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Australia’s Dubious Role in Syria: an Ongoing Saga

RAAF F/A-18F Super Hornets refuelling from a KC-30A en route to the Middle East (adapted photo SBS, AAP)

by James O’Neill*

In August 2015 the government of then Prime Minister Tony Abbott, with Julie Bishop as Foreign Minister announced that they were considering Australia having a role as part of the US “coalition” engaged in the war in Syria. They said that no decision would be made until they had received legal advice as to whether or not Australia’s intervention would be legally possible.

What Mr Abbott and Ms Bishop failed to disclose was that the government had solicited an invitation from the Americans to participate in the Syrian war. According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, the government had “pushed for Washington to request that Australia expand its air strikes against Islamic State from Iraq into Syria.”

Exactly what form that “push” had taken has not been disclosed, either to Parliament or elsewhere.  Similarly, the exact terms of the US request, solicited as it was, has also not been disclosed, if it even exists.  The legal basis for the US to ask Australia to engage in military activity in a third country has likewise never been disclosed. The probable reason is that no such legal basis exists.

The government then announced in September 2015 that it was going to war in Syria.  Assuming that the legal advice referred to a month earlier had been received, I made a Freedom of Information request for a copy of that legal advice.  There was the useful precedent of then Prime Minister John Howard tabling in Parliament in February 2003 the legal advice he had obtained prior to Australia embarking on the Iraqi misadventure.

My FOI request was refused, but I was given a list of 52 documents relevant to the request that I was not allowed to read.  Five were of particular interest. The first was dated 24 September 2014 and headed “Draft Legal Advice.”  The other four were all headed “Legal Advice” and carried the same date, 30 September 2014.

In other words, at the time that Abbott and Bishop were telling the Australian public that no decision would be made until they had legal advice, they had in fact received that advice eleven months earlier.

I wrote an account of this exercise revealing the government’s duplicity, which was published in New Matilda online magazine on 16 November 2015.  That same day the article was published Ms Bishop was interviewed on ABC National Radio and asked about the legal basis for Australia joining the US “coalition’s” war in Syria.

Her response was that Australia had joined the war pursuant to the collective self-defence provisions of Article 51 of the UN Charter, and at the request of the Iraqi government.  That was the first time such a rationale had been advanced.  That it was inconsistent with the apparent fact of a solicited request from the US government appeared not to trouble Ms Bishop because she did not mention it.  Neither did the ABC interviewer who, to be fair, may not have even known about the earlier versions of the government’s story.

There were two further difficulties with the government’s story, quite apart from the secret legal advice they had for nearly a year without disclosing it and then claimed to be awaiting it, and the ever shifting rationale for intervention.  The first difficulty arose when the office of the Prime Minister of Iraq issued an official statement on 3 December 2015.  In that statement they specifically denied making any such request for any “international coalition” to send troops to Iraq.  The Iraqi government’s reluctance to entertain Australian troops is further evidenced by the fact that there is no Status of
forces Agreement in existence between Iraq and Australia, and that Australian troops have been issued with diplomatic passports to overcome the legal difficulties that would inevitably arise.

No member of the Opposition or the mainstream media has ever challenged the government on its manifestly false claim to be in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government.

The second problem arises Ms Bishop’s statement to the ABC that the intervention was pursuant to the collective self-defence provisions of Article 51 of the UN Charter.  That provision is clearly not applicable in the present case, which if the media or the Opposition had bothered to research would have been immediately apparent.

That particular provision of the Charter has been authoritatively interpreted by the International Court of Justice in a number of cases (see: Williams, University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law 2011 (33 (2).  In short, under Article 51 a State may only ask for assistance pursuant to the collective self-defence provisions if it has in turn been attacked by another State, This clearly does not apply here, quite apart from the fact that the Iraqi government has stated that they made no such request.

The Department of Defence has refused to confirm whether or not Australian ground troops are involved in Syria, although there are unconfirmed reports that Special Forces have been operating on Syrian soil.  If that is correct, then that would be a violation of international law as the only legitimate basis for any such military intervention can only be pursuant to a Security Council Resolution (which does not exist) or at the request of the Syrian government, which also does not exist.

