Australia PM says no global support for troops on the ground in Syria

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull delivers a statement on national security on Nov 24, 2015.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull delivers a statement on national security on Nov 24, 2015.PHOTO: EPA

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Tuesday (Nov 24) there was no global support for a US-led ground force to destroy the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which he called fundamentally weak with "more Twitter accounts than fighters".

Calls have been mounting in Canberra for boots on the ground in Syria to combat the threat from ISIS extremists and other militant groups in the wake of deadly attacks in Paris this month.

But after attending a series of recent global summits, Turnbull said in a national security address to parliament that there was no appetite for such a move.

"I have to report to the House that the consensus of the leaders I met at the G20, at Apec and at the East Asia Summit is that there is no support currently for a large US-led Western army to attempt to conquer and hold ISIL-controlled areas," he said, referring to another term for ISIS.

Australia has for months been active in Iraq, and recently started carrying out air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria as part of a 60-nation, US-led coalition against the terrorists.

Turnbull said the group was "in a fundamentally weak position", despite territorial gains made by ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

"We must not be fooled by its hype. Its ideology is archaic, but its use of the Internet is very modern. ISIL has many more smartphones than guns, more Twitter accounts than fighters," he said.

"It does not command broad-based legitimacy even in those areas under its direct control. It is encircled by hostile forces. It is under military pressure."

He said the coalition would continue working to disrupt, degrade and ultimately defeat the extremists using military, financial, diplomatic and political means.

Turnbull's comments echoed a similar stance to US President Barack Obama, who told the G20 summit in Turkey that ISIS leaders "will have no safe haven anywhere", vowing a ruthless pursuit of the group but without putting US troops on the ground.

Turnbull said "mindful that Australia has a range of security priorities across the globe and in our own region, there are currently no plans for a significant change in the level or the nature of Australia's military commitment in Iraq and Syria".

"Current advice to the government is that the unilateral deployment of Australian combat troops on the ground in Iraq or Syria is not feasible or practical," he added.

Turnbull offered his sympathies to the 130 people who died in the bloody Paris attacks but made clear "we must not let grief or anger cloud our judgement".

"Our response must be as clear eyed and strategic as it is determined. This is not a time for gestures or machismo. Calm, clinical, professional, effective: That's how we defeat this menace." In Australia, authorities raised the terror threat alert to high just over a year ago and the government has introduced new security laws and conducted several counter-terrorism raids since.

The government has said six attacks have been foiled on home soil over the past year, although several have not, including a police employee shot dead in Sydney last month by a 15-year-old reportedly shouting religious slogans.

Turnbull said Australia would this week transition to a new, clearer five-tier terror alert system with the new threat levels to be classified as certain, expected, probable, possible and not expected.

The system previously used extreme, high, medium and low as classifications.

He added that he had ordered all law enforcement agencies to test their responses to a mass casualty attack in the wake of the Paris atrocity.

"We are examining closely the implications of the Paris attacks for our own domestic arrangements," said Turnbull.

"I am receiving updated intelligence on this every day. We are working more closely than ever with our European partners."