Malcolm Turnbull: The West won't be sending a bigger army to battle against Islamic State

Malcolm Turnbull in Canberra announcing his ministry. Photo: Getty Images

Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has confirmed there is no support for a large US-led coalition army to attempt to conquer and hold ISIL-controlled areas in the Middle East.

He said that after speaking with the world leaders at the G20, APEC and the East Asia Summit, the consensus is that a political solution is needed in Syria.

“Only this would allow attention to turn more fully to eliminating ISIL as a military force,” he said, adding that the government supports negotiations currently underway in Vienna, where a summit on the Syria crisis was held prior to the G20.

Australia’s commitment in the region will not change.

“There are currently no plans for a significant change in the level or the nature of Australia’s military commitment in Iraq and Syria,” he said.

“No such change has been sought by our allies – if one were we would of course carefully consider it.

“We will always proceed on the basis of the considered advice of our military professionals in the Australian Defence Force, just as we rely on the advice of our counter-terrorism experts domestically,” he said, adding that the unilateral deployment of Australian combat troops on the ground in Iraq or Syria is not “feasible or practical”.

The prime minister’s position runs counter to the views of the leader he replaced, Tony Abbott, who last week argued that Australia needed more troops on the ground in the region, a call backed by some Coalition MPs and conservative commentators.

Turnbull explained that taking action against ISIL is “complicated”.

“The 60 nation-strong coalition’s objective is to disrupt, degrade and ultimately to defeat ISIL. This will require a patient, painstaking full spectrum strategy. Not just military, but financial, diplomatic and political,” Turnbull said.

“We must not let grief or anger cloud our judgment. Our response must be as clear eyed and strategic as it is determined.

“This involves a combination of air strikes in both Syria and Iraq and support and training for Iraq’s army.”

And despite Australian special forces currently advising and assisting Iraq’s Counter-Terrorism Service, the Iraqi government will not consent to Western defence forces being deployed outside the wire on ground combat operations.

The Government of Iraq believes that large scale Western troop operations in its country would be counterproductive,” he said.

Australia will continue to share intelligence and counter messaging strategies as part of the US-lead coalition against ISIL, and closely examine the implications of the Paris attacks domestically.

“Australia not only does its part in the military coalition to defeat ISIL but in the humanitarian cause,” he said adding that national security interest is always the first and abiding priority

Refuge will still be granted to an additional 12,000 people over four years.

“All applications are rigorously assessed on an individual basis – in line with Australia’s existing refugee and humanitarian policies,” Turnbull said.

“Strict security, health and character checks will not be compromised.”

A local attack is still possible.

Turnbull also warned that a local attack is still possible. He has also asked law enforcement agencies to “test their responses to a mass casualty attack”.

“I want Australians to be aware that a terrorist incident on our soil remains likely,” he said, “but also that Australians should be reassured our security agencies are working diligently and expertly to prevent that happening.

“We cannot eliminate entirely the risk of terrorism any more than we can eliminate the risk of any serious crime.

“Public safety is the highest priority. And a major part of this is to be as open and transparent with Australians as possible about both the threat and what everyone can do to help.”

He mirrored US president Barack Obama’s opinion on the terrorist group’s use of social media.

“We must not be fooled by its hype. Its ideology is archaic, but its use of the Internet is very modern. ISIL has many more smartphones than guns, more twitter accounts than fighters,” he said.

“Through their extensive use of social media, they seek the maximum propaganda advantage from any territorial gains as cover for their fundamental military weakness and the barbaric nature of their mindset.”

This year, the government dedicated $22 million in the federal budget to fight terrorists online following the rise in online radicalisation of Australian youth by Islamic State operatives — a growing problem for most of the West.

Since September 2014, 26 people have been charged as a result of 10 counter terrorism operations around Australia.

Read his full speech here.

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