Australian forces will target Islamic State militants in extended air strikes in in the Middle East.
The national security committee of cabinet approved the extension on Wednesday, following a request from US President Barack Obama last month.
The Syrian conflict has been at the forefront this week, with a one-off, 12,000-place increase in humanitarian visas also announced on Wednesday.
In a joint statement, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Defence Minister Kevin Andrews said the military extension marked the next phase of Australian contribution to the international coalition effort.
“The legal basis for these operations is the collective self-defence of Iraq. Daesh controls a large amount of territory in eastern Syria that serves as a source of recruitment and oil revenues, and as a base from which it continues to launch attacks in both Syria and Iraq,” the statement read.
“The extension of the Australian Defence Force’s operations into Syria will help protect Iraq and its people from Daesh attacks inside Iraq and from across the border in Syria.
“As the Government has stated before, the size and nature of Australia’s overall commitment to defeat Daesh will remain under regular review. This is a decision that is firmly in Australia’s national interest.”
Mr Andrews said eastern Syria would be the main target of Australian air strikes and would not include the areas of Damascus and Aleppo.
But Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie said the strikes would likely be deemed “illegal” as Syrian fighters were not an immediate threat to Australia.
“This is a
A coalition of air forces
Australia joins a coalition of the United States, Canada and several Middle Eastern countries, including Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar. France recently announced it would also join.
Australia has been conducting air operations to strike Islamic State forces in Iraq since October last year, flying six Hornet fighter-bombers, a Wedgetail airborne early warning and control aircraft and a KC-30A tanker aircraft from bases in the United Arab Emirates. Those aircraft routinely fly right up to the border with Syria.
Russia has also confirmed it is fighting against the Islamic State group — by supporting Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad directly. This has raised concerns that the US-led coalition could come into conflict with Russian forces.
“We are already giving Syria quite serious help with equipment and training soldiers, with our weapons,” Russian president Vladimir Putin said this week, according to The Independent.
Prime Minister Abbott earlier denied allegations that it was Australia, not the United States, that initiated the request for air support.
“This was raised with me by the president in a conversation that the president initiated to discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiation, so it was raised with me by President Obama,” Mr Abbott said last month.
On Wednesday, the government also announced Australia would increase the intake of Syrian refugees and offer a one-off 12,000 additional permanent resettlement positions.
This was on top of the 13,750 humanitarian visas already offered for 2015.