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Australia to provide arms in U.S.-led mission against IS


CANBERRA, Australia — An Australian military aircraft will soon fly guns and ammunition to the northern Iraqi city of Irbil to help Kurds fight Islamic State militants as part of a U.S.-led multination mission, Australia's prime minister said on Sunday.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said his government would join the United States, Britain, Canada, France and Italy in delivering rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and assault rifle ammunition at the request of the U.S. and Iraqi governments.

"While we understandably shrink from reaching out to these conflicts, the truth is that these conflicts reach out to us," Abbott told reporters.

"None of us want to get involved in another Middle Eastern war, but it is important to do what reasonably can be done to avert potential genocide," he added.

Australia will use air force C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster planes based at al-Minhad Air Base outside Dubai to deliver weapons and ammunition provided by East European countries.

Australia has said it has F/A-18 Hornets standing ready to join U.S. airstrikes in Iraq if requested by the U.S. and Iraqi governments.

Abbott said Sunday the United States had not requested that Australia play a combat role. If such a request were made, Abbott said it would be considered if it fits the criteria of an achievable overall objective with a clear role for Australian forces. Safety risks must be considered and an overall humanitarian purpose must be in accordance with Australia's national interest, he said.

Australian C-130s had previously made humanitarian airdrops including food and water to thousands of people stranded by fighting on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq.

Defense Force Chief Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin revealed that an Australian C-130 had on Sunday made a humanitarian airdrop of food, water and hygiene packs to the besieged Iraqi town of Amelie — enough for 2,600 people for a day.

Binskin said the weapons would not be air-dropped, but handed over to Kurdish peshmerga officials.

The opposition Labor Party, which opposed Australia sending 2,000 troops to back U.S. and British forces in the 2003 Iraq invasion, has supported the latest Australian involvement in delivering weapons and munitions to the Kurds.

Australia estimates 60 of its citizens are fighting for the Islamic State group and another al-Qaeda offshoot, Jabhat al-Nursa, also known as the Nusra Front, in Iraq and Syria. Another 15 Australian fighters had been killed, including two young suicide bombers.

The government warns that the Islamic State movement poses an unprecedented domestic terrorism threat. Australia has proposed tough new counterterrorism laws and announced $590 million in new spending on intelligence, law enforcement and border protection agencies over the next four years to enhance security, including a roll out of biometric screening at airports.

Britain on Friday raised its terror threat level to severe, the second-highest level. But Australia announced on Saturday that its threat level remained at medium, a level that had not changed in more than a decade.

Abbott did not believe Australia's increased military involvement in Iraq would necessarily increase the domestic terrorist threat.

"There is a certain type of terrorist organization that hates us not because of what we do, but because of who we are and how we live," he said. "And who we are and how we live I hope will never change."

The announcement from the Australian leader comes hours after the Pentagon announced late Saturday night that U.S. warplanes conducted a fresh round of airstrikes and emergency aid drops at a new site in Iraq to thwart Islamic State militants threatening a town populated by an ethnic minority. The strikes and humanitarian aid missions were flown near the town of Amirli, home to Turkmen.

The operation is similar to the one mounted at Mount Sinjar, not far away in northern Iraq, to help save Yazidis, a religious minority that IS had besieged.

"These military operations were conducted under authorization from the commander-in-chief to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance and to prevent an (IS) attack on the civilians of Amirli," Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement. "The operations will be limited in their scope and duration as necessary to address this emerging humanitarian crisis and protect the civilians trapped in Amirli."

Saturday's strikes and drops widened the U.S. effort to confront the IS, which has seized territory from Syria and across northern Iraq. Its brutal tactics, including the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley, have heightened the sense of urgency to confront them.

U.S. fighter jets attacked and destroyed three IS Humvees, a tank, an armed vehicle and a checkpoint near Amirli, according to a statement from U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East. Also, U.S. cargo planes dropped 109 bundles of food and water. Australian, British and French aircraft also flew humanitarian missions.

Since early August, the 118 airstrikes have mostly focused on areas around Mosul dam in northern Iraq. IS fighters had seized the dam and sparked fears that its destruction could inundate Iraq's most populous areas, including Baghdad. There were also concerns that IS, whose string of conquests had been unbroken, might overrun Irbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdish region.

The airstrikes have allowed Kurdish fighters and Iraqi special forces to retake the dam and push militants back from Mosul. This week, several Western countries have agreed to send arms to the Kurds.

Saturday's effort expands the target list and widens the effort against IS. American spy planes have begun surveillance missions on potential IS targets in neighboring Syria where the militants got their start.

The Pentagon estimates operations in Iraq cost $7.5 million per day.

Contributing: Associated Press

source: usatoday
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