Australian military suspends air operations over Syria

SYDNEY • Australia's military has temporarily halted air missions over Syria, following the shooting down of a Syrian jet by US forces.

The decision came amid increasing tension between the United States and Russia, which warned it would track coalition aircraft in Syria as potential "targets", and halted a military hotline with Washington over the incident.

"As a precautionary measure, Australian Defence Force (ADF) strike operations into Syria have temporarily ceased," a defence spokesman said in a statement yesterday.

No reason for the suspension was given, but The Australian newspaper said it was implemented as a precaution after the jet's downing.

"ADF personnel are closely monitoring the air situation in Syria and a decision on the resumption of ADF air operations in Syria will be made in due course," added the spokesman. "ADF operations in Iraq will continue as part of the coalition."

The US has moved quickly to contain an escalation of the situation after the jet was downed on Sunday evening when regime forces targeted the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters battling militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

A top US general said the country would work to relaunch the "deconfliction" hotline established in 2015, after Russia said Washington had failed to use the line - a vital incident-prevention tool - before targeting the plane near Raqa.

Australia is part of the coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq and, in late 2015, extended air operations into Syria, with a total of 780 defence personnel based in the Middle East.

The staunch US ally in September said it would widen the scope of targets in the air war against ISIS by allowing its pilots to strike militant support and logistics resources in Iraq and Syria.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2017, with the headline 'Australian military suspends air operations over Syria'. Print Edition | Subscribe