US to put boots on the ground in Syria
The White House announces a small number of US special operations forces will be sent to northern Syria to work with local troops in the fight against Islamic State militants.
The Turnbull government has expressed veiled disappointment that Britain will not join Australia in expanding air strikes into Syria, leaving the RAAF and the US Air Force as the only contributors.
Justice Minister Michael Keenan said on Wednesday that the decision was a matter for Britain but added twice that Australia would like to have the “broadest possible coalition” to help in the fight against the Islamic State terror group.
He was commenting on the decision by British Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday to shelve plans for a parliamentary vote on expanding air strikes to Syria amid concerns by Downing Street that the government could not muster enough MPs to back the expansion.
Justice Minister Michael Keenan.
Justice Minister Michael Keenan. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
“Obviously we’re keen to see the broadest possible coalition participating in those strikes on ISIL,” Mr Keenan said, using an alternative name for the Islamic State.
“That issue of air strikes in Syria from the British perspective is clearly contentious domestically for Britain. It’s clearly a matter for them and their parliamentary processes about the way they see fighting ISIL going forward.
“But clearly from Australia’s perspective, we’re keen to have the broadest possible coalition participating with us in degrading and destroying ISIL.”
Defence Minister Marise Payne was in Kuala Lumpur attending the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting and could not be reached for comment.
Downing Street’s change of heart came as a British parliamentary committee recommended against expanding air strikes into Syria in the absence of a clearer strategy for the broader civil war in the country.
The foreign affairs select committee, chaired by one of Mr Cameron’s own Tory MPs, found that while an expansion would be welcomed by coalition partners, it would have only a “marginal effect” on the overall campaign.
“We believe that there should be no extension of British military action into Syria unless there is a coherent international strategy that has a realistic chance of defeating ISIL and of ending the civil war in Syria,” the MPs concluded.
Australia is the second largest contributor to the fight against the Islamic State after the US.
Britain has eight Tornado fight planes operating over Iraq, which have carried out about 300 air strikes compared with 434 strike missions by the RAAF’s six Hornet and Super Hornet aircraft as of about one month ago.
The Hornets had carried out nine missions over Syria as of October 2 and launched strikes against two targets. The RAAF’s KC-30 air-to-air refueller had carried out five missions over Syria and its Wedgetail early warning and control aircraft one mission.
Canada had carried out a handful of strikes in Syria but its new government has decided against continuing those missions.
The US recently announced it will deploy up to 50 special forces soldiers to train and advise Syrian rebels and will step up special operations raids against high-value ISIL targets in both Syria and Iraq – widely seen as an escalation by the Obama administration.
Fairfax Media understands Australia will not make any such expansion, reflecting a view in Canberra that the Australian Defence Force is already pulling its weight.