Iraq crisis: Defence Minister David Johnston won't rule out Australian help for US forces fighting Islamic State 'terrorist army'; outgunned Kurds plead for weapons
Updated 11 Aug 2014, 9:56am
Defence Minister David Johnston is not ruling out offering military assistance to US forces fighting what Prime Minister Tony Abbott says is an Islamic State (IS) "terrorist army" in Iraq.
Thousands of members of the Yazidi minority remain besieged by IS forces on Mount Sinjar, as the extremists press their assault across northern Iraq in the face of continuing US air strikes.
US and British aircraft have dropped relief supplies to the Yazidis, who face slaughter at the hands of the Islamists if they descend from the mountain, amid claims insurgents have already killed hundreds of Yazidis by burying them alive.
Australia has agreed to send two Hercules transport planes to help with the airlift, and this morning Mr Johnston said the ADF could also offer military support.
"We're not ruling out providing some backup assistance to the Americans as they go in and deal kinetically with this terrorist organisation," he said.
This morning Mr Abbott, speaking in the Netherlands, branded IS a "terrorist army" and said it was carrying out "hideous atrocities".
He was referring to a photo, published today, purporting to show the Sydney-born seven-year-old son of an Australian jihadist brandishing the severed head of a Syrian soldier.
"Australia will gladly join the humanitarian airlift to the people stranded on Mount Sinjar," Mr Abbott said.
"We do have some Hercules C-130 aircraft in the Middle East. We have a C-17 that is bringing humanitarian supplies from Australia in the next day or so and we would expect that humanitarian airlift should it be needed some time later in the week.
"Islamic State, as they are now calling themselves, it is not just a terrorist group, it is a terrorist army. They are seeking not just a terrorist enclave, but effectively a terrorist state, a terrorist nation.
"This does pose extraordinary problem, extraordinary problems, not just for the people of the Middle East but for the wider world.
"We see more and more evidence of just how barbaric this entity is. I believe there are more photographs in the newspapers today of the kind of hideous atrocities that this group is capable of."
Outgunned Kurds plead for more weapons
The leader of the Kurds in Iraq has pleaded with the West to send arms shipments to fend off IS fighters who are closing in on Erbil, the capital of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region and the site of a US consulate and a US-Iraqi joint military operations centre.
Kurdish president Masoud Barzani said the extremists threatening Erbil were not a terrorist organisation, but a terrorist state.
He told visiting French foreign minister Laurent Fabius that his peshmerga militia was outgunned by the IS fighters, and the Kurds want their allies to ship them new weapons.
Mr Fabius said France would consult other European countries about arranging a supply of "equipment that will allow them to defend themselves and to counterattack".
Kurdish officials say US airstrikes have allowed the peshmerga to recapture two small towns south-west of Erbil.
The US strikes, launched by drone aircraft and fighter jets, were aimed at protecting the peshmerga forces, the US military's Central Command said.
It said aircraft struck and destroyed an IS armed truck that was firing on Kurdish forces near Erbil. Four other strikes followed on armed trucks and a mortar position.
Iraqi officials on Sunday said at least 20,000 Yazidis had escaped from Mount Sinjar.
However, Iraq's human rights minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani revealed "striking evidence" obtained from Yazidis fleeing Sinjar that up to 500 Yazidis were killed by IS militants.
"Some of the victims, including women and children were buried alive in scattered mass graves in and around Sinjar," Mr Sudani said.