The death of a senior Islamic State commander in an attack by Australian jet fighters in Iraq has been hailed as a significant step.
It’s been revealed a RAAF Hornet bomber destroyed an IS, or Daesh, base in Anbar province in early July, killing the battalion commander and 15 fighters.
“This leader controlled Daesh operations in an area of western Iraq and directed attack planning and execution by Daesh forces,” Chief of Joint Operations David Johnston said on Wednesday.
The commander, who Defence has declined to identify, co-ordinated fighters and supplies in the region seen by coalition forces as a priority area to seize back.
“The removal, and it was a successful removal, of this individual has caused significant disruption and degradation to Daesh offensive operations,” Vice Admiral Johnston said, adding it would also make it safer for coalition and Iraqi forces.
He said “slow and steady” progress was being made by Iraqi forces, trained by Australian and New Zealand forces, in taking back the key city of Ramadi.
“While gains here are measured in streets and buildings rather than square kilometres, it reflects a growing level of resilience and provides evidence that progress is being achieved.
“(But) Daesh no longer has the same freedom of manoeuvre.”
The joint Australian-NZ task group based in Taji has to date trained 1600 Iraqi soldiers.
In June and July, Hornet bombers have also been supporting forces near Baji where there has been intense fighting, as well as around Mosul and west to Sinjar.
Vice Admiral Johnston said the government had not provided any advice on whether Australian forces would start operating in Syria.
But he said if there was to be any operations in Syria it would not be much different to Iraq “in a physical or practical sense”, but there were different risks.
“It’s a significantly more difficult environment,” he said.
Daesh operations were more easy to define in Iraq, whereas in Syria there were many more groups operating.
However, an Australian role in Syria “isn’t a game changer” in terms of the overall coalition effort against Daesh, he said.
Asked whether basing aircraft in Turkey would be effective, Vice Admiral Johnston said it would allow more flying time in target areas.