Australia has finally reached a deal with the Iraqi government in relation to the deployment of special operations forces and the initiation of their “advise and assist” role to support Iraqi troops in their fight against the Islamic State.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop recently wound up a two-day trip to Baghdad, where she finalised a deal which has allowed Australian SOF to finally deploy forward from the United Arab Emirates to “advise and assist the government of Iraq in building the capacity of the Iraqi security forces.” The Royal Australian Air Force’s Super Hornets have already begun their bombing campaign, and the 200-strong special operations force element will join them in the coming weeks in the fight to destroy the Islamic State.

ATG - Middle East

The Australian Government has shown an unrelenting commitment from the very beginning to eradicate IS, and the sign-off on this legal framework was the last piece that their operators were waiting for to move forward and begin doing what they do best. Defence has released very little as to what the “advise-and-assist” mission will actually entail, but for those of us who have been exposed firsthand to these types of operations in Afghanistan, it will most likely follow a very similar pattern—providing the proverbial glue to patch Iraq’s unsophisticated army together into something which resembles a capable military force. This may mean taking it right back and re-teaching basic soldiering skills like weapon handling, orders, fieldcraft and individual movement, infantry minor tactics, communications, explosive hazards, etc. There will also be an undoubted focus on the command and control issues of the Iraqi Army as most of the gains that IS initially made were due to a lack of effective C2 as well as deserting soldiers.

It is certainly disheartening to hear about set backs such as these and to have watched IS gain control of such a large proportion of Iraq almost unopposed. The Iraqi Army does not have a particularly successful history and their challenges are further exacerbated by many undeveloped sectors that the country is yet to address. Whilst the initial intervention may curb the advances of IS, there is still an incredible amount of work to be achieved in order to provide the Iraqi Armed Forces with the support that they need to be self-sufficient.