Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said his country will take part in combat operations, including the use of special forces, against "Islamic State." It remained unclear whether Syria would be included.
Abbott said on Friday that his cabinet had authorized military airstrikes against "Islamic State" (IS), as well as being involved in humanitarian missions. The premier said special forces could also be deployed to play an advisory role.
"IS has effectively declared war on the world. The world is responding," Abbott said in a nationally televised news conference from Canberra.
"Today, cabinet has authorized Australian airstrikes in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government and in support of the Iraqi government,"
"Also, subject to final legal documentation, cabinet has authorized the deployment of Australian special forces into Iraq to advise and assist Iraqi forces."
Abbott avoided answering whether Australia "at war," insisting it was essentially a "humanitarian" mission to protect the people of Iraq. He also avoided answering whether the Australia would be involved in actions inside Syria.
"I want to reassure the Australian people that it will be as long as it needs to be, but as short as it possibly can be," said Abbott.
Strikes 'in coming days'
Officials said that six Australian F/A-18F Super Hornet jet fighters, which were deployed to the United Arab Emirates in September, would launch air strikes in northern Iraq within days as part of the US-led coalition against IS.
Defense Force Chief Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin confirmed the airstrikes would start "over the coming days."
The seven ministers who make up the government's National Security Committee were said to have approved the deployment after Canberra received an official request from Iraq overnight.
In addition to the jets and 400 air force personnel sent to the UAE, Australia deployed 200 ground personnel which include special forces.
Australia is one of dozens of countries that have signed up to the coalition against IS, and has already been involved in humanitarian and support missions in the skies over Iraq. Australian C-130s previously made humanitarian airdrops including food and water to thousands of people stranded by fighting on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq, as well as dropping supplies to Kurdish fighters.
Canberra's announcement comes a day after after the Turkish parliament on Thursday voted to allow the deployment of armed forces in Syria and Iraq for operations against IS militants.
rc/jm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)