Australia to Send 300 Troops to Iraq as Mosul Operation Continues

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Iraqi government forces and allied fighters take position in the northern part of Diyala province, bordering Salahuddin province, as they take part in an assault to retake the city of Tikrit from jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, on March 2, 2015. AFP/ Younis al-Bayati

Published Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Australia announced Tuesday it will send another 300 troops to Iraq in a joint mission with New Zealand to help train local forces fighting to reclaim territory seized by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.

The news come as the Iraqi army, backed by pro-government fighters, persists in his current offensive in Salahuddin province to retake Mosul, the largest city under ISIS control.

Australia’s decision follows New Zealand last week deciding to deploy some 140 soldiers in a non-combat role to boost the Iraqi military's ability to battle the jihadists. Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the decision followed a formal request from the Iraqi and US governments with the mission intended to span two years.

"I want to stress that we haven't taken this decision lightly. Ultimately, it is Iraq that must defeat the death cult (ISIS) but we do not want to leave the Iraqis on their own," he told reporters.

"We are naturally reluctant as a peace-loving people to reach out to far-away conflicts but, as we know, this conflict has been reaching out to us for months now."

Some 170 Australian special forces are already in Iraq helping to train government troops, and Abbott said it was in his country's national interest to bolster their presence. He said about 100 Australians were fighting with ISIS and other jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq.

"About another 150 here at home are supporting these extremists so this commitment is a matter of domestic as well as international security, and I stress this is absolutely and utterly in Australia's national interests to do this," he said.

"The protection of Australia requires work abroad as well as at home and this government will never shirk the tasks that are necessary to keep the Australian people safe."

The Australian and New Zealand troops are to be based at a military base in Taji, north of Baghdad, from May.

"I want to stress that this is a training mission, it's not a combat mission. It's inside the wire, it's not outside the wire," Abbott added. "But it is absolutely vital for our national security because I said at the beginning this Daesh (ISIS) death cult is reaching out to this country as well as to the people of Iraq and Syria.”

Asked whether it would be Australia's last contribution to the Iraq mission, he said: "It would be wrong of me to say that this is the last that we will do here."

Since August 2014, the US military — along with allies including Australia — has been conducting a campaign of airstrikes against the jihadists in Iraq and Syria. Australia's role is restricted to aerial support, training, advice and intelligence.

Australia contributed about 2,000 troops to the US-led coalition's war in Iraq from March 2003, until they withdrew in 2009. None died in combat or on operational duty during that deployment.

Mosul operation continues

Australia’s move came as some 30,000 Iraqi troops and pro-government fighters backed by aircraft pounded jihadists in and around Tikrit in the province of Salahuddin in the biggest offensive yet to retake one of ISIS main strongholds in the country.

The operation is the broadest since ISIS overran swathes of the country last year and is seen as a step towards the liberation of Mosul, the jihadists' main hub in Iraq.

In Salahuddin, ISIS fighters control several strongholds including Tikrit, hometown of executed former president Saddam Hussein and other Tigris river towns.

A source at the local military command said forces advanced north from the government-held city of Samarra towards the town of al-Dour, an ISIS bastion, and Tikrit, which lies about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Samarra.

Salahuddin governor Raed al-Jabouri told Al-Arabiya Al-Hadath television late on Monday that the army had not yet entered central Tikrit or al-Dour.

Iraq's air force carried out strikes in support of the advancing ground forces who were being reinforced by troops and militia, known as Hashid Shaabi or Popular Mobilization units, from the neighboring eastern province of Diyala.

The soldiers and volunteering fighters faced heavy opposition from ISIS militants who have had months to dig in, coming under attack as they advanced towards Samarra from their base to the east.

Sixteen of the advancing troops, five soldiers and 11 fighters were killed by gunfire and roadside bombs, army and medical sources said.

Also to the east of Samarra, a suicide bomber drove a vehicle packed with explosives into a convoy of volunteering fighters, killing four, police and hospital sources said. More than 30 fighters were wounded in clashes near al-Dour.

Declaring the start of operations on Sunday evening, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi gave ISIS supporters what he said was one last chance to lay down their arms, or face "the punishment they deserve because they stood with terrorism." But he also stressed that the army and militia must protect civilians and property in the battlefield.

Monday's offensive follows several failed attempts to drive the militants out of Tikrit since last June, when ISIS declared a caliphate in the territories it controls in eastern Syria and northern and western Iraq.

Iraqi security forces, backed by Kurdish troops, pro-government volunteering fighters, and tribesmen on the ground have managed to regain some ground from ISIS and push them back from around Baghdad, the Kurdish north, and the eastern province of Diyala. But they have held most of their strongholds in Salahuddin and taken new territory in the western province of Anbar.

A US-led coalition of Western and Arab states has also carried out airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq since August and has billed Iraq more than $260 million.

US resists putting timeline on its Mosul operation

The Pentagon said the US-led coalition which has carried out airstrikes against ISIS positions in Iraq and Syria was not yet involved. "We're fully aware of this operation but because the Iraqis didn't request our support for it, we're not providing support," Colonel Steve Warren said.

An official from the US Central Command said last month the assault on Mosul could start as early as April but Iraq has declined to confirm that timetable. Other US officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity on Monday, suggested the Mosul operation would not likely start until later, possibly in the fall.

"We've got to be very careful and we need to resist trying to put a timeline on it," said John Allen, the retired US general appointed to coordinate the international coalition against ISIS group.

"We just need to be ready when the time comes," he said, adding that he agreed with Abadi that Baghdad's army would move when it was "ready."

"That's the bottom line," said Allen, who once led American troops during the 2003-2011 US occupation of Iraq.

Allen said that recapturing towns from ISIS militants would require more than just military action and announced he was leading a group to Iraq next week to discuss reconstruction efforts for towns freed from ISIS control.

Once ISIS fighters are driven out of an area, the Baghdad government would need to be ready to send in police units, medical aid and to secure water and food supplies to a traumatized population.

"The point about Mosul, or the point about any aspect of the counter-offensive, is less about the timing than about the preparation," Allen told an audience at the Washington-based Atlantic Council think tank.

"That preparation isn't just about the clearing force," he said. "These populations have endured enormous abuse and deprivation."

Allen noted that "as we sit here right now, the fighting is raging for possession of Tikrit."

The air campaign the US is currently leading, which Washington says aims to degrade ISIS' military capability, remains the subject of debate, with critics pointing to ISIS' advances and battlefield successes despite the raids.

The expansion of jihadist groups in Iraq raises questions about the effectiveness of the US anti-terrorism campaign since 2001.

The United States invaded Iraq in 2003 using the pretext of “fighting terrorism” and claiming that then-dictator Saddam Hussein owned weapons of mass destruction.

The US invasion that supposedly aimed to eliminate al-Qaeda in Iraq — a group that didn't exist in the country until after the invasion — ended up serving as a recruitment tool for jihadist groups. The war aimed to “free Iraqis” but instead killed at least half a million Iraqis and left the country in total turmoil.

(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)

Comments

Tony Abbott's mentor is Little Jack Boots Johnny Howard. Knowing his place in life, when he was PM of Australia, John Howard & his good wife Janette, went to Buckingham Palace to supp with Her Majesty Queen Liz & CO.
Official invitation in the inner brest pocket of his jacket, they had their driver drop them of at the servants entrance of the building.
True Story - it was in the papers & we Aussies had a good laugh at his common-ness.

Ah, our Tony Abbott ....
What words can one speak to do this man justice ?
#$5#^ & 3*7%[email protected] #2^1*$ #$3%
Tony Abbott thae shame of our beloved nation Australia.

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