Australian bombing raids on Islamic State positions inside Syria could go on for the next three years, Defence Minister Kevin Andrews said Thursday.
Australia said this week it would join the US-led coalition in aerial strikes against Islamic State positions over the border from Iraq into Syria, a step up from its previous air support in the area.
“The reality is that this is going to go on for a number of years,” Andrews said on TV’s Nine Network, saying bombing raids could start within days.
“Two, three years. I can’t say in exact terms. We’ve had some success to date, and with our Coalition partners Canada, the US, the UK, France etc we believe that we can make a real difference.”
Andrews stressed the expansion of the Royal Australian Air Force role into Syria was to defend Iraq against Islamic State forces who operated over the border, not to take action against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Australia has six F/A-18 Hornet fighter-bombers, a refueling and a command plane operating as part of the coalition, along with 200 troops training Iraqi soldiers.
Andrews said no Australian combat troops would be deployed.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told TV Seven Network she had spoken overnight to US Secretary of State John Kerry and they agreed it will take years to defeat the group.
Bishop said Australia and its coalition partners needed to be assured the “vicious and brutal” Assad regime in Damascus was not replaced by such an extremist organisation.
The Labor opposition has backed the decision to expand operations into Syria, but Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs warned the bombing would create more refugees.
“I think it’s inevitable that will increase the refugee flow and it will almost certainly lead to the deaths of more civilians,” Triggs said on ABC Radio.