Australia will resume air combat missions over Syria after the Australian Defence Force lifted a temporary suspension initially sparked by Russian threats to shoot down coalition planes.
The defence department declared the suspension on Tuesday after Russia threatened to shoot down any plane from the US-led coalition they spotted flying west of the Euphrates river.
The threat was seen as retaliation for the US downing of a Syrian air force jet on Sunday, as tensions in the region rose.
On Thursday the ADF announced it would resume airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq.
“This was a precautionary measure to allow the coalition to assess the operational risk,” a department statement said on Thursday. “The suspension has since been lifted.”
The department has not specified how long the suspension lasted. It did not say if Australian airstrikes had resumed or when or if they would.
Australian Defense Force Chief Mark Binskin said on Wednesday the operations were halted while the Australians examined what was happening in what he had described as a “complex piece of airspace” over Syria.
The defense minister, Marise Payne, said on Wednesday that Australian “force protection is uppermost in our minds” in deciding when to resume missions over Syria.
Binskin said the fighter jets had been occupied recently supporting Iraqi security forces in retaking the city of Mosul, so the suspension had little effect on their operations.
Tuesday’s suspension was taken to allow coalition forces to assess the operational risk of air strikes, defence said, as US-backed forces seek to take back the city of Raqqa.
The Russian foreign ministry stressed that it would only be tracking coalition planes, but that “a threat for those jets may appear” if they were deemed to pose a threat to Russian aircraft.
The statement came amid an increased US bombing campaign and Sunday’s downing of a Syrian jet, the first since the start of the civil war six years ago.
US central command claimed the jet had dropped bombs near the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and had been shot down “in collective self-defense”.
Australia has six fighter F/A-18 Super Hornet aircraft, based in the United Arab Emirates, that strike targets in Syria and Iraq. Air sorties over Iraq continued during the temporary stay.
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