Australian Special Forces cleared to start advisory mission in Iraq
An Australian Special Forces group has secured permission from the Iraqi Government to advise and assist its security forces in the fight against Islamic State (IS) militants.
Deployed to the Middle East in September, the 200-strong group has been stationed in the UAE, awaiting clearance from the government to begin its advisory mission in Iraq.
Speaking during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in China, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said: "Our priority at the moment is getting our Special Forces into Baghdad and then into the field on the advice and assist mission that we have set them.
"That is happening, and I am confident that our people will do good work."
While Australia insists that its Special Forces will serve in non-combat role, US President Barack Obama indicated that the country might be requested to expand its role.
Obama said some of the tribes in western Iraq are showing a willingness to fight against IS, but are currently outgunned and too often out-manoeuvred.
"I am having conversations with Australia and other coalition partners that are already committed to putting trainers in, to see how they can supplement and work with us in this overall effort," Obama said.
Meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph has reported that the US had approached Australia with regards to the possibility of providing up to 200 additional Australian commandos to train Iraqi soldiers.
A formal request for further military assistance is expected in the future.
A spokesperson for Abbott said the federal government will make a decision on providing more Australian soldiers only after receiving 'specific' request from the US.
In addition to Special Forces, Australia has also sent approximately 400 Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) personnel to the Middle East to support its commitments in Iraq.
The group began participating in US-led coalition air strikes against IS in Iraq in early October.
Since the start of the IS offensive, Australian planes have made humanitarian aid drops to refugees in northern Iraq and delivered arms and munitions to Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting the militants.