Islamic State is "not undefeatable": Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Australia's Defence Chief has warned the brutal Islamic State group will sooner or later have to be defeated "on the battlefield", as the United States was reportedly preparing to ask Australia for help with air strikes in Iraq.
Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, told Fairfax Media that while the jihadist organisation was highly capable, it was "not undefeatable" and added that Iraq needed to be given the military strength to defeat the organisation which has swept through large tracts of the country.
While stressing he was not foreshadowing any particular operation by Australia or its partners, Air Marshal Binskin also said that the problem was "bigger than Iraq" and that "ultimately the issue of them operating in Syria is going to need to be contended with as well".
His remarks came as the New York Times quoted unnamed US officials as saying that Washington was looking for possible help with military operations in Iraq and Syria and would likely include Australia among partners.
The government announced on Wednesday that two new counter-terrorism units had been established to bolster the monitoring of terrorist suspects at Melbourne and Sydney international airports.
Already they had picked up "at least one person of interest", Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Parliament. Reports on Wednesday night said the man had been removed from a plane in Melbourne after his passport showed up on a watchlist. He was bound for Lebanon.
Mr Abbott said the units, part of the Customs and Border Protection Service, will be expanded to operate at all international airports in Australia, totalling an additional 80 Border Force officers.
Mr Abbott's office played down any prospect of immediate involvement by Australia, with a spokeswoman saying that "at this stage the United States has not made any formal request of us".
"The Prime Minister has made it clear that Australia is ready to continue our humanitarian involvement in Iraq … To consider such a request from the United States, or other close allies and partners, there would have to be an achievable overall humanitarian purpose, a clear and proportionate role for Australia and a careful assessment of the risks.
''Australia is not considering putting combat forces on the ground."
Fairfax Media understands that Australia's Super Hornet fighter
aircraft are ready to be deployed if needed and using them for airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq is among the options being considered by the Abbott government if the request for help comes.
Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop confirmed that cabinet's National Security Council had considered a request from the autonomous Kurdish government in Iraq's north - a close ally of the West - for help with weapons supplies to fight the Islamic State.
Air Marshal Binskin, meanwhile, said the Iraqi government would have to defeat the group with international help and further efforts would be needed in Syria - which he said would be a far more complex challenge.
Branding the Islamic State "a bunch of thugs", Air Marshal Binskin stressed that stopping them would mean a political solution by Iraq in the form of a more inclusive government in Baghdad. But he added: "You will have to take them on on the battlefield. There's no doubt about that. That's a part of their strength - their successes.
"They're highly capable, they are trained, they like to make this a religious quest and it's not. I don't believe any religion would accept them doing what they're doing.
"There's no doubt that they're highly capable but they're limited by the things that limit other forces … they've got to have a resource base, they've got to have a logistics base and the support base. And you'd have to think that's questionable for a long term campaign.
"They're not undefeatable.''