Australia on Friday said it has sent a small detachment of soldiers to Iraq to help bolster security at its embassy in Baghdad in the wake of the assault by Islamic militants in the country.
Defence Minister David Johnston said the defence liaison force is being deployed to protect embassy staff and evacuate them if necessary, not to help Iraqi forces battling militants who have seized large swathes of the country’s north in the past two weeks.
He did not confirm how many personnel have been sent for security reasons.
“Should things turn very bad very quickly, we can respond,” he was quoted by ABC News as saying.
Earlier, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said there had been no request for help from Iraq. If there were, he said, Australia would seek to be “helpful”.
“But right now [our priority is], first of all, ensuring our people in Baghdad are safe — that we have the capacity to remove them if necessary [and] to remove them safely if necessary,” he said.
“These people should have no place in our country and we will do our best to keep them out,” he said adding “If they can’t be kept out, they will be taken into detention because we are not going to allow people who are an obvious threat to our safety and security to roam loose in Australia.”
Australia’s decision comes after U.S. president Barack Obama announced U.S. military advisers would help Iraq combat the threat posed by the militant Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group and its Sunni allies.
The Australian embassy was moved into the highly secure green zone in Baghdad in 2004 after a series of car bombings struck near the previous embassy building, ABC News reported.
In 2011, 33 Australian soldiers who guarded the embassy withdrew from the country and a Dubai-based private security firm took over security duties.