May 26, 2015
Abbott bundles fight against IS extremists with battle against terrorists at home
ANALYSIS: The Government appears to be softening up voters for consideration of the central question of the war against Islamic State: Should it be an actual war?
And attached to that debate is the prospect of sending Australian forces to Iraq — not to train its troops, but to join them in ground combat against the extremist butchers.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott is bundling the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and against terrorism in Australia so tightly they can appear the same thing.
That was clear from his comments Monday on the fall of the city of Ramadi in Iraq’s strategically important Anbar province.
“If anything this should cause us to be more committed, not less committed, to the task ahead because this conflict in the Middle East is not just something that’s happening thousands of miles away,” Mr Abbott told reporters.
“This fight is reaching out to us, and we might wish it were not so, but we have no choice in this matter. They are reaching out to us and it’s important that we respond at home and abroad.”
Accompanying that was the announcement of new anti-terrorist appointments — one political and one bureaucratic — to co-ordinate national security efforts. And the Government’s next step is appointment of a minister to local Islamic communities to help track and deter extremists.
Plus there will be laws to remove citizenship from those deemed friendly to IS and hostile to Australia.
This gives the appearance of a Government dealing with an enemy at the gate, or already inside it.
The logic of the convergence of those two fronts — foreign and domestic — is that to protect Australians we should fight in Iraq. It is the strategic argument which saw our troops spend a decade in Afghanistan.
Australian already has 900 military personnel in the Middle East assisting the fight against IS, more than any other country apart from the United States.
We would not deploy combat troops without a parallel commitment from the US and other allies, and only with the permission of Iraq. We have invaded that country once this century and are not keen to do so again.
Neither of the preconditions appear likely at present and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has repeated the basic policy line that it is up to Iraq to eliminate the IS scourge.
However, non-government observers have identified a role there. Our military does many things well and one is the location and elimination of the enemy, a process honed in the terrible conditions of Afghanistan.
There is a well-rehearsed case that these are tasks the Iraqi forces could not be taught on a parade ground and that perhaps only the Australians could complete in the battlefield.
This year has a strong military theme and Prime Minister Abbott has not ignored it. It marks the centenary of the ANZAC landing and the half-century of the first deployments to Vietnam, as well as commemorations of Australia’s role on Europe’s Western Front 100 years ago.
And Mr Abbott has a firm faith in the ability of our present-day armed forces. He even found evidence of this in the initial Ramadi rout.
“The final point I should make is that the one Iraqi security force element that most stuck to its post and withdrew from Ramadi as a formed unit, as opposed to a disorganised group, was the unit, the counterterrorism service of the Iraqi security forces that we have been advising and assisting in our initial placement at Baghdad International Airport,” he told reporters.
Apparently we teach a neat retreat. But if that is the best that can be said of Iraqi troops, the notion they should be replaced by Australians will gain strength.