'Australian government strongly supports' US Syria strike: Turnbull

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has backed the US airstrike on Syria.

Malcolm Turnbull

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaks to the media at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices in Sydney. Source: AAP

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has thrown his support behind the US's airstrike on a Syrian government airfield.

"We can say that the Australian government strongly supports the swift and just response of the United States," he said.

"The affect of the American response has been to reduce the ability of the Syrian government to deliver chemical weapons in the shocking manner in which they did a few days ago.

"This was a calibrated, proportionate and targeted response. It sends a strong message to the Assad regime, and as I said, has been struck at the very airfield from which the chemical attack was delivered.

"Australia was not involved in the strike but we remain fully committed as a coalition partner to our ongoing military operations in Iraq and Syria."

The US launched the attack in response to the April 4 chemical attack on Syrian civilians. 

"This was a calibrated, proportionate and targeted response."
The Syrian government has denied being the source of the attack, but leaders around the world have placed the blame with Bashar al Assad and his regime.

Mr Turnbull further condemned the Syrian chemical weapons attack on civilians saying it was "a blatant contravention of basic principles of humanity".

"These crimes against humanity, shocking and horrific even in the context of the Syrian conflict zone, cannot be committed with impunity," he said. 

"The perpetrators must be held to account. We have called on the Security Council to address this matter as soon as possible. 

"Regrettably, as we have seen, the Security Council is once again at an impasse due to the position of the Assad regime supporter, Russia."

The US government has declared the attack damaged aircraft, equipment and support infrastructure at the airfield and would limit the government's future ability to deploy chemical weapons.

US President Donald Trump said the airfield had been the launching pad for the chemical attack.

"It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons," he said.

"There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the chemical weapons convention and ignored the urging of the UN Security Council.

"Years of previous attempts at changing Assad's behaviour have all failed and failed very dramatically."

Mr Turnbull said the airstrike was a "vitally important signal, a vitally important message, that we will not tolerate, the world will not tolerate the use of these chemical weapons".

He said the strike was not designed to overthrow the Assad regime and was a "proportionate response by the United States' to the chemical attack.

"You can imagine, 59 cruise missiles is a substantial attack on that airfield, but we are not at war with the Assad regime and United States have made it clear that they are not seeking to overthrow the Assad regime," he said.

However, Mr Trump has come in for criticism for not seeking US Congressional or international clearance before launching the air strikes.

In 2013, when then president Barack Obama was considering military action in Syria, Mr Trump tweeted warning against attacking Syria and against not seeking Congressional approval.

While the US advised countries like Australia, France and Russia prior to launching the air strikes, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said clearance was not sought from Russia.

The governor of the Syrian province of Homs used a phone interview with Syrian state to TV to condemn the strikes, which he said he caused deaths.

Governor Talal Barazi said US strikes served the goals of "armed terrorist groups" and IS.

"Syrian leadership and Syrian policy will not change," he said.

"This targeting was not the first and I don't believe it will be the last."

Barazi said he did not believe there were "big human casualties", but said there was "material damage" to an airbase he said supported Syrian Army operations against IS.

The Syrian National Coalition opposition group welcomed the missile strikes, a spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said the SNC hoped the US would continue to order strikes to stop the Syrian government's attack and "use of internationally banned weapons".

Mr Turnbull refused to directly answer whether Australia would take part in similar future strikes against the Assad regime, saying “we certainly will continue to work with our allies and our partners to see a resolution to this shocking war”.

He said Russia had a “real responsibility to ensure that its client, the Assad regime, complies with international law, complies with the rules of war and does not use chemical weapons”.

“The fact is that this is, there is a solemn obligation on Russia too to play its part in bringing this conflict to an end,” he said.

"The whole world is crying out for a settlement in Syria and this is a time now when the United States have shown that they will not tolerate these crimes, when the United States has shown its full force in response to this shocking chemical attack, surely now is the time when the nations of the world and the great powers engaged in the Syrian conflict zone can come together and bring this war to an end."

Watch: US President Donald Trump launches strike action against Syria

Defence Minister Marise Payne said she and Mr Turnbull had spoken with US Secretary of Defence James Mattis this morning.

"I can confirm that Australian assets were not involved in this morning's operation," she said.

"Australia's air task group is confined to operations in eastern Syria, including in the vicinity of Raqqa, where we continue to target Daesh.

"Australia has also taken appropriate measures in light of this operation to review our force protection arrangements in the Middle East."

6 min read
Published 7 April 2017 at 2:22pm
By Kerrie Armstrong