(CNSNews.com) – Australia has voiced support for the U.S. military’s shift to “annihilation tactics” in the fight against ISIS, with its defense minister saying that it, too, would prefer that those who went to fight for the terrorist group in Syria and Iraq would not be able to return to their home countries to carry out attacks there.
“We absolutely support the approach that the international coalition led by the United States is taking,” Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne told reporters in response to a question about the “annihilation tactics” enunciated in recent weeks by Defense Secretary James Mattis.
“Our absolute preference is, as far as possible, to make sure that those who have left their countries to fight in the name of Daesh or ISIS in the Middle East are not able to return to those countries and perpetrate any of their atrocities in those areas,” she said.
Payne was speaking in a joint press appearance in Sydney with Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
An Australian journalist had asked the Australian ministers for their view on the new tactic.
Bishop said the Australian government has made it clear that any citizen who joins ISIS or al-Qaeda or linked groups in the Middle East are not only “breaking Australian laws but putting their own lives at risk, as well as adding to the misery and suffering of the people of Iraq and Syria.”
She pointed out that any Australian supporting terrorist groups in the conflict zones was “essentially fighting against the coalition.”
Both Australian ministers also said that should Australians who have fought with terrorist groups in the Middle East return home, they would be dealt with under Australian law.
“We will use all the force of Australian law to deal with those people,” said Payne. She added that it was important to provide the tools to help other governments in the region – like those in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines – deal with the prospect of “returning fighters” as well.
‘Take that caliphate down’
Mattis, too, offered a vigorous defense of “annihilation tactics” against what he called “an enemy against all civilization.”
“In this campaign,” he said, “where before we were shoving them from one town to another and they’re falling back, we now take the time to invest the town and make certain that foreign fighters cannot escape, to return to Paris, France, to Australia – to wherever they came from, and bring their message of hatred and their skills back to those places and attack innocent people.”
In response to a question about the risk of greater civilian casualties as a result of the new approach, Mattis said there was no change to the policy of doing “everything humanly possible to protect the innocent on the battlefield.”
“Our intent is to do everything possible to keep them [civilians] alive, to protect them, but at the same time we’re going to have to take that caliphate down, or the attacks that you’ve seen going on around the world – that you all have reported on – will continue.”
Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general, first publicly flagged the new approach at a Pentagon news conference on May 19, when he said President Trump has empowered combat commanders to target ISIS more aggressively, in a bid to “annihilate” the group.
He said Trump after a review of the anti-ISIS campaign “directed a tactical shift from shoving ISIS out of safe locations in an attrition fight, to surrounding the enemy in their strongholds so we can annihilate ISIS.”
“The intent is to prevent the return home of escaped foreign fighters,” he said.
On CBS News’ “Face the Nation” on May 28 Mattis reiterated that “our intention is that the foreign fighters do not survive the fight to return home to North Africa, to Europe, to America, to Asia, to Africa.”
Mattis and Tillerson were in Australia for annual bilateral ministerial talks known as AUSMIN.
The two countries are close allies and their troops have fought together in the two World Wars and the conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
Since 2012 U.S. Marines have been deployed in rotation in Darwin, Northern Territory, for training and as a base for military and humanitarian operations in the region. This year’s rotation will be the largest yet.
Australia and the U.S. have also agreed on an “enhanced aircraft cooperation” program, and a squadron of F-22 Raptors arrived at an airbase in Northern Territory in February for joint exercises and training missions with the Royal Australian Air Force.
The deep cooperation is also evident in the fact an Australian general serves as deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific in Hawaii. More than 30,000 Australian and U.S. troops will take part in this year’s Talisman Saber military training exercises, beginning late this month.