Updated: 06/20/2014 13:39 | By Agence France-Presse

Australia sends troops to protect Baghdad embassy

Australia on Friday said it has sent a small detachment of soldiers to protect its embassy in Baghdad in the face of an offensive by jihadist ISIL forces.


Australia sends troops to protect Baghdad embassy

In this file photo, dated December 8, 2003, Australian soldiers are seen securing the perimeter of the Australian embassy in Baghdad - by Ahmad al-Rubaye

The decision follows key ally the United States deploying 275 troops to help American personnel and protect its diplomatic compound in the Iraqi capital.

A spokeswoman for Defence Minister David Johnston said a small Australian Defence Force unit had been dispatched to bolster security arrangements at the embassy. No numbers were given.

"The purpose of this element is purely to support contingency planning in the event that an evacuation of the embassy is required," she added.

Earlier this week, Australia evacuated some embassy staff with only an "essential core" remaining.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Friday voiced concerns about the safety of Australian staff bunkered down in Baghdad.

He said nobody should underestimate the threat posed by the Sunni-led Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which is advancing towards the Iraqi capital after routing government forces in the north.

"Right now our focus is first of all ensuring that our people in Baghdad are safe and that we have the capacity to remove them if necessary," he said.

Australia withdrew its soldiers guarding the embassy in 2011, the last significant Australian troop presence in the country, leaving the compound in the hands of a private security firm.

Australia once had some 2,000 soldiers in Iraq, one of the larger non-US deployments.

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