Australian aircraft join the war but not yet fighting

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has not put a time on the deployment of Australian strike fighters in Iraq. AAP/Lukas Coch

Australia’s early warning and refuelling aircraft will operate over Iraq from today in support of American and other Coalition planes fighting terrorist group ISIL, but the government has yet to give the order to commit its strike fighters to combat.

In a statement to Parliament, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Australian strike missions awaited final clearances from the Iraqi government and a further decision by the federal government.

Abbott did not put a time on when the go-ahead would be given for the Australian aircraft to be moved into combat. The government is anxious that all the formalities be very properly and carefully completed.

More than two weeks ago the government pre-deployed super hornet strike fighters, an early warning and control aircraft, a refuelling aircraft, and special forces to help train Iraq soldiers.

Abbott said the ISIL movement was an “apocalyptic death cult”, which had declared war on the world and “must be resisted at home and abroad”.

Earlier, questioned at a news conference, he again left the way open for Australia to take part in operations in Syria at some later date. At present the government has said it will confine its operations to Iraq.

In response to a question asking whether he had further examined the legal options for a Syrian deployment, Abbott noted that the government had never ruled this out.

“We’ve just observed that the legalities of operating in Syria are quite different from the legalities of operating in Iraq at the request of the Iraq government.

"The legalities are different - frankly the moralities are the same,” he said.

ISIL was a menace to everyone and “it’s the same whether it’s in Syria or it’s in Iraq”. But the legalities mattered to a country such as Australia.

US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, wrote in a letter to the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, that ISIL’s threat to Iraq gave the US and its allies an automatic right to attack on its behalf.

“States must be able to defend themselves, in accordance with the inherent right on individual and collective self-defence, as reflected in article 51 of the UN Charter, when, as is the case here, the government of the state where the threat is located is unwilling or unable to prevent the use of its territory for such attacks,” she said.

Abbott said the Australian government believed that the United States’ use of the “collective self defence” argument to defend its action in Syria was a legitimate basis for what it was doing.

“It is a perfectly legitimate doctrine. It is a perfectly legitimate basis for military action under the right circumstances,” he said. Australia supported the US action in both Iraq and Syria. The American action in Syria was supported by a number of Middle Eastern nations.

But people shouldn’t read into Australia’s support for the Syrian action “anything in terms of what Australia might or might not do in times to come,” Abbott said.

Abbott at his news conference also announced that Andrew Colvin will be the new Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police. Colvin has most recently been the deputy commissioner responsible for national security. He replaces Tony Negus who recently retired.