3AW with Tom Elliott – 9 September 2015

QUESTION

Was there much debate about the wisdom of sending out planes and sending our forces across the Syrian border?

MINISTER ANDREWS

We’ve been considering this for a fair while now. This was first raised by President Obama in a telephone call with the Prime Minister some months ago. Then I got a formal letter of request from the US Defense Secretary Ash Carter back in about mid-August and we’ve been giving it consideration right through until now. The NSC – the National Security Committee – considered it at length last night and then the full Cabinet again this morning.

QUESTION

Is this technically an invasion of Syrian territory?

MINISTER ANDREWS

No it’s not. We are in Iraq at the invitation of the Government of Iraq and under the relevant United Nations provisions you can go across a border like we’re proposing to do into Syria, as part of the collective self-defence of Iraq. The legal provisions are that Iraq has been subject to strikes from ISIL; that there’s no effective means to address those threats emanating from Syria; Syria’s unwilling or unable to stop those attacks from ISIL and we’ve been requested to go there. That’s a well-known provision in the United Nations Charter.

QUESTION

A year ago Tony Abbott said that there was no way we’d be sending boots on the ground – that is ground forces into this theatre – today when asked that question twice he, to my mind, side-stepped it. Is there any discussion about the idea of sending ground forces in to accompany the RAAF planes?

MINISTER ANDREWS

Absolutely not. The only ground forces we have are in Iraq on a training capacity. So we have up to a couple of hundred in Baghdad of our special forces. They’re SAS, training the Iraqi counter-terrorism unit and we have 300 regular forces along with 100 New Zealanders at Taji which is about 25 kilometres north of Baghdad. They’re training the Iraqi regular forces but they don’t go – to use the expression – beyond the wire. That is they don’t go outside the camp. They are solely there in a training, advise and assist…

QUESTION

And that arrangement will stay? There’s no plan to do what is often called ‘mission creep’ and have them go outside the wire?

MINISTER ANDREWS

Absolutely not.

QUESTION

Why are we so certain that air power here will be decisive?

MINISTER ANDREWS

It’s not air power by itself Tom and that’s why, as I said, we’re there training the Iraqi forces because under that Building Partner Capacity program, they’re the ones that are ultimately going in to battle.

QUESTION

But will the Iraqi forces go across the Syrian border?

MINISTER ANDREWS

Look there’s not only the regular Iraqi forces, there’s a whole group of different units there, there’s militia, so some of them are already fighting across the border. The air power has been significant because if you look at a map of the area which the ISIL or Daesh controlled 12 months ago compared to now, then they’ve been pushed back a significant way. There’s still a lot of work to do and the other thing the air strikes are doing is forcing Daesh underground. They can’t move around with the same impunity that they’ve been able to in the past.

QUESTION

Are we getting ready to confront President Bashar al-Assad as well as Islamic State?

MINISTER ANDREWS

The problem with the Assad regime and the forces against him is that there are different countries, for example Iran and Russia have been supporting Assad, including with equipment, etc. On the other hand we think Assad is a dreadful creature who’s been using chemical weapons on his own people, but at the moment we’re not getting involved in that dispute with Assad. We’re simply there at the invitation of the Government of Iraq and the only reason we’re going across the border into Eastern Syria is because Daesh or ISIL don’t respect the border between Iraq and Syria.

QUESTION

Final question. In addition to the decision to bomb targets inside Syria we’ve also agreed to take a supposedly one-off increase to 12,000 Syrian refugees on top of our regular refugee intake. If the Syrian civil war does not stop, if it keeps going another 12 months, will that one-off increase apply next year?

MINISTER ANDREWS

No, it’s a one-off increase. We haven’t made any decisions about repeating that, we’ve just said that this is a one-off increase. We’re already increasing the number of people over the next few years coming under the humanitarian refugee program. Currently it’s 13,750, that will go up to 18,750, but this 12,000 is in addition to that.

QUESTION

Kevin Andrews, Defence Minister, thank you for your time.

MINISTER ANDREWS

Thank you Tom.

ENDS.