What has been confirmed, because the Department of Defence publishes the data on its website, is that the RAAF has been conducting operations in Syria albeit sporadically.  These data disclose the following operations:

Source: DOD Operation Okra

The FA18 is a fighter jet and as the figures show, has barely been used.  The E7A is a different story.  This plane is an electronic eye in the sky and provides essential support for the bombers, primarily American, to aim at their targets.  Those targets, as has been amply documented, have resulted in heavy civilian casualties, as well as units of the Syrian Arab Army.

A rare admission of operational actions was made in September 2016 when the RAAF command acknowledged bombing Syrian Army units, which they said was a “mistake.”  The Syrian government did not accept that explanation.

The third aircraft involved, the KC30A provides refueling services.  Given the number of sorties flown by the KC30A exceeds that of the FA18 and the E7A, the conclusion must be that the refueling services are provided to other “coalition” forces operating in Syrian air space.

By carrying out air strikes in Syria, or assisting others to do so, is a breach of international law.  As noted above, such operations can only be lawfully conducted in self-defence; pursuant to an appropriate resolution of the Security Council; or following a request from the host government.  None of those conditions apply.  Australia is therefore at the very least a party to war crimes.

What is perhaps as remarkable is that these facts are not the subject of parliamentary debate, or serious discussion in the mainstream media.  Even if the matter were brought before parliament it is doubtful it is doubtful whether the Labor Opposition would raise any objections.  On matters of alleged “national security” the two parties are essentially indistinguishable.

It now seems to be the case that Australia can commit to war without the need for a legal basis, without parliamentary approval or even debate, and with the public either lied to or seriously misled by senior politicians without fear of consequences.  We have truly descended to a sorry state of affairs.

The US plan for regime change (supported by Australia) now seems to have been abandoned, although with Trump one can never be too sure.  The Syrian Army, with the lawful assistance of Iraq, Iran, Hezbollah and the Russians are now on the verge of crushing ISIS.  There will still be unresolved issues, including removing the Americans from the military bases they have illegally set up on Syrian soil.  If the US does not leave but tries to stay (as is their practice) will Australia assist the Americans in the inevitable confrontation that would follow with Russia, Iran and Syria?

The Australian government does not seem to have any plan beyond doing what the Americans want, and as their wishes shift with the vagaries of the power struggle in Washington, Australian policy seems even more directionless than usual.

Perhaps if we had a genuine and long overdue national debate, then clarification on this and other related issues might be forthcoming.  Don’t hold your breath waiting.

*Barrister at Law and geopolitical analyst.  He may be contacted at joneill@qldbar.asn.au



  1. As I have stated many times previously all of Australia’s prime ministers since and including John Howard up to and including Malcolm Turnbull have been guilty of war crimes. Each and everyone of them must be charged and tried. Without such a move, not one international treaty is valid. Robert Menzies was also a war criminal for pushing Australian troops into Vietnam, illegally.

  2. Thank you James.

    August: E7A = 10, KX30A = 13 –> heavy civilian casualties.

    Here is a measure of the success of those committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, and who currently head the Australian outpost regime.

    • Report: US Airstrikes Killed 433 Civilians in Raqqa in August
    • http://news.antiwar.com/2017/09/20/report-us-airstrikes-killed-433-civilians-in-raqqa-in-august/

    From the linked article within:

    “The coalition, according to its own estimates, has dropped at least 16,500 munitions in Raqqa and its surrounding areas since June.

    Syrian activists say bombs dropped on Raqqa have flattened homes, destroyed hospitals and mosques, wiping out neighbourhoods of the ancient Syrian city whose residents have been living under ISIL’s brutal control since 2014. [and not a Russian in sight!]

    More than 75 percent of the city is destroyed and more than an estimated 190,000 people have been displaced, according to activist groups and aid agencies.

    At least 20,000 civilians are believed to be trapped in Raqqa facing constant coalition bombardment, confronting ISIL snipers, with streets full of dead bodies, booby traps and landmines, making both living in the city and escaping from it difficult.”

    And from here:
    • New supply route boosts humanitarian response in Syria’s Ar-Raqqa

    “Regular [humanitarian] deliveries along the newly opened route are planned from warehouses in Damascus, Homs and Aleppo, allowing UNHCR and other UN agencies and partners to reach a greater number of the estimated 430,000 people in need in Ar-Raqqa governorate.” [Note that the humanitarian deliveries are coming FROM “Damascus, Homs and Aleppo” – still free under government control or liberated from the US/Israel/Saudi proxies]

    Malcolm Turnbull, Julie Bishop, Marise Payne, Christopher Pine et al must be very proud, but with
    only “75% of Raqqa destroyed” they must know that this is not yet “Mission Accomplished” as they await further instructions.

