Australian special forces troops will be deployed in Iraq to assist in the fight against Islamic State militants, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Friday, and its aircraft will also join U.S.-led coalition strikes.
Abbott said in a nationally televised news conference the Australian troops would be engaged in an "advise and assist" capacity to support the Iraqi army in their battle against the militant Islamist group.
The United States has been bombing Islamic State and other groups in Syria for almost two weeks with the help of Arab allies, and hitting targets in neighboring Iraq since August.
European countries have joined the campaign in Iraq but not in Syria.
Last month, Abbott sent aircraft and 600 personnel to the United Arab Emirates in preparation for joining the coalition. He has since said it was likely Australian aircraft would join the strikes to combat Islamic State, which he described as a "murderous death cult."
While the involvement of Australian aircraft had been flagged, the use of Australian troops on the ground in Iraq was not as widely anticipated.
"Today, cabinet has authorized Australian airstrikes in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government and in support of the Iraqi government," Abbott said.
"Also, subject to final legal documentation, Cabinet has authorized the deployment of Australian special forces into Iraq to advise and assist Iraqi forces."