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Australia’s military suspends air operations over Syria

Sydney (AFP) – Australia’s military on Tuesday said it was temporarily halting air missions over Syria, following the shooting down of a Syrian jet by US forces.

The decision came amid increasing tension between the US and Russia, which warned it would track coalition aircraft in Syria as potential “targets”, and halted a military hotline with Washington over the incident.

“As a precautionary measure, Australian Defence Force (ADF) strike operations into Syria have temporarily ceased,” a defence spokeswoman said in a statement.

No reason for the suspension was given, but The Australian newspaper said it was implemented as a precaution after the jet’s downing.

“ADF personnel are closely monitoring the air situation in Syria and a decision on the resumption of ADF air operations in Syria will be made in due course,” the spokeswoman added.

“ADF operations in Iraq will continue as part of the coalition.”

The United States has moved quickly to contain an escalation of the situation after the jet was downed on Sunday evening when regime forces targeted the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters battling IS.

A top US general said the country would work to relaunch the “deconfliction” hotline established in 2015, after Russia said Washington had failed to use the line — a vital incident-prevention tool — before targeting the plane near Raqa.

Australia is part of the coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq and in late 2015 extended air operations into Syria, with a total of 780 defence personnel based in the Middle East.

The staunch US ally in September said it would widen the scope of targets in the air war against IS by allowing its pilots to strike jihadist support and logistics resources in Iraq and Syria.

Australia’s Air Task Group consists of 300 personnel, six F/A-18 Hornets, an E-7A Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft, and a KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker and Transport plane.

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