The Royal Australian Air Force has undertaken a second air-drop of humanitarian supplies to civilians in northern Iraqi cut off by Islamic State militans, and could soon be involved in airlift missions supplying weapons and ammunition to Kurdish forces.
In the early hours of Sunday morning local time a RAAF 37SQN C-130J Hercules air-dropped 15 bundles of supplies including high-energy biscuits, bottled water and hygience packs, which the Department of Defence says can feed and hydrate 2,600 people for 24 hours, to civilians who were stranded in the northern Iraq town of Amirl.
The air-drop mission was confirmed by Prime Minisiter Tony Abbott in a joint press conference with Chief of Defence Force ACM Mark Binskin in Canberra on Sunday afternoon where the PM also announced that Australia would participate in weapons airlift missions.
“Australia has agreed to join an airlift of military equipment to the Kurds. We’ve agreed to join this airlift at the request of the Obama Administration in the United States and with the permission of the Iraqi government,” the Prime Minister said.
“I can announce that in coming days an Australian C-17 aircraft will be involved in airlifting equipment and supplies to Erbil in the Kurdish part of the Iraq. I can also say that we stand ready to participate in further humanitarian airdrops in Iraq should these be required.”
Fairfax Media has reported that the weapons airlift flights will carry Australian SAS special forces troops.
“Elite SAS soldiers will fly on the RAAF transport planes to provide protection to the crew when they land in coming days in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq to deliver arms and munitions,” the report by David Wroe reads.
“Fairfax Media understands that the special forces troops are currently at Al Minhad Air Base in the United Arab Emirates and will be on board the C-130 and C-17 planes in the event that an emergency exit – known as a ‘hot extraction’ – is needed.”
As well as the US, other nations providing airlift support in Iraq include the UK, Canada, France and Italy.
The weekend air-drop followed an earlier mission on August 13 which delivered 10 bundles of 150 boxes of high-energy biscuits and 340 boxes of bottled water to people trapped on Mount Sinjar.
That was the RAAF’s first operational air-drop of aid supplies since Timor Leste in 1999.
CDF used the joint press conference to thank the aircrews and support staff involved in the air-drop flights to date.
“They’re not easy missions. They are long missions. They’re upwards of around about seven to nine hours and they’re supported by a huge support group on the ground at Al Minhad that load the stores, make sure the mission can be successful. So there’s a lot of people that go behind this and they should be thanked for the success of the mission,” ACM Binskin said.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister confirmed Australia has not been requested to participate in air strikes against IS forces in Iraq. Media reporting last week suggested Australia could deploy F/A-18F Super Hornets to the region to participate in US-led air strikes.
” There’s been no specific request from the United States or the government of Iraq for Australian involvement in airstrikes,” Abbott said.