SYDNEY - Australian military jets are to join in the US-led air war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group in Iraq, conducting refuelling and support missions, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Wednesday.
Australia deployed some 600 troops and several aircraft to the United Arab Emirates in mid-September as it geared up to join the US-led international coalition.
"We have not yet made a final decision to commit our forces to combat but Australian aircraft from today will start flying over Iraq in support of allied operations," Mr Abbott told parliament. "Ours are support operations, not strike missions. Australian air strikes await final clearances from the Iraqi government and a further decision by our own."
The RAAF's E-7A Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft and a refuelling aircraft "will operate over Iraq in support of US and other coalition aircraft", Mr Abbott added.
The Prime Minister said the ISIS was an "apocalyptic death cult" that had "declared war on the world and it must be resisted at home and abroad".
"Because ISIS has global ambitions, our international security and our national security are indivisible," Mr Abbott said. "Our objective is to support governments that neither commit genocide against their own people nor permit terrorism against ours."
Opposition Labor leader Bill Shorten said his party supported the Australian military's involvement in Iraq, but not the deployment of combat units on the ground.
Mr Shorten added that any military involvement "should be confined to Iraq".
Mr Abbott said previously that the UAE deployment was focused on Iraq and not Syria, adding that Australia does not recognise the Syrian government.
He noted at a press conference earlier Wednesday that "the legalities of operating in Syria are quite different from the legalities of operating in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government".
"ISIS is... the same whether it's in Syria or Iraq, but the legalities are different and legalities matter to a country such as Australia." US warplanes have been launching multiple strikes against ISIS in both Syria and Iraq, while Britain carried out its first air raids against the IS group in Iraq on Tuesday.
Australia has already joined the US in an international effort to transport weapons to Kurdish forces fighting IS extremists in northern Iraq. And it has conducted humanitarian air drops in besieged Iraqi towns.
Mr Abbott has repeatedly said that the violence in Iraq was "reaching out" to Australia, and has warned that some 60 citizens are already fighting alongside extremists in the conflict overseas.