Australian troops in Middle East for long term: PM

Dan McCulloch
(Australian Associated Press)

 

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said Australian troops will remain in Iraq and Afghanistan for a long time.

“There is no doubt that in both theatres, there is going to need to be a long-term commitment,” he told reporters at the Al Minhad Air Base in the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday.

“So it is going to be a long-term commitment and we will consider, with our allies in these conflict areas, … requests for further support and as it evolves, we’ll be looking at that.”

Mr Turnbull made the comments after an unannounced visit to Australian troops in the Middle East before Anzac Day commemorations.

He said “defeating, smashing, destroying” the Islamic State group was vitally important to the security and safety of Iraq as well as Australia.

Central to this effort was supporting and training Afghan and Iraqi military and police security forces.

“To ensure that they have the ability to defend their own country, to push back the terrorists where they’ve made gains, and to secure the territory that the government is holding,” Mr Turnbull said.

More than 1700 Australian Defence Force personnel are deployed in the Middle East, with about 750 in Iraq and Syria and 270 in Afghanistan.

Since 2002, 42 Australian troops have been killed in Afghanistan and two in Iraq.

Earlier, Mr Turnbull offered Iraq an extra $110 million in humanitarian assistance.

He said IS had lost 60 per cent of the territory it once held in Iraq, with more than two million people liberated from its grasp in 2016, and the funding would help combat the terrorist group.

“As the coalition military effort forces ISIS out of major population centres, it is important to increase humanitarian and stabilisation assistance to help the Iraqi government lock in security gains,” he and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a joint statement on Tuesday.

The funding includes an immediate injection of $10 million for urgent needs arising from an operation to liberate Mosul, and a three-year $100 million assistance package to be included in the upcoming budget.

The funding brings Australia’s humanitarian assistance to Iraq and Syria to more than $530 million since 2014.

During his visit on Sunday and Monday, Mr Turnbull assessed the progress of the wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, and met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi in Baghdad and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul.

He also met with US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, reiterating Australia’s commitment to defeating terrorism.

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