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Iraq deal on special forces imminent: PM

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Prime minister Tony Abbott with members of Australia's armed forces. (File photo: Crikey
Prime minister Tony Abbott with members of Australia’s armed forces. (File photo: Crikey

Australian special forces could be working with Iraqi troops within days as the two governments finalise legal protections.

While RAAF Super Hornets have undertaken one bombing raid against Islamic State targets since the October 3 start of the mission, Australia’s pre-deployed 200 special forces members have yet to begin training and assisting Iraqi ground forces.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the process for getting legal protections in place was taking longer than expected.

But he was confident it would be resolved in the next few days so Australian forces could deploy into Iraq to advise and assist the Iraqi security forces, Mr Abbott said on Wednesday.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari has expressed concerns about the use of foreign troops, rather than simply air support, saying it could cause “justifiable fears and concerns among the Iraqi population”.

Asked whether such concerns were holding up the deployment, Mr Abbott said Australia had no intention of sending in combat troops.

‘”We are not proposing independent combat operations by Australian and other coalition forces,’ he said.

‘It is about helping the people of Iraq to reclaim their country.’

Australia’s defence force chief Mark Binskin has attended a briefing with other coalition military leaders at the US Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, hosted by chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey.

‘ISIL is an adaptive enemy but the coalition is agile and we have the ability, as partners, to come together to provide the capabilities required to disrupt and degrade their attack,’ Air Chief Marshal Binskin said after the meeting.

‘It will take a comprehensive and sustained effort from the international community to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL.’

US President Barack Obama told reporters after the meeting the mission in Iraq, now involving 60 nations, was achieving its short-term aims against IS, also known as ISIL, but would be a “long-term campaign”.

‘Because of the numbers of foreign fighters that are being attracted, and the chaos that ISIL was creating in the region, ultimately it will pose a threat beyond the Middle East, including to the United States, Europe, and far-flung countries like Australia that have already seen terrorist networks trying to infiltrate and impact (them),’ Mr Obama said.

RAAF Super Hornet aircraft have flown seven combat missions in Iraq since federal cabinet gave the green light on October 3.

However, bombs have been dropped on Islamic State targets on only one of those missions.

Meanwhile, the presence of New Zealand’s defence chief Lieutenant-General Tim Keating at the US talks has sparked debate over an NZ military role in Iraq.

NZ Prime Minister John Key said it was a regular “advisory” meeting, but the Labour opposition said it appeared Mr Key appeared to have unilaterally decided the military would take part in the fight against ISIL.


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