We are ready to assist: Johnston refuses to rule out help in Iraq air strikes

Mr Kerry today arrived in Sydney ahead of the Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations, which will also be attended by Mr Johnston, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and United States Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.


The annual discussions on foreign, defence and strategic policy matters are expected to focus on the US request for Australian assistance in Iraq, where a jihadist-led offensive has been increasingly claiming territory as part of a deadly advance.

The US began a campaign of air strikes against the Sunni militants over the weekend and has asked Australian forces for assistance as they continue humanitarian drops to Iraqi citizens forced to flee their homes.

Defence Minister David Johnston confirmed that Australian troops were in place as part of preparations to aid in the drops, telling ABC Radio that troops would “slot in and bolt on” as needed.

He said Australian forces weren’t involved in supporting US troops in strikes as yet, but would not rule out providing assistance in the future.

“Who knows what the future holds with these people and accordingly, we are ready to assist in whatever way we can, should we be asked to assist by the Americans and the Iraqi Government,” he said.

“The fact is this could turn very, very nasty in a very short peace of time and I think anything’s to be expected…. We’re not ruling out providing some backup assistance to the Americans.”

Islamic State fighter image ‘barbaric’

Mr Johnston also weighed in on an image of a young boy, believed to be Australian, holding up the decapitated head of a slain Syrian soldier.

Posted on Twitter, the photo reports to show the son of Sydney man turned Islamic State fighter, Khaled Sharrouf.

“I’m very upset about this sort of thing completely colouring our view of Muslims,” Mr Johnston said.

“I think anybody who knows and understands the Muslim community in Australia knows that by far they are a very peace loving and respectful group of people with respect to Australian laws.

“But what we’ve observed indicates that we need to be very vigilant.”

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has also condemned the image, which he described as “barbaric”.

Focus on Force Posture Agreement

Future cooperation between Australian and US forces are expected to feature as part of the Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations, or AUSMIN.

The discussions are expected to focus on the signing of the Force Posture Agreement reached by US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Tony Abbott in June.

The agreement sets out the legal framework for the presence of US marines based in Darwin, set to rise from 1150 to 2500. It also allows the US to expand military assets over the next 25 years in Australia beyond the troop rotation.

Discussions will also include plans for US and Australian special forces soldiers to continue training exercises together once both nations have withdrawn from Afghanistan.

In a statement issued by her office, Ms Bishop said the meetings in Sydney are an opportunity to reaffirm Australia’s relationship with the US.

“Our discussions will explore opportunities to deepen our defence cooperation and interoperability between our two militaries,” she said.

– with AAP.