Australian bombers and medics playing key role in the battle for Mosul

Australian forces are playing a key role in the escalating battle for the Iraqi city of Mosul, bombing 130 Islamic State targets and deploying special forces medics close to the frontline to treat wounded Iraqi soldiers.
RAAF pilots have hit IS fighters, car bomb factories, artillery positions, weapons caches, tunnel entrances and water supplies across the city since October, when Iraq and its coalition supporters launched their offensive.
With the fighting now set to enter a deadly new phase as the Iraqi forces start pushing into the perilous IS stronghold of West Mosul, Australian medics near the battlefield are preparing for a sharp increase in casualties.
Mosul fell to IS militants in 2014, the largest city to come under extremist control. Iraq hopes to reclaim it in the coming months, but the fight will require intense, street-to-street fighting in heavily populated areas.
The new offensive comes as United States Defence Secretary James Mattis prepares to deliver a review of the Middle East war effort, which could result in a request for an increased Australian contribution.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop discussed the fight against IS when she met US Vice-President Mike Pence in Washington on Wednesday. She said she gave Mr Pence some "input" for the review but did not publicly elaborate
Mr Pence did not ask Australia to do more in the conflict, she said.
"He most certainly spoke in very positive terms about our contribution to military efforts, including in Iraq and Syria," Ms Bishop said.
ADF Chief of Joint Operations, Vice-Admiral David Johnston, said a decision around any extra assistance was a matter for the government, but added: "If the government seeks to increase its contribution, there will be options for it."

In a rare media briefing on Wednesday, Admiral Johnston detailed for the first time the full extent of Australia's role in Mosul.
The ADF's Super Hornet warplanes are now flying almost exclusively over the Mosul area, reducing their focus on Syria
On the ground, members of Australia's 80-strong special forces contingent have supported 453 strikes in the area in three months.
Situated within 50 kilometres of the frontline - the closest they have officially been to the fighting - they helped treat dozens of wounded Iraqi soldiers a day during the early days of the "ferocious" fighting in East Mosul last year. Many were victims of improvised explosive devices and sniper fire.
East Mosul was retaken last month, with life in that section of the city now slowly returning to normal despite the threat of suicide bombings, rocket fire and IS "sleeper cells" intent on driving the coalition out of the city.
But with the focus now shifting to West Mosul, fighting will intensify. The narrow streets of the older parts of the city are ideal for IS defenders, who have had time to build tunnels, defensive positions and interconnected strongholds. It's ideal for snipers and concealed explosives, but hard for Iraq's heavy vehicles - and Australia's air support.
The fight will be complicated by the presence of up to 750,000 civilians in the area.
It's not known how many fighters IS still have in the city but Admiral Johnston says its possible Australians are among them.
"The liberation of Mosul will not be the end of the mission to defeat Da'esh (IS) in Iraq. But its successful conclusion will increase the pressure on Da'esh both within Iraq and in Syria," Admiral Johnston said.
Elsewhere in Iraq, Australian soldiers have established "mobile training teams" to train Iraqi authorities throughout the country. They have helped train some 19,000 soldiers and have now turned their focus to training police.



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