Prime Minister Tony Abbott has confirmed that Australian planes will join humanitarian airdrops in Iraq and did not rule out the possibility of greater military involvement.
Abbott, speaking in London after security talks, said Canberra was in discussions with international partners on how to protect displaced Iraqi civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar by jihadist Islamic State militants.
“Australian aircraft will shortly be joining the humanitarian airlift and airdrop to the Mount Sinjar region and we are consulting with our partners including the United States, including the United Kingdom, about what further assistance Australia can give,” he said late on Tuesday.
Last week, the United States launched an air campaign to break the siege of Mount Sinjar, bring humanitarian relief to the Yazidis and support Kurdish troops protecting their capital Arbil.
Washington has ruled out sending US combat troops to the country, as has Britain, which has increased its support efforts and missions to supply humanitarian aid to refugees.
Asked whether Australia's efforts could include further military action by defence forces, Abbott said: “We certainly don't rule that out.
“We are talking to our partners - and our partners, in this instance, are certainly much wider than simply the United States and United Kingdom - but we are talking to our security partners about what we can usefully do to help,” he said.
But he stressed that any involvement would be a humanitarian mission to protect those at risk from the “murderous hordes” of the Islamic State.
“There is a world of difference between getting involved to prevent genocide and the kind of involvement that we've seen in recent years by western countries in the Middle East... and no one should conflate the two,” he said.
Abbott held talks in London with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and spoke on the telephone with Prime Minister David Cameron, although details of the discussions were not disclosed.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel met with their Australian counterparts in Sydney on Tuesday, with the issue of how Canberra could cooperate to help people in northern Iraq on the agenda.
Abbott said the timing of the Australian assistance on airdrops, likely to include the use of two aircraft stationed in the Middle East, was still being worked out. - Sapa-AFP