Australian special forces are moving into Iraq to advise the country’s military in its fight against Islamic State militants.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced the breakthrough following talks with United States president Barack Obama at the APEC summit in Beijing.
Australia deployed 200 special forces soldiers to the Middle East in September, but for weeks they have been waiting for formal direction from the Iraqi government to begin their non-combat role.
Mr Abbott said the fundamentalist ISIL group had “declared war on the world” and that it was important to “respond strongly”.
“The ISIL death cult is a menace to the whole world,” he said.
“They’ve declared war on the world and it’s good that the president, working with the Iraqi government, has assembled a strong coalition to assist the Iraqi government to respond effectively and ultimately to regain control over its own territory.
“So it is important to respond strongly, which is what the US-led Coalition is doing.
“Our priority at the moment is getting our special forces into Baghdad and then into the field on the advise and assist mission that we’ve set them.
“That’s happening and I’m confident that our people will do good work.”
However Mr Abbott said the fight against ISIL must be predominantly waged by Iraqi forces.
“No-one is going to fight harder for Iraq than Iraqis will fight for themselves,” he said.
“We are helping them to reclaim their country from something which is evil, from something which is a menace to them and if it’s allowed to remain will be a menace to all of us.”
The troops will initially be based in Baghdad and later deployed to other parts of the strife-torn country.
The talks in Beijing came days after Mr Obama announced he was sending an extra 1500 US troops into the strife-torn nation to help train local security forces.
“We’re moving to a slightly different phase now,” the US president told reporters after the meeting.
Initially, the campaign had been aimed at stopping ISIL’s advance, now it is to build up the Iraqi security forces so they can fight effectively on their own, he said.
“As we are setting that up, I am having conversations with Australia and other coalition partners that are already committed to putting trainers in to see how they can supplement and work with us in this overall effort,” he said.
The leaders also discussed the upcoming G20 in Brisbane, regional trade and China’s proposal for an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
Earlier, both men participated in a meeting of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, ambitious US-led plan to open up trade barriers among 12 Asia-Pacific nations.
Mr Abbott also had meetings with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
Mr Abbott is also set to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin over the Moscow-backed Ukrainian separatist attack on Malaysia Airlines plane MH17 when the pair meet on Tuesday.
Mr Abbott made international headlines when he threatened to “shirtfront” the Russian leader over the attack that killed 298 people, including 38 Australians.
But Mr Abbott is now playing down the prospect of fireworks, saying his talks with Mr Putin were “by no means the biggest part” of his APEC agenda.
Mr Abbott will head to Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, on Wednesday for the ASEAN East Asia Summit.
He will return to Australia on Friday.
– with AAP, ABC