Middle East Aussies on strike alert

Written By Unknown on Minggu, 05 Oktober 2014 | 20.01

Australian aircrews are preparing for strikes on IS in Iraq. Source: Getty Images

AUSTRALIA's fighter jets were poised last night to launch strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq as the terror group moved within artillery range of Baghdad airport.

Military experts said the repeated air strikes from the American-led international coalition had forced the IS hordes into new tactics, and ­instead of massing in large numbers, they were spreading out, guerilla-style, into cities and towns.

Australia's F/A-18 Super Hornets were flying in Iraqi airspace ahead of air strikes, which were due to begin at any time.

It came as media reports out of the United States said the IS fighters were now established in Abu Ghraib in the western Anbar region, which is within striking distance of Baghdad's international airport.

Australian Defence Minister David Johnston agreed IS had changed tactics since the US-led coalition had begun air strikes, saying their fighters had congregated in a number of cities "a long way from where their supply lines originated, and that's back in Syria".

He said the IS hordes were "extremely adaptive'' and the fight to dislodge them would get harder before it got easier.

"I've been talking to our generals on the ground in the Middle East ... we share some optimism about how quickly we can do this,'' Senator Johnston told the ABC.

"But we just say months, if not more, because we want to under-­promise and over-­deliver.''

With all legal agreements in place with the Iraqi Government, Australia's six Super Hornets based in the United Arab Emirates have spent the past few days in Iraqi skies ­preparing for the strikes.

The deployment of 200 ­special forces personnel is being held up for several days by the Eid al-Adha religious holiday, which is now under way and is preventing government officials in Baghdad from finalising the paperwork authorising their deployment.

However, the commandos are likely to be on the ground in a strategic and advisory role to the Iraqi security forces by the end of the week.

Australia has delivered ­several plane loads of weapons to help supply the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq.

A diplomat in Erbil, in the autonomous Kurdistan region, said if IS was established in Abu Ghraib, they would be within artillery range of the airport. The diplomat said if IS was able to maintain territory in Abu Ghraib it could potentially shell, and even close, the international airport.

with agencies

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