Middle East

No Australian Syrian air missions since Russian raids began


It has been a week since Australian aircraft flew over Syria, but the chief of defence force joint operations says missions are not on hold.

Australian combat aircraft have not flown over Syria since Russian aircraft began bombing operations last week but that doesn't mean missions are on hold.

Chief of defence force joint operations David Johnston said the RAAF F/A-18 Hornets had so far flown over Syria nine times, dropping bombs on a Daesh armoured personnel carrier and a checkpoint on separate days.

Vice Admiral Johnston said the start of Russian air operations in support of the Syrian government had increased the complexity of what was already a complex area.

The latest news release from the US-led Combined Joint Task Force shows there were seven coalition airstrikes on Daesh targets in Syria on Monday.

Admiral Johnston said Australian aircraft had not carried out any missions over Syria, but not because there was any restriction.

"Tactically our focus has been elsewhere. If there was a mission tonight to do so, we would do so," he told reporters in Canberra."

As well as bombs, Australian combat aircraft flying over Iraq and Syria also carry a pair of short range AIM-9X air-to-air missiles, a longrange AMRAAM missile and a full load of gun ammunition for self defence.

Admiral Johnston said there were no plans to change that defensive loadout for future missions over Syria.

The US and Russia were now discussing arrangements for ensuring their aircraft stay out of each other's way.

The coalition had its own procedures in place to ensure the safety of flight over Syria.

"What has changed with the Russian presence of course is that there is another participant," Admiral Johnston said.

That includes instructions covering circumstances where coalition aircraft found themselves operating close to Russian aircraft.

"I am very confident in the safety measures we have in place to manage that risk," he said.

Admiral Johnston said Australia was still making a valuable contribution to the fight against Daesh in Syria.

"It's not a significant change for the air operations but it does bring significant latitude for a mission commander to be able to respond to circumstances," he said.

The expansion of Australian and French air strikes in Syria has increased the vulnerability of Islamic State forces in the Middle East.

As well, the Iraqi government with coalition support was preparing for future operations, including retaking the city of Ramadi.

But tactical gains would be measured in streets and individual buildings rather than square kilometres of territory.

"It is a very challenging fight in Ramadi and the Iraqis are moving on the timeline they have set and are able to manage themselves," Admiral Johnston said.

Units of the Iraqi counter-terrorism service, trained by the Australian special operations task group, had successfully retaken Anbar University, an important step in the fight for Ramadi.

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