  3. I have been listening to Dane Wigington this morning. He says there is evidence that “they” used weather manipulation on Wesley Clark’s seven countries. That the powers used geoengineering to cause exceptional drought events in the region — this to destabilize and starve the people — making it easier to disrupt. I am researching this. I am sure there is validity to these claims. And if so we are truly dealing with very dark forces (which we know already).
    The wonderful thing for those who are using weather as a weapon of mass destruction is that they can easily say “but that event is a act of nature” — it’s just that there are about 170 weather manipulation patents. Syria’s population attacked in every which way.
    LISTEN from 26.15

    • It would be very naive to not suspect that the method is used or threathened against Australia if we dare to not conform.
      Refer to Dr. Day, as reported by Dr. Duegan (NWO exposed by insider March 1969)
      Terrorism will be used against those who do not comply (to our agenda)!
      Science has developed since 1969.
      Now they can use control of weather as terrorists to destroy continents and the populations.
      Time our politicians and msm demanded; NO; get f…….d, we are a sovereign democratic country, not a UN agenda 21 vassal occupied by UN slaves controlled by Malcolm’s bankers.

  4. The Syrian question is so convoluted As a result of International external forces having different agendas, as is well known Americas and Russian requirements are not just different but in opposition, as far as we in the West if we can see through the propaganda, Bashar may well have been acting as President whom may have been acting as a power monger of a oppressor, and compromised by affiliations with Hamas and Iran, not being in American interests, now a compromised state with so called terrorists organizations attacking the questionable management of State control, or lack of control, this weakened state become increasingly vulnerable by Russian needs of a port in Syria’s coast line.
    Bashars attempt to hang on to power by the destruction of terrorism, causing death and destruction to Syrians, when a state becomes so compromised as to the destruction of a leader now destroying its own citizens is questionable as to whether he can be said to be a legitimate representative of this country is a enemy of the people as leader or a terrorist aiding and abetting terrorism?
    Bashar should have taken stock of the fall of Iran, Afghanistan, Tunisia? and the destabilization of the Middle East and got out to London’s, Chelsea, whilst the going was good.
    Considering Russia’s port will be close to Israel makes the situation a increasing problem.
    The entry of Australian intervention with America has increased terrorist threats to Australia? the Liberal Government knew full well this would be a outcome, we must see the Liberal Government as a collusive collaboration and not acting within the interests of the Australian people but a servile lackey to foreign interests.
    The Liberal and for that matter the Labor political situation lacks leadership and the causes such as Marriage Equality by comparison in terms of importance is neither in the interests of the tax payers of Australia and the only individuals are the politicians and vested capitalist interests for the few.

    • In answer to your ungrammatical babble let me remind you that Bashar al-Assad is the legally-elected head of the democratic multi-cultural Syrian Arab Republic, whose representatives sit in the United Nations. Australia’s complicity in American crimes is in no way lessened by the fact that Syria has lost control over some of its territory, caused by the American-backed cannibals known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (al-Qaeda).
      Assad is not ‘hanging on to power’. He is winning the battle against Western-backed terrorists, with the sacrifice of the heroic Syrian Arab Army. A decent person might give him some credit, but I note your slavering glee as you side with the bullies.
      As this hideous war by Washington on behalf of the Zionist Abomination concludes in a victory for the Syrian people, we should think about representations to the ICC in The Hague on prosecuting Abbott, Turnbull and Bishop for crimes against humanity, especially the slaughter of 83 Syrian Arab Army soldiers and wounding 100, at Mount al-Thaarda near Deir ez Zor in September 2016, when the RAAF stained its name by performing close air support for ISIS infantry. The SAA has the evidence proving radio collusion between Coalition command and ISIS. Mistake it was not. A billion of our taxes has been spent on a crime, fomenting blood-curdling terrorists. If we want to call ourselves civilised, we will hand over these criminals.

