'Necessary' war with IS could last decades, Abbott says

Ben Brennan

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has again called for greater international action against Islamic State, telling an audience in Singapore the US was “finally edging towards the action needed to win this war.”

Speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies overnight, Mr Abbott has talked up the need to send more military, including ground troops, into Syria to battle Islamic State terrorists.

“A military victory over the caliphate isn’t a sufficient response to the challenge of militant Islam but it is a necessary one,” he said.

“It may involve the commitment of Western troops to fight alongside local forces. It may involve the creation of safe havens protected by “no fly” zones. It may ultimately involve a sub-divided Syria (as William Hague has suggested).

“The latest announcement, of 200 special operations troops to fight in Iraq and Syria, is a sign that America is finally edging towards the action needed to win this war.”

Mr Abbott acknowledged the West's previous incursions into Iraq and Libya had not gone well. But, he said, similar action in Syria remained necessary despite suggesting it would be a conflict more likely to last decades than years.

The former Liberal party leader renewed calls for a US-led international summit to thrash out a unified Western approach to the turmoil in the Middle East, which he said had so far been stifled by conflicting interests.

Mr Abbott’s speech comes just a day after he insisted Islam as a whole needed to reform, in the same way some sections of Christianity had from the 16th century onward.

"All of those things that Islam has never had — a Reformation, an Enlightenment, a well-developed concept of the separation of church and state — that needs to happen,” he told Sky News on Tuesday.

"All cultures are not equal and, frankly, a culture that believes in decency and tolerance is much to be preferred to one which thinks that you can kill in the name of God, and we've got to be prepared to say that."

Mr Abbott’s latest statements on IS come as the west appears evermore deadlocked in its approach to Islamic State terrorists who, in recent years, have seized large tracts of land in Syria, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries.

About eight million people are under their rule and terrorist attacks, both large and small, have become more common under their banners.

In recent weeks France, Britain and Germany have authorised air strikes against targets in Syria, a marked expansion of the conflict, which had previously seen Western forces steer clear of the war-torn country.

US President Barrack Obama has also shown signs he is backing away from his previous opposition to sending in ground troops.

In recent weeks he has announced a group of special operations troops will be sent into Iraq to assist those fighting against IS. Another group will be sent to Syria to do likewise.