Australia suspends air operations over Syria
Australia’s military yesterday said it was temporarily halting air missions over Syria, following the shooting down of a Syrian jet by United States forces.
The decision came amid increasing tension between the U.S. 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 Defense Force (ADF) strike operations into Syria have temporarily ceased,” a defense spokeswoman said. 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,” the spokeswoman added. “ADF operations in Iraq will continue as part of the coalition.”
The United States has moved quickly to contain an escalation of the situation after the jet was downed on June 18 evening when regime forces targeted the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Arab and Kurdish militia battling Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
A top U.S. 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 Raqqa.
Australia is part of the coalition fighting ISIL in Iraq and in late 2015 extended air operations into Syria, with a total of 780 defense personnel based in the Middle East.
The staunch U.S. ally in September said it would widen the scope of targets in the air war against ISIL by allowing its pilots to strike jihadist support and logistics resources in Iraq and Syria.
Australia’s Air Task Group consists of 300 personnel, six F/A-18 Hornets, an E-7A Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft, and a KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker and Transport plane.
Meanwhile, government air and artillery bombardments hit rebel-held areas of the Syrian city of Deraa, on the border with Jordan, yesterday after a two-day cease-fire expired, witnesses and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
A witness and two insurgents in Deraa said the army and its allies had resumed air and artillery bombardments in the city and the narrow strip of countryside separating it from the border.
If the army takes rebel-held parts of Deraa and the few kilometers between it and the border, it would split the insurgent areas of southeast Syria in half.
At least six raids took place in Gharz in east Deraa and in the old quarter of the city, where the army resumed efforts to break rebel lines, the rebels said.
The witness said that barrel bombs, artillery shells and rockets were used in the bombardment. Clashes took place near a military base southwest of the city near the border with Jordan, the witness added.