CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — An Australian military aircraft will soon fly guns and ammunition to the northern Iraqi city of Irbil to help Kurds fight Islamic State militants as part of a U.S.-led multination mission, Australia's prime minister said on Sunday.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said his government would join the United States, Britain, Canada, France and Italy in delivering rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and assault rifle ammunition at the request of the U.S. and Iraqi governments.
"While we understandably shrink from reaching out to these conflicts, the truth is that these conflicts reach out to us," Abbott told reporters.
"None of us want to get involved in another Middle Eastern war, but it is important to do what reasonably can be done to avert potential genocide," he added.
Australia will use air force C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster planes based at al-Minhad Air Base outside Dubai to deliver weapons and ammunition provided by East European countries.
Australia has said it has F/A-18 Hornets standing ready to join U.S. airstrikes in Iraq if requested by the U.S. and Iraqi governments.
Abbott said Sunday the United States had not requested that Australia play a combat role. If such a request were made, Abbott said it would be considered if it fits the criteria of an achievable overall objective with a clear role for Australian forces. Safety risks must be considered and an overall humanitarian purpose must be in accordance with Australia's national interest, he said.
Australian C-130s had previously made humanitarian airdrops including food and water to thousands of people stranded by fighting on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq.
Defense Force Chief Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin revealed that an Australian C-130 had on Sunday made a humanitarian airdrop of food, water and hygiene packs to the besieged Iraqi town of Amelie — enough for 2,600 people for a day.
Binskin said the weapons would not be air-dropped, but handed over to Kurdish peshmerga officials.
The opposition Labor Party, which opposed Australia sending 2,000 troops to back U.S. and British forces in the 2003 Iraq invasion, has supported the latest Australian involvement in delivering weapons and munitions to the Kurds.
Australia estimates 60 of its citizens are fighting for the Islamic State group and another al-Qaida offshoot, Jabhat al-Nursa, also known as the Nusra Front, in Iraq and Syria. Another 15 Australian fighters had been killed, including two young suicide bombers.
The government warns that the Islamic State movement poses an unprecedented domestic terrorism threat. Australia has proposed tough new counterterrorism laws and announced 630 million Australian dollars ($590 million) in new spending on intelligence, law enforcement and border protection agencies over the next four years to enhance security, including a roll out of biometric screening at airports.
Britain on Friday raised its terror threat level to severe, the second-highest level. But Australia announced on Saturday that its threat level remained at medium, a level that had not changed in more than a decade.
Abbott did not believe Australia's increased military involvement in Iraq would necessarily increase the domestic terrorist threat.
"There is a certain type of terrorist organization that hates us not because of what we do, but because of who we are and how we live," he said. "And who we are and how we live I hope will never change."