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21 Jun, 2017 11:28

Australia to resume anti-ISIS airstrikes in Syria – defense chief

Australia to resume anti-ISIS airstrikes in Syria – defense chief

Australian warplanes will soon resume airstrikes against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) targets in Syria, according to the country's defense chief. Operations were suspended earlier this week, after a US fighter jet shot down a Syrian warplane.

"It won't be long before you start to see the operations again," Australian Defense Force Chief Mark Binskin told reporters on Wednesday, as quoted by AP. The official did not elaborate on the exact date.

Defense Minister Marise Payne also said that Australian "force protection is uppermost in our minds" regarding the decision of when to resume missions over Syria.

The defense chief's announcement comes just one day after Australia's Defense Department confirmed that six F/A-18F Super Hornets based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had been suspended from Syrian operations.

“As a precautionary measure, Australian Defense Force strike operations into Syria have temporarily ceased,” a spokeswoman said in a Tuesday statement.

According to Binskin, operations were halted while Australians determined what was happening in the "complex piece of airspace" over Syria.

The Australian Defense Force is fighting IS in both Syria and Iraq under the name 'Operation OKRA.' The force includes about 780 personnel, including 300 service members working in its air group.

Australia's halt in operations came after Russia's Defense Ministry said on Monday that "all kinds of airborne vehicles, including aircraft and UAVs of the international coalition...will be tracked by the Russian SAM systems as air targets" if flying west of the Euphrates River in Syria.

The statement came after a US fighter jet shot down a Syrian Su-22 some 40km from IS’ self-proclaimed capital, Raqqa, on Sunday.

Although the US Central Command said the plane was downed "in collective self-defense of coalition-partnered forces," accusing the Syrian government of attacking the US-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Damascus said the plane was carrying out operations against IS when it was targeted.

Russia's Defense Ministry called the incident a "cynical violation of Syria's sovereignty,” and on Tuesday Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted that Moscow is still waiting for an explanation from the US.

“We have requested a detailed explanation through the Ministry of Defense. We expect that it will be provided," he said.