Islamists on back foot: officials

Andrew Tillett Canberra

Australian forces have continued to contribute to military strikes against Islamic State targets, with defence officials claiming there are promising signs the terror group's grip is loosening in Iraq.

During the past month, RAAF Super Hornets have destroyed bomb factories and a defensive wall near the city of Mosul, as well as assisting Iraqi and Kurdish ground troops in several battles.

In one battle, two GPS-guided bombs hit a building occupied by IS fighters while supporting Iraqi security forces near Sinjar.

In a separate engagement, a RAAF strike helped Iraqi soldiers escape without casualties after they became pinned down by IS terrorists in Ramadi.

Coalition air strikes have killed an estimated 9500 IS fighters, although the Daesh terror group still has about 31,500 soldiers including 18,000 foreign fighters, 90 of whom are Australian.

"While we are not using body count as a measuring stick, it is a warning to those who might be influenced by Islamic extremists that there are deadly consequences if they travel to Iraq or Syria to fight," chief of joint operations Vice-Admiral David Johnston said.

Vice-Admiral Johnston said the overall signs were promising in the fight against IS militants.

"The intensity of the air campaign has denied Daesh fighters freedom of movement and has degraded, damaged or destroyed a significant degree of their fighting power and ability to sustain operations," he said.

"When territory is captured it now tends to be held in a better manner than it was in the past."

Vice-Admiral Johnston said the bombing campaign was forcing IS fighters to change tactics and intensify their use of improvised explosive devices.

He said Australian special forces were continuing to train Iraqi troops in dealing with roadside bombs.

"This threat isn't new, just the industrial scale of approach by Daesh has taken to the use of IEDs," he said.

"These weapons remain indiscriminate and target civilians as much as they do security forces."

Vice-Admiral Johnston said New Zealand troops would visit Australia in coming weeks.

They would conduct joint exercises with Australian forces to get ready for their deployment to Iraq to train local soldiers.

Though the Government is yet to give the final tick, it is expected about 300 Australian troops and 100 New Zealanders will be based north of Baghdad from May for up to two years.

The two-seat Super Hornet jets have returned to Australia and been replaced with classic single-seat Hornet fighters.

It is a warning to those who might be influenced by Islamic extremists." *Vice-Admiral David Johnston *