UPDATE: PRIME Minister Tony Abbott has announced Australian airstrikes on Islamic State extremists in Iraq as part of the international coalition formed to disrupt and degrade the “death cult”.
“ISIL has effectively declared war on the world,” Mr Abbott told reporters at Parliament House.
“Australia is reluctant to reach out to conflicts thousands of miles away, but this conflict has reached out to us.
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“You’ve all heard the murderous threats that leading ISIL spokesmen have uttered against Australia and Australians … the world is responding.
Today, Mr Abbott announced the Federal Cabinet had authorised Australian airstrikes in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government.
“Once the appropriate legal arrangements are in place with the Iraqi government, Australian Special Forces will also deploy to Iraq to advise and assist Iraqi security forces,” Mr Abbott said.
Up to eight Australian F/A-18F Super Hornet jets will be committed to participate in the airstrikes.
These forces will join the RAAF E-7A Wedgetail airborne early warning and control aircraft and KC-30A multi-role tanker transport already supporting coalition air operations over Iraq.
Mr Abbott warned the “dangerous mission” could be “lengthy”.
“I want to reassure the Australian people it will be as long as it needs to be, but as short as it possibly can be,” Mr Abbott said.
“This is not a decision the Government has taken lightly,” Mr Abbott said. “Ultimately it is Iraq that must defeat ISIL, but it cannot do it alone.
“Australia will be acting as part of a large coalition of countries supporting Iraq in the fight against ISIL and contributing to the humanitarian relied effort.”
At least 60 Australians are now said to be fighting with terrorist groups in the Middle East and a further 100 are believed to be supporting them at home.
“I have enormous respect for Australian servicemen and women and their safety is the Government’s utmost concern,” Mr Abbott said.
“They will complete their mission with professionalism and courage.
“Our thoughts are with their families, who will have the support of the entire Australian community.”
EARLIER: PRIME Minister Tony Abbott will address the nation within minutes where it’s expected he’ll announce details of Australian combat operations in Iraq.
Mr Abbott will head the joint press conference at Canberra’s Parliament House at 12.30pm.
Sky News Australia reports the announcement will include the commitment of Super Hornets and special forces.
MORE TO COME.