Australia to continue bombing role in Syria amid review

SBS World News Radio: Australia to continue bombing role in Syria amid review

Minister for Defence Senator Marise Payne (AAP)

Minister for Defence Senator Marise Payne (AAP) Source: AAP

The Federal Government says it will continue Australia's bombing missions over Syria in the wake of a mistaken operation that killed dozens of Syrian soldiers.

The Defence Minister is not revealing any further details of Australia's role in the fatal strikes until after an international review.

It comes as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has expressed deep regret over Australia's involvement in those bombings.

The Australian military says it will reveal no further information about the botched bombing raid in Syria that killed scores of Syrian soldiers until after an international investigation.

Defence Minister Marise Payne says Australia will continue its usual operations in the region in the meantime.

"We will continue in an appropriate and measured way with the international coalition to do what is required, but there has been no hold, as such, put on Australian activity, no. I'm not going to break it down piece by piece, because I know it is the subject of a review that the international coalition will be holding. We will take part in that review and will make further comment when that's appropriate."

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed over the weekend that Australian planes were involved in the United States-led operation.

Some reports say up to 60 Syrian soldiers were killed, others up to 90.

But Mr Turnbull did not say whether Australian fighter jets dropped any of the bombs.

It appears Syrian government troops were mistaken for fighters of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or I-S.

The Prime Minister, speaking in New York ahead of the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, has expressed deep regret.

"Australian aircraft were involved as part of the coalition. We regret the loss of life and injury to any Syrian personnel affected. That is all I can say about the incident at the moment."

Australia's involvement has provoked outrage from Syria and placed an uncertain US-Russia-brokered ceasefire in jeopardy.

Russia has called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to debate the attack.

A Syrian official has accused the United States and its allies of supporting I-S, also known as Daesh.

"This hostile act is a grave attack against Syria and its army, and there's clear evidence that the US and its allies support Daesh and other armed terrorist groups."

The United States has dismissed the accusation, calling it ludicrous.

And US officials have accused Russia of trying to gain political advantage from the situation.

Meanwhile, Marise Payne has told the ABC Australia would never deliberately target Syrian military units.

"But what I can make very clear -- and I know the Prime Minister has reinforced -- is that Australia would never intentionally, knowingly target a known Syrian military unit or, in any way, shape or form, actively support Daesh. Our mission is, in fact, to remove the threat of Daesh, not support it in any way."

A Syrian journalist from Australia, Johnny Abo, has told SBS it is difficult to believe the attack was an accident, though.

"I don't think mistakes happen often, in a war like this. It could have been a mistake, but, considering the political situation, I believe it could have been an intentional strike."

The Lowy Institute's Middle East security expert Rodger Shanahan says an investigation will determine whether the strikes were intentional or not.

"You're relying on a range of other intelligence feeds, and you have to remember that you're a long way away from that point of impact. The kinds of equipment type that people are using are exactly the same between the Syrian military and Islamic State militants. So it may well be the target was misidentified, but, again, we don't know until we find the results of the investigation."

While the US-led coalition reviews the operation, with the Australian military's cooperation, a growing number of Australian politicians are urging an independent investigation.

Federal Independent MP Andrew Wilkie is among them.

He has told the ABC the Australian military should investigate how the air force unintentionally bombed Syrian soldiers.

"Hopefully, it will be found -- I remain quietly confident it will be found -- that our people, that our air force, has acted competently and very professionally."

The Government has not committed to such a review.

Senator Payne says an independent investigation will depend on what the US-led coalition's review finds.

"Well, we'll let the coalition review get underway and see what comes of that. I think that, given, as I've said, this is a multinational force, we have multiple aircraft participating, it's only fair to allow the processes that are in place to take their course and then consider our position."

Mr Turnbull is due to address the UN Migrant Conference tomorrow as attention turns to the millions of Syrians who have fled the ongoing war.





5 min read
Published 19 September 2016 at 8:00pm
By Greg Dyett