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Australia to target IS support personnel

AAP logoAAP 1/09/2016 Max Blenkin, Defence Correspondent

Financiers, propagandists and other non-combatants directly supporting the Islamic State war effort in Iraq and Syria could soon find themselves targeted by Australian bombs.

Following a request from Defence, the government plans to amend criminal laws to allow the RAAF Air Task Group in the Middle East to hit a wider range of IS targets in missions over Iraq and Syria.

Defence force head Mark Binskin said it had become apparent in recent months there was a difference between international and Australian domestic law in what could be attacked.

Under Australian law, only those elements of IS directly participating in hostilities can be lawfully bombed, not those in support roles. International law makes no distinction.

"Therefore we have not been able to maximise the combat capability of our deployed forces," Air Chief Marshal Binskin told reporters.

This change to the criminal law eliminates the remote possibility that defence personnel could be charged with war crimes for bombing IS personnel not directly involved in fighting.

It means current rules of engagement will be eased to permit RAAF aircraft to target a wider range of Daesh targets.

"Now if you are paying the fighter, if you are there on your Twitter account sending the propaganda out, then you are a legitimate target," junior defence minister Dan Tehan told Sky News.

In practice, this won't make that much difference on the ground.

Australia is just one of nine nations conducting strikes on Iraq and 12 conducting strikes on Syria.

The US, whose rules of engagement have imposed none of the Australian limitations, conduct more than two-thirds of all strikes on Iraq and more than 90 per cent of strikes on Syria.

Air Chief Marshal Binskin said the change was important as it removed the ambiguity under which defence personnel operated.

Defence is adamant this isn't about conducting air strikes which could result in civilian casualties. Rules of engagement designed to minimise the risk of civilian deaths won't be changed.

Mr Turnbull told parliament the Australian Defence Force must have the powers it needs.

"We must target Daesh at its base. And with lethal force. No exceptions," he said.

Labor is generally supportive. Opposition leader Bill Shorten, briefed on the measure, said it appeared a sound principle, although Labor would want to see how the law worked.

The Greens urged caution.

"Australian forces operate under much more stringent rules of engagement than many of our allies including the US," the party's defence spokesman Scott Ludlam said in a statement.

"Anything that creates a risk of that changing needs to be carefully scrutinised."

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