Australia will reconsider its military commitment to Iraq following Islamic State’s “defeat”, with a former Army Chief suggesting the RAAF’s bombing missions over the country should now end.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced on Saturday the extremist group had been driven from his nation’s borders.
The Iraqi forces recaptured the last areas still under IS control along the border with Syria, state television quoted Mr Abadi as telling an Arab media conference in Baghdad.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull responded by congratulating Iraq for helping to end a regime of terror, anguish and murder.
“Their bravery in the face of unimaginable brutality has made the region and the world a safer place by robbing terrorists of their narrative of invincibility,” Mr Turnbull said in a joint statement with the Defence and Foreign Ministers.
Defence Minister Marise Payne said the Government would review and discuss Australia’s future military commitment in Iraq with coalition partners and with Baghdad.
“We’ll do that in coming days and weeks and ensure whatever decision we take is the right decision for Australia and also supports, where we are able to, the Government of Iraq in ensuring the security and stability of their nation,” Senator Payne told the ABC.
“We do have to be very careful, this threat remains in the Middle East and our region as well, we’re very conscious of that, but we congratulate the Iraqi security forces.
“And I acknowledge in particular the work of the men and woman of the ADF [Australian Defence Force] who have been part of The Global Coalition who have been addressing this extraordinary terrorist threat.”
Former Army chief Peter Leahy agreed the threat posed by IS militants would remain for years, but questioned the need for future Australian bombing missions.
“We might’ve solved a problem in Iraq, we’ve finished combat operations, this is only the military part of the fight against ISIS,” Professor Leahy told the ABC.
“It’s a much longer fight because it’s an ideological fight.”
Australia has made a significant contribution to the international counter-ISIS coalition through supporting the Iraqi Security Forces’ campaign, providing direct air support, advice and assistance to the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service, and training Iraqi Army and law enforcement units.
Australia has also committed $180 million in humanitarian assistance to Iraq since 2011.
The ADF’s sixth rotation of about 300 troops, along with 100 New Zealand troops, deployed to Iraq in recent weeks and are scheduled to remain there until the middle of 2018.
Professor Leahy, who is the current director of the National Security Institute at the University of Canberra, believes Australia should assess whether air strikes are still needed.
“[I’m] not sure what’s left to be done for our fighter ground attack. So I think we need to have a very good look, lets do a strategic assessment of what needs to be done there,” he said.