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Monday, 7 November 2016
Page: 1933


Senator BACK (Western Australia) (14:04): My question is to the Minister for Defence, Senator Payne. Can the minister update the Senate on the progress of the operation to liberate Mosul from Daesh?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:04): I thank Senator Back for his question and for his interest in this particular area of Defence operations, particularly in his capacity as chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Committee.

The liberation of Mosul, which is Daesh's last major stronghold in Iraq, does represent a critical juncture in the campaign to defeat Daesh. The liberation campaign commenced on 17 October and I met to discuss the campaign's progress with my coalition counterparts in Paris two weeks ago. From that meeting, I can report, and we have seen the media reports subsequently, that the operation to liberate Mosul is indeed making progress. The Iraqi and the Peshmerga forces, supported by the international coalition, are making steady progress, and they have now moved from the isolation to the clearance phase. It is important to note that this is a complex military operation and it will take time.

The coalition and the Iraqi government recognise that as forces progress into the city the fight will become more difficult, and we expect Daesh's resistance to increase. The Mosul urban fight will be close, tight and tough, complicated further by the necessity to protect the civilian population.

Also, in the last 24 hours the Syrian Democratic Forces have announced the commencement of operations to liberate Raqqa from Daesh. As US Secretary of Defence, Ashton Carter, has said, 'the effort to isolate, and ultimately liberate, Raqqa marks the next step in our coalition campaign plan.' We expect this fight to be particularly tough, given Raqqa's symbolic significance as the capital of the so-called caliphate. Daesh is under increasing pressure in Iraq and Syria. It is losing territory, it is losing finances, it is losing fighters and it is losing battles. It is important that we maintain and sustain this momentum.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Back, a supplementary question.

Senator BACK (Western Australia) (14:06): I thank the minister for that comprehensive answer and ask: would the minister please advise the Senate on the important contribution that Australian forces are making in the campaign to retake Mosul?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:07): Indeed, Australia is making a significant military contribution to the counter-Daesh campaign in Iraq, and I have reported on that to the chamber previously. Our Defence Force members, operating as part of the broader US-led coalition, are providing support to the Iraqi security forces throughout the Mosul offensive. We continue, with the NZDF, to train Iraqi army units as part of our Building Partner Capacity mission at Taji, with over 14,000 Iraqi troops trained to date—a very considerable contribution.

Our Special Operations Task Group is continuing with its advise and assist role with the elite Iraqi counterterrorism service as they also prepare and plan for operations. The Australian special forces also assist the Iraqi counterterrorism service with the integration of air and artillery support. The Air Task Group, of course, is conducting air strikes and providing enabling support in the vicinity of Mosul. I want to acknowledge the contribution that our ADF personnel and their families are making on our behalf and assure you their skills and experience are highly regarded by the international community and the government of Iraq. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Back, a final supplementary question?

Senator BACK (Western Australia) (14:08): I think the entire chamber endorses that sentiment. Can the minister advise how the US-led counter-Daesh coalition is coordinating efforts to support the Iraqi security forces in their fight against Daesh?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:08): I thank Senator Back for that acknowledgement of support in relation to the work of the ADF. As I mentioned earlier, just a fortnight ago I did have the opportunity to meet with a number of defence ministers from the counter-Daesh coalition in France. I want to thank the US Secretary of Defence, Dr Ashton Carter, and the French defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, for hosting the meeting. We agreed that stabilisation and governance efforts in Iraq would need to be a strategic priority moving forward. We need to ensure that our partners on the ground have what they need not only to win the fight but ultimately to hold, rebuild and govern their own territory. Daesh represents a continuing dangerous threat. We have to be vigilant in our efforts to defeat this abhorrent organisation, and the support that the coalition provides to Iraq is a key contribution to that goal, as is Australia's participation in that process.