The Chief of the Defence Force Mark Binskin has sent a strong signal that Australia is pulling its weight in the global fight against Islamist terrorism as Washington hunts for more international military help in Afghanistan.
Air Chief Marshal Binskin told Fairfax Media the troop increase Australia had already announced earlier this year was “entirely consistent with President Trump’s call for the international community to deploy more troops to Afghanistan”.
His remarks came as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull warned on Friday that the southern Philippines city of Marawi risks becoming the “Raqqa of south-east Asia” – referring to the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria.
Air Chief Marshal Binskin said Australia did not consider Afghanistan in isolation from other terrorism hotspots where its force are committed, such as Iraq, Syria and the Philippines.
“It’s important for Australia’s security that we remain part of the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, working to prevent the country from returning to a safe haven for international terrorism,” Air Chief Marshal Binskin said.
“But we do not consider Afghanistan in isolation. Terrorism is a global issue and our counter-terrorism strategies are always considered in this context.”
Some sources in Canberra expect the government will ultimately receive a request for further help in Afghanistan from the US, though it is anticipated to be modest and is unlikely to involve combat troops.
Air Chief Marshal Binskin pointed out that as well as having already committed 30 additional military trainers to Afghanistan in late May – taking the ADF’s total in the country to about 300 personnel – Australia also had about 800 troops fighting the Islamic State in the Middle East and was flying P-3 Orion spy planes over Marawi and the surrounding region.
Air Chief Marshal Binskin’s comments underscore that if Australia were to commit to another small increase, those personnel would be seen in the context of the 30 extra troops already committed.
Both Mr Turnbull and Defence Minister Marise Payne have said the government will discuss with Washington any further contribution needed for Afghanistan, but the government has been sending a firm and co-ordinated message that Australia is among the strongest contributors to the global effort against Islamists militants.
The government may also be leaving open options for a greater effort helping the Philippines, particularly in the form of trainers and advisers. US special forces are already advising the Philippines army in counter-terrorism and urban warfare.
Islamic State-pledged militants have been fighting vicious urban warfare with government forces for more than three months, prompting growing alarm the terrorist group could establish a base for itself from which it can threaten the rest of the region.
Mr Turnbull told radio station 3AW that the the Islamic State in the Philippines was “certainly a threat to this country”.
“Marawi ??? is drawing in foreign fighters from … outside of the Philippines. All of that potentially is a threat to the stability of the region and hence a threat to Australia,” he said. “We do not want Marawi to become, you know, the Raqqa of south-east Asia.”
In a video from Marawi this week, the Islamic State branded Australia the “regional guard dog” for its military assistance to the Philippines in the form of the P-3 Orion surveillance flights.
Air Chief Marshal Binskin said that as well as training and advising Afghan military leaders, Australia was also providing about $126 million a year to the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces, which included funding about 160,000 devices to stop improvised explosive devices or IEDs.