Defence Minister Kevin Andrews says Australian forces involved in Syria and Iraq could pull out after two to three years, but a former military chief believes it’s more likely to be a decade.
Mr Andrews is the first cabinet minister to put a timeline on the fight against Islamic State, which military strategists believe will take a decade or more.
Asked to define how many years the fight would take, he told the Nine Network: “Two, three years. I can’t say for exact terms.”
Former defence force chief Peter Gration said the prospect of sorting it out in two to three years was remote.
“We are in for a longer haul – I’d be thinking in terms of a decade,” he told the ABC.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who on Wednesday announced RAAF military aircraft would be allowed to cross from Iraq into Syria to target IS fighters, said personnel would return when the job is done.
His comment was backed up by Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss who said in response to a Labor question in parliament on the military pullout: “I cannot give you a date as to when that will be. We all hope that it will be soon but we will not be leaving until the job’s done.”
Labor has thrown its support behind the government in extending the mission into Syria.
Australia’s representatives to the United Nations wrote to the president of the security council on Thursday morning giving notice of the expansion.
The legal basis is Article 51 of the United Nations charter which states all member nations have a right to individual or collective self defence against armed attack.
However, Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek said the ultimate solution lay in finding a political resolution in Syria, as well as defeating Islamic State.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop spoke overnight with US Secretary of State John Kerry about how to disrupt IS bases and supply lines in eastern Syria.
Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs warned that bombing IS targets in Syria would create more refugees.
Australia’s policy of accepting 12,000 people fleeing the conflict and conducting air strikes was “contradictory”, she said.
“I think it’s inevitable that will increase the refugee flow and it will almost certainly lead to the deaths of more civilians.”
Mr Andrews likened the Iraq-Syria border to something closer to home.
It made sense to be able to go over the border because it was a bit like the border between NSW and the ACT.
“We know where it is on a map but most people wouldn’t know where it is and Daesh (IS) certainly doesn’t respect it.”