PM announces new counter-terrorism units
Additional border-force officers will be stationed at international airports across the country says the Prime Minister.PT0M59S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-3eesw 620 349 August 27, 2014
The United States has begun to mobilise a broad coalition of allies, including Australia, behind potential US military action in Syria and is moving towards expanded air strikes in northern Iraq, according to administration officials.
President Barack Obama was broadening his campaign against the Sunni militants of the Islamic State and nearing a decision to authorise air strikes and air drops of food and water around the northern Iraqi town of Amerli, home to members of Iraq's Turkmen minority, the officials said.
The town of 12,000 has been under siege by the militants for more than two months.
"Barbaric terrorists": An image from a propaganda video released this year by Islamic State, formerly known as ISIL or ISIS. Photo: AFP
"Rooting out a cancer like ISIL won't be easy, and it won't be quick," Mr Obama said in a speech on Tuesday to the American Legion in Charlotte, New Carolina, using an alternative name for the Islamic State.
He said that the United States was building a coalition to "take the fight to these barbaric terrorists", and that the militants would be "no match" for a united international community.
Administration officials characterised the dangers facing the Turkmen, who are Shiite Muslims considered infidels by the Islamic State, as similar to the threat faced by thousands of Yazidis, who were driven to Mount Sinjar in Iraq after attacks by the militants.
Mobilising: US President Barack Obama speaks at the American Legion National Convention in Charlotte, New Carolina. Photo: Getty Images/AFP
The United Nations special representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, said in a statement three days ago that the situation in Amerli "demands immediate action to prevent the possible massacre of its citizens".
As Mr Obama considered new strikes, the White House began its diplomatic campaign to enlist allies and neighbours in the region to increase their support for Syria's moderate opposition and, in some cases, to provide support for possible American military operations.
The countries likely to be enlisted include Australia, Britain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, officials said.
The officials, who asked not to be named discussing sensitive internal deliberations, said they expected that Britain and Australia would be willing to join the United States in an air campaign.
The officials said they also wanted help from Turkey, which has military bases that could be used to support an effort in Syria.
Turkey is a transit route for foreign fighters, including those from the United States and Europe who have travelled to Syria to join the Islamic State.
Administration officials said they were now asking officials in Ankara to help tighten the border.
The administration is also seeking intelligence and surveillance help from Jordan as well as financial help from Saudi Arabia, which bankrolls groups in Syria that are fighting President Bashar al-Assad.
On Monday, the Pentagon began surveillance flights over Syria in an effort to collect information on possible Islamic State targets as a precursor to air strikes, a senior official said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an organisation that monitors the humanitarian consequences of the conflict in Syria, reported that "non-Syrian spy planes" on Monday carried out surveillance of Islamic State positions in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor.
Although the US's allies in the region have plenty of reasons to support an intensified effort against the Islamic State, the US will have to navigate tensions among them, analysts said.
"One of the problems is that different countries have different clients among the fighting groups in Syria," said Robert Ford, a former US ambassador to Syria.
"To get them all to work together, the best thing would be for them to pick one client and funnel all the funds through that client. You've got to pick one command structure."
But persuading countries to help the United States in a military campaign in Syria will require more effort, administration officials said.
Turkey, for example, is in the midst of a political transition, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan ascending to the presidency.
His likely successor as prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, has been deeply immersed in Syria as foreign minister.
The White House, meanwhile, has been unable to win Senate confirmation of a new ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, leaving the post vacant at a critical time.
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates are important as a source of funding for the rebels, but there are strains among them.
Qatar, for example, helped negotiate the release of a US hostage, Peter Theo Curtis, who was being held by a less extreme militant group, the Nusra Front.
But Saudi Arabia does not talk to the Nusra Front, and the Obama administration has sought to navigate between the feuding countries.
Enlisting the Sunni neighbours of Syria is crucial because air strikes alone will not be enough to push back Islamic State, experts said.
Mr Ford said the administration needed to pursue a sequential strategy that begins with gathering intelligence, followed by targeted air strikes, more robust and better co-ordinated support for the moderate rebels, and finally, a political reconciliation process similar to that under way in Iraq.
The White House is also debating how to satisfy a second constituency, Congress.
Mr Obama's advisers are considering whether to seek congressional authorisation for expanded military action and, if so, under what legal rationale.
Legislators had been reluctant to vote on air strikes in Iraq, but several have begun arguing that the broader action being contemplated by Mr Obama would demand a vote in Congress.
"I do not believe that our expanded military operations against ISIL are covered under existing authorisations from Congress," said Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, a Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who is the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said on MSNBC that Congress needed to "own" any further military action against the militants.
On Tuesday, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement that seven Western countries had pledged to provide weapons and ammunition to Kurdish forces who are fighting the Islamic State in northern Iraq.
Albania, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, France, Italy and Britain have committed to sending arms and equipment to the Kurds, Mr Hagel said, adding that operations would "accelerate in coming days with more nations also expected to contribute".
Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said Albania and Britain had started moving supplies to the Kurds.
New York Times