The Australian government has decided to start preparing about 300 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel for deployment to Iraq, marking the next phase of Australia’s contribution to the coalition that is combating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The decision, which Prime Minister Tony Abbott said followed requests for participation from Iraq and the US government, could see the Australian force based northwest of Baghdad beginning in May. The Australian contingent would centre on a training team, but would also include a substantial force-protection element, along with command and support elements.
The ADF personnel are expected to be working closely with about 100 personnel from the New Zealand Defence Force as part of an international effort to train the Iraqi security forces.
Defence confirmed that the troops that will form Task Group Taji are being drawn primarily from the 7th Brigade of the Australian Army, which is based in Brisbane.
“We will be looking to put our forces into Taji base, which is about 30 kilometres north of Baghdad,” said Chief of the Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin. “I have been working very closely with the New Zealand Defence Force Chief of Defence Force in developing the plan that we have put to government.
“The aim is to build the skills of the Iraqi Army, in particular from individual capability right up to brigade and battalion levels for skills, and they’re skills that are essential for the effective fighting that they need to do over the coming years to be able to secure their borders.”
Australia currently has approximately 170 Special Forces personnel in Iraq, mainly based at Baghdad International Airport, but most of them will leave once the current rotation ends in September, Prime Minister Abbott stated.
“We are working with Iraq, the United States and other coalition partners to finalise the details of this training mission,” he said. “We anticipate that we will be in a position to make a final decision about the actual deployment, as opposed to the preparations to deploy, in a matter of weeks.”