Abbott confirms Australia could help US fight Iraq militants
AUSTRALIA could be on the verge of another military intervention in Iraq, after the Abbott government confirmed it could offer to help the United States fight militants in the country on Monday.
The humanitarian crisis, triggered by the Islamic State's siege on a religious minority on a mountain-top in northern Iraq, on Monday seemed to be fast turning into a military intervention.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott on the weekend labelled the IS group a "terrorist army"; after a series of US air strikes on IS vehicles and other targets.
A group of some 40,000 minority Yazidi religious followers were reported as under siege by IS militants on Mount Sinjar on Sunday, as the IS continues its push across the region.
Defence Minister David Johnston on Monday said on ABC Radio that the government was not ruling out providing military assistance to the US, although ground troops had not be discussed.
Senator Johnston and US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel met in Sydney on Monday, three years after the "Coalition of the Willing" forces pulled out after the second Iraq war.
Sec Hagel on Monday confirmed the talks, which continue on Tuesday, will also include operations in Iraq against IS, Ukraine on the MH17 site, and continued Afghanistan involvement.
Australian troops are expected to leave Afghanistan by the end of this year, as part of a continued withdrawal from the country over the past 18 months.
But US President Barack Obama, while preparing for a long campaign against IS, ruled out a return of US troops on the ground in Iraq.
Senator Johnston said Australia already had crews on board C17 and C130 Hercules aircraft ready for humanitarian airdrops, which were ready to help in "whatever way the United States requests".
He said the existing airdrops were a "considerable contribution", and humanitarian efforts were the government's "sole focus".
While he said he was prepared to "assist our friends" with any requests the US may have, what the future held was uncertain.
Sec Hagel said it was a "humanitarian issue of great consequence for all of the world", and said the Australian Government would "make it's announcement when it was ready".