      • Ron,
        Your opinion may well be assisted if you referenced the interview by Amy Goodman with General Wesley Clark (ex NATO military honcho. ret.) exposing the pre 911, ‘the plan’ to take down 7 countries in five years…… ending with Syria and Iran.
        David Griffin’s book, “The New Pearl Harbour’ should enlighten.
        Sorry that I unable to link the 2 minute interview in my present situation. (You may be able to fix that?)
        When you have viewed it, pray tell why the broadcasters and politicians have hidden it from the public.
        But it would seem that the msm, the ABC, SBS are not able to inform Australians of the reality and our Canberra parliamentary inmates could not find their backside if it was in flames……. NO, they know and are traitors to our soldiers, as with Vietnam and the Gulf of Tonkin lies killing 550 of my conscripted (by ballot) piers to be killed.
        Why? Because they are liars and cowards and running dogs of the controlled msm and bankers.
        Research a mike Rivero’s (All Wars are Banker”s Wars’ at; http://www.whatreallyhappened.com/
        When that video is watched, then the Australian public will know why our nation is in debt ….. to pay interest by our Aussie citizens to bankers for seriaal theft and killings.
        We are run by the greedy killer bankers and our politicians are too occupied, massaging their egos to not realise that they are distracted dupes

  5. Since I drafted the above article there have been further developments worth noting. After crossing the Euphrates, Syrian Army forces came under fire from various terrorist groups, who are being advised by US Special Forces. The Russian General commanding Russian forces in Syria has explicitly warned the Americans that if they persist in attacking Syrian Army forces they too will be removed “by all means available.” The objective of the Americans is to control Syria’s oil fields, the major part of which are in the area east of Zair ez Dor.
    This is setting the stage for a direct military confrontation between Russian and American forces. Our government in the meantime refuses to address these issues. Instead we get ludicrous statements from Turnbull and Bishop. They clearly don’t know their arse from their elbow.

    • Here is one article (The Saker) on those latest developments

      • Russian special forces repel a US-planned attack in Syria, denounce the USA and issue a stark warning
      • https://thesaker.is/russian-special-forces-repel-a-us-commanded-attack-in-syria-denounce-the-usa-and-issue-a-stark-warning/

      They even proudly documented their war crimes – the enclosed video was taken off youtube once they had realised their blunder but Southfront has a copy …

      • https://southfront.org/strike-fighter-squadron-31-releases-video-promoting-us-navy-actions-against-syrian-government/

  6. Everything our puppet leaders tell us are lies and deception . Meanwhile , the diversion , poo pushing overpowering creation . Can anyone think of one reason why our girls boys and billions$ are doing in Syria Iraq , and anywhere else , because I certainly can’t . The elephant is outgrowing the room and crushing everyone in its path .

  7. Here is one article on those latest developments that James notes

    • Russian special forces repel a US-planned attack in Syria, denounce the USA and issue a stark warning
    • https://thesaker.is/russian-special-forces-repel-a-us-commanded-attack-in-syria-denounce-the-usa-and-issue-a-stark-warning/

    They even proudly documented their war crimes – the enclosed video was taken off youtube once they had realised their blunder but Southfront has a copy …

    • https://southfront.org/strike-fighter-squadron-31-releases-video-promoting-us-navy-actions-against-syrian-government/

  8. Australia is also enabling war crimes by the U.S. in supplying the Pine Gap facility. It is from here according to “The Intercepts Drone Papers”, drones are controlled. It is revealed an estimate of 90 per cent of drone victims in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen were not designated targets, but had been posthumously reclassified as terrorists to cover up the civilian death toll.

    Will these criminals in Canberra ever be remorseful? Or show some compunction for those around the globe that are already trying to live under trying conditions? The answer to both these questions is no. These types have no morals.

  9. Thank you Mr O’Neill for setting out the detail of Australia’s shameful deceit in aiding ISIS and the American tyranny in Syria. This is yet another dark chapter in our fraternisation with the Yanqui Frankenstein that Malcolm Fraser warned us about.
    the Department of Defence is undoubtedly the home of traitors and agents of foreign aggressors, the UK, Israel, NATO Turkey, Jordan and others. We are on the wrong side of history, and as a patriotic Australian, I announce that folks who turn Australia into part of a criminal global conspiracy will be my eternal enemies. These people belong in jail, or at the end of a rope.

  10. By age, it would seem that our present ‘leaders’ were too young to know anything about our criminal involvement in the Vietnam war, the casualties (550 about of my piers, 56,000 plus US soldiers and an irrelevant million or so Vietnamese), the cost and destruction, including Kissinger”‘s bombing of Cambodia.
    All commenced by lies and deceit of our soldiers by the Gulf Of Tonkin lies.
    Perhaps they should read a book on it and realise that our mate, tye US had to crawl out of the mess defeated.

