Australian warplanes will cease their air strike campaign in Iraq and Syria, it was announced Friday, with the country’s six F/A-18F Super Hornets jets heading home after a three-year mission.
Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne said the government had decided to scale back its mission after consultations with Coalition allies following more than 2,700 sorties.
“The battlefield success against Daesh means our own Operation OKRA has now reached a natural transition point and our strike aircraft will begin returning home early in the New Year,” Payne said.
“Since October 2014, our Hornet pilots and support personnel have made a significant contribution in support of the Iraqi Security Forces and I commend all the personnel who have contributed over this period for their dedication, skill and professionalism.”
Based in the Middle East, Australia’s Air Task Group consists of six F/A-18F Hornets, an E-7A Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft, and a KC-30A Multi-Role tanker and transport plane.
While the F-18s are returning, the Wedgetail and the refuelling plane will continue to support Coalition operations. Australia will also continue its training mission, which involves around 300 personnel at Task Group Taji and around 80 personnel in a Special Operations Task Group.
The United States first sent warplanes in August 2014 to carry out strikes against ISIS when it was attacking the Yazidi minority in the Sinjar region of northern Iraq. The Coalition was formed soon after with the support of around 60 nations, although only a handful such as Australia, France, the U.K. and U.S. have played a significant military role.
Australia is the only Coalition member other than the U.S. to admit to civilian casualties. On September 30, the Chief of Joint Operations Vice Admiral David Johnston reported that a March 30 airstrike in Mosul killed or injured eight civilians, including a child. The Defence Ministry said a June 7 strike against ISIS in Mosul may have killed a civilian who was in the area.
With reporting from AFP