Australia today lifted a suspension on military air missions over Syria imposed after the shooting down of a Syrian jet by US forces. Canberra temporarily halted flights on Tuesday after a spike in tensions between the US and Russia, which warned it would track coalition aircraft in Syria as potential “targets”. Moscow also halted a military hotline with Washington over the incident, intended to prevent confrontations in Syria’s crowded air space. Australia defence ministry said in a statement the suspension was “a precautionary measure to allow the coalition to assess the operational risk”.
“The suspension has since been lifted,” it added. The United States 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.