PERTH • Australia is considering a request from the United States to extend its air campaign against the ISIS militant organisation in Iraq to Syria, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said yesterday.
The United States has been leading a coalition of Western and Arab powers carrying out air strikes against fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group since last year. Canberra - using six F/A18 combat jets and two support aircraft based in the United Arab Emirates - joined the raids in Iraq but not the strikes on targets in Syria, citing legal concerns.
Australia has also sent about 500 soldiers, including around 170 special forces troops, to serve as advisers in Iraq.
Mr Abbott said that while there were legal issues around any involvement in Syria, Australia would "carefully consider" the Pentagon's request and reveal its decision in a few weeks.
"We have a formal request from the Americans to extend our air strikes into Syria," the Prime Minister told reporters in the Western Australia capital of Perth.
"(ISIS) is a movement of almost incalculable, unfathomable evil and it's very important that Australia play its part in the campaign to disrupt, degrade and ultimately destroy this death cult," he said.
Meanwhile, Treasurer Joe Hockey hinted at expanding Australia's aerial role in the Middle East.
Mr Hockey, a member of Australia's national security committee, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation the government has to do "whatever we can" to liberate the war-ravaged areas.
The US request, which local media reported was sent to the Australian embassy in Washington, DC, on Thursday, came as the Australian government said that it had stopped seven young suspected extremists from leaving the country this month to fight for militant groups in the Middle East.
Australia has become increasingly concerned about the number of citizens seeking to fight overseas.
Canberra estimates that around 120 of its nationals are still fighting in Iraq and Syria, while at least 30 have been killed. Another 160 sympathisers are believed to be supporting extremists from home.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA