Australia is set to deploy hundreds of soldiers to the United Arab Emirates to support a US-led operation against "Islamic State" militants. Prime Minister Tony Abbott said 10 aircraft would also be sent to the region.
Australian Prime Minister Abbott said in a statement to reporters in the northern city of Darwin on Sunday that the decision to send 400 air force personnel and 200 members of the special forces was made following a request from the United States.
In addition, Australia is to send as many as eight F/A18 combat aircraft, an E-7A Wedgetail Early Warning and Control aircraft and a KC-30A Tanker and Transport aircraft to be deployed to the United Arab Emirates.
Abbott said Australian troops would contribute to the humanitarian effort in the region and added that a decision had not yet been made on whether the Australian forces would actually engage in combat as part of the US-led coalition that Secretary of State John Kerry has been working to cobble together to combat "Islamic State" (IS) forces in northern Iraq and possibly Syria.
However, Abbott also did not rule out the possibility.
"I have to warn the Australian people that should this preparation and deployment extend into combat operations, that this could go on for quite some time," Abbott said.
For weeks now, the US military has been launching air strikes against IS fighters in support of Kurdish forces in northern Iraq. Last week, US President Barack Obama announced plans for a more aggressive campaign against the Islamist extremists, who have seized swathes of territory in both northern Iraq and Syria.
Arab, French support
On Thursday, Kerry secured the support of 10 Arab states for the US efforts. France has also said that was prepared to send aircraft to take part in the US-led campaign.
French President Francois Hollande is to host an international conference in Paris on Monday, to discuss ways of supporting the Iraqi government's efforts at combating IS fighters.
Germany has ruled out taking part in the air strikes, but Berlin decided in August to send arms and other equipment to the Iraqi Kurds battling IS militants.
On Friday, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere announced that the government had banned all activities related to the IS, describing the extremists as a threat to Germany and the rest of Europe.
pfd/sms (dpa, AFP, Reuters)