Australia to end air strikes in Iraq and Syria

Australia will wind back its military operations against Islamic State after the Iraqi Prime Minister declared victory over the extremist group, which three years ago seized control of large swathes of the region.

Defence Minister Marise Payne announced on Friday that Australia's contribution to US-led coalition air strikes will end, while emphasising that other operations - including the training, advising and assisting of local forces - would continue.

"After more than three years of air operations, the number of coalition air strike commissions has steadily dropped since the last major population centre was captured in October," Senator Payne said on Friday.

Airstrikes target Islamic State positions on the edge of the Old City in Mosul, Iraq in July.  Photo: Felipe Dana

Airstrikes target Islamic State positions on the edge of the Old City in Mosul, Iraq in July. Photo: Felipe Dana

"Following discussions with Iraq and with members of the international coalition, the Australian government has determined that we will bring home our six Super Hornet strike aircraft from the Middle East, marking the end of Australia's air strike operations in Iraq and Syria."

About 800 Australian military personnel have been involved in Operation OKRA, mostly in Iraq. These include Air Force personnel, approximately 300 army trainers and several dozen special forces troops "advising and assisting" Iraqis.

Senator Payne said the priority was now holding territory that had been retaken and emphasised that Australia's Wedgetail surveillance aircraft and refuelling aircraft would continue to support operations, as would the training and special forces personnel.

Earlier this month, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the last remnants of Islamic State had been driven from his country and that the border with Syria had been secured.

Mr al-Abadi's announcement followed the Russian military's declaration that Islamic State forces in Syria had been defeated.

Mosul, the group's power centre in northern Iraq, fell in July after a nine-month campaign that saw much of the city destroyed. Islamic State's Syrian capital Raqqa fell in September.

The conflict has had a devastating impact on Iraq and Syria, with more than 3 million people displaced, according the United Nations.

The collapse of Islamic State's "caliphate" has come with a warning that the group will continue to engage in guerilla warfare across the region and operate as a global terror network, inspiring or planning attacks in western countries.

Intelligence agency ASIO recently said more than 100 Australians were still believed to be fighting with extremist groups in the region.

This story Australia to end air strikes in Iraq and Syria first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.