Doorstop interview

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST: The situation in Raqqa is fairly fluid but there is some understanding of some involvement of Australian Special Forces. What can you update us with?

JULIE BISHOP: I can confirm that the anti-ISIS Forces have taken back al-Raqqa, territory that was occupied by the terrorist group ISIS. The Australian Government supported our involvement through the RAAF. We are part of the International Coalition to Defeat ISIS, and our air force provided support and assisted in refuelling and the like. What we have seen is a significant milestone in the fight against terrorism. The taking back of most of the territory in al-Raqqa, and at least 90 percent of the territory that ISIS held in Iraq is a major breakthrough in the fight against terrorism. We understand that some of the terrorist fighters fled south, we are certainly tracking those whom we believe to be Australian – we think there are about 110 Australians still in Syria and Iraq. We also believe that about 80 have been killed. So we will be keeping track of those Australians whom we believe are still fighting with or supporting the terrorist organisation in Syria and Iraq.

JOURNALIST: So they are still Australian citizens but fighting with ISIS?

JULIE BISHOP: That's right, Australians who have left this country, whom have been fighting with or supporting ISIS in Syria and Iraq. We believe about 80 have been killed, about 110 remain. Since 2012 we have cancelled about 220 passports in relation to national security concerns of those who are supporting terrorism by fighting in Syria and Iraq.

JOURNALIST: You spoke about Coalition air support but according to a correspondent from The Times who is there on the ground, US, Australian and UK Special Forces are welding together some of the anti-ISIS Forces, so they are actually there on the ground. Can you confirm that?

JULIE BISHOP: I won't discuss operational matters. I can confirm that the RAAF took part in supporting the anti-ISIS Coalition. We were involved in a support role – refuelling and the like.

JOURNALIST: What does this mean for ISIS? Is this the end?

JULIE BISHOP: It means that it no longer has a headquarters in Syria and Iraq. You will recall that it declared a caliphate over the sovereign territory of both Syria and Iraq, and it set up its headquarters in al-Raqqa and also in Mosul. There has been a long, drawn out fight to retake the territory around Mosul and the territory in al-Raqqa, but it means that ISIS is now on the run. We are concerned that it will reappear with substance in other parts of the world including the southern Philippines. That's why we are supporting the Philippines Government in providing assistance to defeat ISIS in Marawi. We will continue to do so to ensure that Australians are kept safe and secure as much as we are able by the provision of resources, the legislative power and political will to fight terrorism in our region.

JOURNALIST: Minister, are you concerned about conflict between Iraqis and Kurds as ISIS is pushed out of regions of Iraq?

JULIE BISHOP: We are deeply concerned and the situation remains complex because of the Kurd-Iraq situation. We urge for the parties to resolve their differences. This is deeply troubling and it is an example of the layers of complexity in Syria and Iraq. Our focus of course has been to defeat ISIS because that is in our national interests to prevent terrorism spreading from the Middle East to our part of the world.

JOURNALIST: Seeing as though they have lost so much territory over there, are you concerned now in Western countries such as Australia that maybe, you know, more inclined to do big scale terror attacks here?

JULIE BISHOP: We have been warning for some time that no country is immune from terrorist attacks. We have seen them in major cities around the world, we have experienced our own terrorist attacks here and we have thwarted at least a dozen potential terrorist attacks here. That's why we are focussing so heavily on tracking the returning foreign terrorist fighters, why we are in Syria, why we are in Iraq, why we are supporting other nations in their efforts to defeat terrorism wherever it occurs.

JOURNALIST: Can you give an update on our presence in the Philippines at the moment?

JULIE BISHOP: We have provided surveillance support through the Australian Defence Force, we have provided assistance and made an offer to train, particularly in urban conflict, some of the Philippines Forces. At this stage, our contribution has been advice and surveillance.

JOURNALIST: Do you expect there to be further, I mean do you expect Australian Forces still to go over there this year in terms of that training mission and also can you comment as well on Duterte's sort of declaration of the end of the conflict in Marawi?

JULIE BISHOP: We have learnt that two of the most significant terrorist figures – Hapilon and Maute – were killed. They were the leaders, in fact Hapilon had been declared an Emir of ISIS in the Philippines. We understand that both terrorists have been killed in the conflict. This will take away a great deal of the momentum of the ISIS forces and those who are supporting ISIS, and we believe this represents a significant breakthrough. But of course there are others who are fighting for ISIS in Marawi and the Australian Government, along with other governments including the United States, are determined to support the Philippines Government in defeating ISIS. This is undoubtedly in our national interest because we do not want to see foreign terrorist fighters leaving the Philippines and coming via Indonesia to Australia, and that's why we are working collectively, collaboratively with other nations.

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