U.S.-led campaign.

On Thursday, Turkish MPs voted to approve military action against ISIL as fighters from the group pressed an assault on a Syrian frontier town. If captured by ISIL, they would control a long stretch of Turkey's nearly 600-mile border with Syria.

Australia's decision to join the U.S. and five European countries in flying combat missions over Iraq came as the coalition stepped up air strikes against fighters there in support of Kurdish forces and the beleaguered federal army.

Abbot stressed that the Australian special forces to be sent to Iraq were "not envisaged" to become directly involved in combat missions but would be "helping Iraqi forces with the planning and coordination of operations."

"The Americans certainly have quite a substantial special forces component on the ground already," Abbott said. "My understanding is that there are UK and Canadian special forces already inside Iraq, so we'll be operating on a much smaller scale but in an entirely comparable way to the United States special forces."

Vague time frame

Abbott refused to put a time frame on Australia's involvement in Iraq.

"I want to stress that only Iraq can defeat ISIL, but Iraq shouldn't be alone and as far as Australia and our allies are concerned, Iraq won't be alone," he said. "I have to warn that this deployment to Iraq could be quite lengthy, certainly months rather than weeks."

"I want to reassure the Australian people that it will be as long as it needs to be, but as short as it possibly can be," the prime minister said.

Up to eight Australian Super Hornets were authorized to take part in the strikes, with six of the aircraft currently in the UAE, Australian Defense Force chief Mark Binskin said. The announcement came days after Australian military jets took part in support missions over Iraq with the U.S.-led international coalition.

Canberra had already joined the U.S. in an international effort to transport weapons to Kurdish forces fighting ISIL extremists in northern Iraq and conducted humanitarian air drops to besieged Iraqi towns.

In its Iraq operation, some 1,600 U.S. soldiers have been deployed to support Iraqi forces with equipment, training and information. Canada said last month it had sent dozens of special forces soldiers to the country to advise local personnel.

In Syria, Washington has so far relied on Arab allies for support in its air campaign against ISIL which is now in its 11th day. Recently, reports emerged from Syria that civilians were killed in the U.S.-led strikes, including women and children.

The White House responded by saying its policy requiring "near certainty" that noncombatants wouldn't be targeted does not apply to its military operation in Syria.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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