Prime Minister Tony Abbott has announced Australian Air Force planes will carry weapons into Iraq to help Kurdish fighters battle Islamic State (IS) militants.
Mr Abbott is today expected to reveal the details of Australia’s involvement as part of a multi-national effort.
It is believed C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster aircraft based in Dubai will be used to fly munitions and arms into the country’s north to help Iraqis in the fight against IS.
First mission ‘within days’
“Following the successful international humanitarian relief effort air-dropping supplies to the thousands of people stranded on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq, the Royal Australian Air Force will now conduct further humanitarian missions,” Mr Abbott said in a statement.
“The United States government has requested that Australia help to transport stores of military equipment, including arms and munitions, as part of a multi-nation effort.”
It comes as the US military launched fresh attacks on IS forces using fighter aircraft and drones to carry out strikes near the Mosul dam, the Pentagon said.
“The strikes destroyed an ISIL (Islamic State) armed vehicle, an ISIL fighting position, ISIL weapons, and significantly damaged an ISIL building,” a US Defence Department statement said.
“All aircraft exited the strike areas safely.”
The Iraqi army and Kurdish forces have also closed in on IS fighters in a push to break the Sunni militants’ siege of the Shiite town of Amerli, army sources said.
Two officers said Iraqi troops, militia and Kurdish Peshmerga were advancing from four directions on the northern town, which has been surrounded by Islamic State forces since June.
After being surrounded by the Islamic State group for more than two months, residents in Amerli are facing major shortages of food and water.
Washington is weighing up both aid drops and air strikes to help the town.
A spokeswoman for the UN mission in Iraq says there is no possibility of evacuating residents at this stage. More than 15,000 people remain trapped inside.
Armed residents of Amerli have managed to fend off attacks by the Islamic State fighters, who regard its majority Shiite Turkman population as apostates.
Yazidi women sold into marriage
Dozens of Yazidi women kidnapped by Islamic State jihadists in Iraq have been taken to Syria, forced to convert and sold into marriage to militants, an activist group says.
Islamic State militants overran most of Sunni Arab Iraq after seizing the northern city of Mosul on June 10, and have proclaimed a caliphate straddling the border with Syria, where they also control vast swathes of territory.
The lightning offensive brought the militants within range of the capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region earlier this month, prompting air strikes by the United States.
The Kurds have since been slowly regaining ground from the militants and on Saturday advanced on the northern town of Zumar.
Peshmerga spokesman Halgurd Hikmat, said control over Zumar would help the Kurds to retake Rabia and Sinjar – two other areas seized by Islamic State.
Violence in Iraq has spiralled out of control this year, reaching levels not seen since 2006 when the country was convulsed by civil war.
In a separate incident on Saturday, a suicide bomber driving a car packed with explosives killed at least 11 people in a town just south of Baghdad.
The suicide bombing took place at a checkpoint at a northern entrance to the town of Yusifiya, 15 kilometres from the capital, a police officer said on condition of anonymity.
“The suicide bomber drove into the checkpoint and blew up his car amongst vehicles waiting to be searched,” the officer said.
Lebanese soldier beheaded by IS in leaked footage