    When the fence around their Canberra digs is finished we should just lock the gate and declare it a Federal prison and occasionally chuck over some bread and water for their sustenance. Confiscate their phones, and shut the bar.
    They would certainly be better off than those who they have been killing and maiming for the last 14 + years.

      • The reported Tasmanian DJ who refers to himself as Funknuckel (sp:?) should have tried a more acceptable Abbott tecnique commonly known as ‘shirtfronting’.
        Then he may not have been charged with a assault.
        Putin must be having a giggle as he lines up a response in Syria for Malcolm and Julie.

  11. As obvious as it is that governance was formally abrogated by the Canberra mob 21 years ago, the value of clear-headed reporting on the on-going logistics cannot be underestimated.

    Thanks for staying on track.

  12. Great article James and thank you for documenting the criminality of our government. Any thinking person is aware that our “representatives” in government are corrupt. The only unresolved issue is the degree of the corruption. For the last several years, I have been observing,(with considerable alarm), high level incompetence on the part of the majority of government politicians and bureaucrats. It got to the point that it made no logical sense to me. Surely these are accomplished, intelligent people. How could they make such stupid mistakes in policy and judgment(over and over again)?
    And then the penny dropped.
    They weren’t mistakes or errors of judgment. They were deliberately planned to produce the worst possible outcome for “We the People” (and the best possible outcome for their bank accounts). Why would any sane person want to get into politics? Answer: to milk the financial system, line their pockets, stroke their egos, and carry out their agenda of converting the Western World to a utopian
    paradise, similar to Orwell’s 1984.(with them in control, of course). So corruption was the major issue. But exactly how corrupt are they? Well, FWIW, the courageous Fiona Barnett has virtually named Hawke, Keating, Menzies, Whitlam and his boyfriend Kerr, Richardson, Beazley (Sr.& Jnr) Carr, Downer as pedophiles. That’s not to mention Kennedy and Newton, Rolf, Laws and Jones, Packer & Singo, Wagstaff, Don Lane and Alvin Purple, Stork, Kidman, judges, media personalities, senior coppers and intel agencies, priests and teachers, scout leaders and sports coaches, and on and on and on it goes.

    It seems that Australia really is, as stated by the brave Miss Barnett, a pedophile haven.

    So the question arises, WHY?? Who gets a kick out of raping children?? WTF is this all about? We can dissect ad nausium the craziness we see going on in the world, but it may be that the answer is simpler than we thought. Good versus evil. End of section. Make your choice. Good luck.

    • Here we go again, comment lost.
      In short.
      A fish rots from the head.
      The Royal Commission has a problem, lt has spent millions disclosing perverted abusers and their protectors.
      Has rhe RC exposed anyone above the lower level of perversion?
      Right, dead Saville and jake the whatever have been exposed and sacrificed,
      But are we expected to accept that perversion is limited to sick priests, boy scout leaders et. al. etc.
      Sick perverts have no social cut off point.
      So how is it that the RC has not located even one. Excepting allegations against one cardinal.
      Politicians apparently are excepted.
      What? There is not one senior politician whom is not a sick person to be exposed?
      Give us a break RC.
      Where is Fiona?
      Paul Barry of ABC Media Watch, do you know?

      • Fiona,
        Report in please.
        Otherwise a missing person report may have to be filed with the police.
        Kindly provide a current photo with supporting current information of your existence.

  13. We are led by people who have gotten away with murder , visibly this century , and probably for a time beforehand . Gloating with confidence in the misery they cause to everyone who is not part of their sick perveted and destructive club . Expose masonry at every opportunity because today all the true rights and freedoms , that our forebears established , are being stripped away from us at an ever increasing rate . These days , we are all terrorists until proven innocent . The philanthropist psychophats have taken over the asylum and the only thing that will restore freedom is the truth . Tell everyone that we don’t want any part in their old evil men’s wars of destruction de-population and confiscation of other nations sovereignty and resources . How sad that suspicion has replaced love on this fragile earth we all share . I repeat our children and all future generations are infinitely greater than the expodential mess of chaos we are leaving them to deal with . Restore love truth and equality for everyone , by calling everything for what it is .

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