The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has sent four war planes into Syria for its first operational mission against Islamic State (Isis) fighters in the war-ravaged country. The Australian Air Task Group (ATG) returned to a base in the Middle East without firing any weapons in its first mission.
The ATG provided the aerial support as part of an international collaboration against IS. The Australian air force had previously supported strikes in neighbouring Iraq.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced on Wednesday that the Australian government would increase its intake of Syrian refugees by another 12,000, as well as expanding its air operations against terrorist forces. "Our planes are now striking at terrorist targets inside Syria as well as in Iraq too," Abbott said according to ABC News.
Fighting a 'death cult'
The fleet included two RAAF F/A-18 Hornets, an air-to-air refuelling aircraft, and an early warning and control aircraft combined during the mission but no weapons were released. "I emphasise that our aircraft will be targeting Daesh [IS], not the Assad regime, evil though it is," Abbott said.
"This is very much in Australia's national interest. Destroying this death cult is essential, not just to ending the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East but also to ending the threat to Australia and the wider world."
The decision to increase Australia's military presence in Syria follows Iraq's calls for international assistance in the region, as well as a formal request from the United States government for more military help. ATG Commander, Air Commodore Stu Bellingham said the RAAF Hornets searched points of interest in eastern Syria, whilst reporting to the international coalition's Combined Air Operations Centre.
Air Commodore Bellingham added: "Daesh controls a large amount of territory in eastern Syria that serves as a source of recruitment and oil revenues, and as a base from which it continues to launch attacks into Iraq. The Hornets were also prepared for any short notice high priority tasking which could include surveillance and weapons release."
Syria has been in a state of civil war since an uprising against dictator Bashar al-Assad in 2011. Since then more than an estimated four million people have been forced from their homes amid fighting between militants, Assad's army and other rebel groups.