Join war on Islamic State, Julie Bishop tells Europe

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has called on more European nations to carry out airstrikes against the Islamic State terror group in Syria and Iraq to end the fighting that is driving the growing mass of refugees besieging their borders.

Ms Bishop told The Australian European countries could help end a “crisis of global proportions” by bombing the terrorists, who were destroying entire nations and causing the mass exodus of their populations.

“Countries adjoining Syria and Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and others are bearing the brunt of millions of people fleeing into their borders­ and then into Europe,” she said.

“That’s why I believe the ­Europeans must be involved in the coalition airstrikes and the ­effort in Syria and Iraq.”

Ms Bishop said joining the ­coalition against Islamic State, which is also known in the region by its Arabic acronym of Daesh, would help Europe ease the pressure on Middle East nations.

She also warned that Islamic State was taking a share of the profits from people-smuggling operations, with European security agencies concerned Daesh may have planted extremist sympathisers among asylum-seekers.

The terror group was also trying to recruit new members from the flood of refugees, especially those fleeing Syria’s Assad ­regime. “That shows how difficult and complex the situation is,” Ms Bishop said. “Some are fleeing Daesh and others are running away from (Syrian President Bash­ar al-Assad).”

Australia’s contribution to the coalition force, which is made up of a Royal Australian Air Force taskforce and two teams of army instructors, is larger than the contribution of any European nation. The RAAF is involved in the ­coalition campaign of airstrikes against targets in Iraq and is considerin­g a request from the US to extend its mission to targets in Syria.

Overnight, Turkey took part in its first airstrikes with the ­coalition against Daesh strongholds in Syria because it felt dir­ectly threatened by the conflict.

Germany is expecting an unprecedented 800,000 asylum-seekers this year as Europe grapples with its biggest mig­ration crisis since World War II.

That has in turn raised fears of a xenophobic backlash, though some major newspapers and community groups have urged the ­nation to welcome new arrivals. Thousands of refugees, mainly Syrians, have arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos in recent months and are being cared for largely by volunteer groups.

Ms Bishop said about 40 per cent of the refugees arriving in Europe were from Syria, with others­ from Libya, where refugee numbers were swollen by thousands more from countries including Eritrea, Somalia, Afghan­istan and Mali. A further wave of frightened people was moving upwards through the Horn of Africa, to Libya and into Italy, she said.

Cabinet’s national security committee will this week discuss the request to extend the RAAF airstrikes to targets inside Syria.

Ms Bishop indicated that a final decision might not be made this week because the committee would have to consider comprehensive legal advice and there would have to be extensive discussion with other parties involved and nations, including Iraq.

So far, the Abbott government has said that any intervention was likely to be based on a legal ­principle of “collective self-­defence”, or protecting Iraq by preventing Daesh attacking from across the Syrian border.

Ms Bishop said the wrong impression­ had been created by reports that Canada had opted to carry out airstrikes within Syria but had then found nothing to bomb. The reality was that the coali­tion applied strict rules of engagemen­t to minimise civilian casualties and aircrews bombed only when they were confident of destroying terrorist targets.

Earlier, Ms Bishop said on the Ten Network’s The Bolt Report that the war had brought a human­itarian crisis of “unprecedented proportions’’.

Gains had been made, Ms Bishop said, with the terror group forced to change its tactics: “It’s no longer forming columns and storming into towns and cities.” Daesh had not taken any more territory and Iraqi troops had advance­d to recapture ground in some areas, but this was never going to be easy, she said.

“These are hardened terrorist insurgent fighters and they are coming in from all over the world.

“Some estimates say there are about 30,000 of these fighters who embed themselves in towns and cities. The difficulty for coal­ition airstrikes is to not hit civilians and so they are limited in what they can do.

“But Daesh is across both the Syrian and Iraq border. They have claimed that area.

“It’s essentially ungoverned by either the Syrian regime or the Iraqi government. And that’s why there’s this request from the US for Australia to join the coalition, that is carrying out airstrikes over the Syria-Iraq border.”

Source: The Australian