Isis: Tony Abbott welcomes extra US troops but says he won't send more

Isis: Tony Abbott welcomes extra US troops but says he won't send more

The US president authorises the doubling of troop levels in Iraq to 3,000, but PM says Australia’s plans have not changed

US Navy F-18E Super Hornets supporting operations against IS, after being refueled by a KC-135 Stato
US navy F-18E Super Hornets supporting operations against Islamic State, after being refueled. Photograph: Staff Sgt Shawn Nickel/AFP/Getty Images
Barack Obama’s approval of additional troops in Iraq is welcome but Australia’s current commitment remains, the prime minister, Tony Abbott, has said.
The US president has authorised the doubling of US troop levels in Iraq for the war against Islamic State (Isis) militants, further straining his pledge against “boots on the ground”.
Obama ordered an additional 1,500 troops to Iraq on Friday to bolster the performance of Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting Isis in ground combat. The training, the Pentagon said, is expected to last the better part of a year, raising questions about when the Iraqis will be able to wrest territory away from Isis.
Speaking to reporters in Melbourne on Saturday, Abbott welcomed the US announcement but said there were no plans to change Australia’s commitment. The government announced in October it was sending special forces to Iraq and Australian war planes have led international air strikes, destroying key Isis targets.
“Obviously we work in very close partnership with the United States, with the United Kingdom, with a number of other countries,” Abbott told reporters. “This is a very broad coalition, it’s not just the United States.
“Our commitment is clear, it’s up to eight Super Hornet strike aircraft ... it’s up to 200 special forces. We have made a strong commitment to disrupting and degrading the ISIL death cult and we continue to talk with our partners and allies about how this is best achieved.”
The new US troops, the Pentagon emphasised, would not be used in a combat role, joining roughly the same number of “advisers” who have been performing a similar role in Iraq since June. Troop levels in Iraq will soon stand at about 3,000.
US warplanes will continue their near-daily bombardment of Isis targets from the air.
To finance the expanded effort, the White House has asked Congress for an additional $5.6bn, which will sustain operations like the air strikesand associated logistics. The money includes $1.6bn as a “train and equip fund” for Iraqi and Kurdish units to enable them to “go on the offensive”, said budget director Shaun Donovan.
An additional $3.4bn will be used “to support ongoing operations” including military advisers, intelligence collection and ammunition. The rest would go to the State Department to support diplomacy and to provide aid to neighboring countries including Lebanon and Jordan.
But the Pentagon said that none of the additional troops would arrive in Iraq unless and until Congress approves the funding package.
US officials rejected the assertion that the additional troops represented “mission creep”.
“Even with these additional personnel, the mission is not changing,” a senior administration official said. “The mission continues to be one of training, advising and equipping Iraqis, and Iraqis are the ones who are fighting on the ground, fighting in combat.”
Despite this the Australian Greens leader, Christine Milne, said the US decision to increase ground troops in Iraq confirmed her fears that Australia was involved in mission creep.
“It started off with a humanitarian response, then it moved to dropping weapons, then it moved to committing to air strikes and special forces,” she told reporters on Saturday. “Now we have the Americans significantly increasing their contribution of boots on the ground.”
Milne called on Abbott to rule out increasing the number of Australian special forces. “The effort has to go into cutting off [Isis’s] financial and other supplies,” Milne said.


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