The federal government has decided to extend into eastern Syria airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) targets carried out by Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) aircraft.
“This marks the next phase of Australia’s contribution to the international coalition effort to disrupt, degrade and ultimately defeat the Daesh [ISIL] death cult,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott stated.
“The decision to expand air operations into Syria has been given careful consideration; it follows Iraq’s requests for international assistance to strike Daesh strongholds, and a formal request from the Obama administration.”
The Air Task Group (ATG) deployed in support of Operation OKRA, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) contribution to the effort to combat ISIL in Iraq, consists of approximately 400 personnel, plus six F/A-18A Hornet multirole fighter aircraft, an E-7A Wedgetail airborne early warning and control platform, and a KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transport.
Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, Chief of the Defence Force (CDF), said that although up to eight aircraft have been approved to carry out airstrikes, the size of the ATG is not expected to increase at this stage.
“The rotation will be classic Hornets or Super Hornets, depending on what squadron comes online to do it,” he said. “We are approved for up to eight aircraft at the moment. We do not envisage that I will increase that number from six to eight, although I have the flexibility to do that depending on the tasking, and I can increase that at any time if I need to.”
CDF stated that operations could start within a week. “As a logical extension to our current air operations over Iraq, this gives the operational commander the wherewithal to be able to focus air operations where and when he may need it; it depends on the tasking cycle and what targets may come up in the particular areas at the time,” he said.
For the RAAF it is business as usual, with no significant increase in risk, CDF suggested. “For all intents and purposes they just take a 10-degree left turn when they go on task and end up over Syria, so there is no major change to be able to do these operations over eastern Syria,” he added.