Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has made the case in Washington that the Iraqi people won’t accept coalition boots on the ground in the fight to defeat Islamic State (IS) militants.
In a speech at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Mr Turnbull addressed the controversial issue of ground troops directly, having just visited Australian soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The destruction of ISIL requires a military solution – it requires boots on the ground,” Mr Turnbull said in a keynote speech on Tuesday morning (AEST).
“But they must be the right boots on the right ground.”
The recent retaking of Ramadi was a prime example of how the Iraqi army leadership, assisted by the coalition’s respective air and special forces, was “the right combination”, the Prime Minister argued.
The US-led coalition’s efforts appear to be paying off with IS-held territory shrinking by about 40 per cent from its maximum expansion in Iraq in 2015.
Mr Turnbull is in Washington for a two-day official visit to the US, after making an unannounced detour to Iraq and Afghanistan over the weekend.
The Prime Minister is set to share his insights from the Middle East trip with US Defense Secretary Ash Carter after a ceremonial welcome on Tuesday morning (AEST).
He will meet President Barack Obama at the White House on Wednesday (AEST).
Mr Turnbull paid a visit to Afghanistan President Dr Ashraf Ghani at the presidential palace in Kabul on Sunday just hours before the neighbouring Italian embassy compound came under a rocket attack.
In Iraq, Mr Turnbull met with Australian defence personnel training Iraqi forces as well as the country’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
It’s understood Mr al-Abadi has a strong view that coalition forces should not take a greater role beyond the wire.
Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed reportedly favours additional boots on the ground coming from the region.
Canberra has formally rejected what Mr Turnbull described as a “form letter” US request for increased military contributions from its coalition partners.
Australia has 780 defence personnel deployed in the Middle East providing training and conducting air strikes over Iraq and Syria.
With last week’s bloodshed in Jakarta fresh on his mind, Mr Turnbull will acknowledge that the IS’s declaration of a caliphate was a powerful marketing tool.
It attracts supporters to the Middle East region and inspires attacks at home.
“The destruction of their self-styled caliphate would help to counter its narrative of inevitable victory and is therefore an important element in securing Australians and Americans at home and abroad,” the PM will tell the think-tank.
Mr Turnbull says coalition countries should not be so delicate as to say IS and its ilk have nothing to do with Islam.
But equally it’s important to avoid tagging all Muslims with responsibility for the crimes of a tiny criminal minority, Mr Turnbull will say.
“That is precisely what the extremists want us to do.”