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Malcolm Turnbull will consider any request for more troops for Islamic State fight

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with his wife Lucy lay a wreath at the war memorial in Arrowtown near Queenstown, New Zealand on Friday. Photo: Lukas Coch US secretary for defence James Mattis and Defence Minister Marise Payne. Photo: US DoD

n troops are training Iraqi soldiers for the fight against the so-called Islamic State. Photo: Pool

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said he will consider any US military request for more help in fighting the so-called Islamic State group but pointedly said is already one of the largest contributors to the war effort.

Speaking after Defence Minister Marise Payne met privately with her US counterpart James Mattis in Brussels on Friday morning, Mr Turnbull said that “we haven’t received that request [for a larger contribution] … but when we do, we will assess it very carefully”.

He stressed however that already has “one of the largest, if not the largest presence” after the US.

Senator Payne similarly expressed an open mind on the question, saying the government “would consider any request on its merits”.

She said that Mr Mattis, the US secretary of defence, had not made any request of for additional troops when the pair met on the sidelines of a counter-Islamic State meeting in Brussels.

But she added that the new combat plan Mr Mattis is developing under orders from President Donald Trump and which will be delivered in two weeks’ time “clearly will involve acceleration” in the fight against the terrorist group.

Senator Payne said the effort to retake Mosul, for example, “has been a hard process by some very hardworking members of the Iraqi security forces, of their counterterrorism service, of their supporters in the international coalition, those who are engaged and advise and assist such as “.

“That will continue but the pace will pick up and we will see in due course – about 15 days – the final form that takes after it is presented to the president.”

Labor defence spokesman Richard Marles said the decision should be “made on the basis of our national interests and national security”.

“No-one has made a case for extending ‘s military commitment,” he said.

Earlier Mr Mattis, when asked whether he would send more US troops to the Middle East and ask coalition partners for additional help, said he needed to talk to allies first.

“I first want to talk to the other allies and we’ll decide where we’re going … I’m not comfortable answering it yet. Once we know what we have for a mutual appreciation of the situation, then we’ll go forward … Once I get allies’ assumptions, appreciations for the situation, we’ll carve out where we want to go,” he said.

“And at that point I can give you a much more studied answer.”

US network CNN has reported that the Pentagon is discussing sending ground troops in Syria though that has been played down by a US spokesman.

Mr Turnbull said and New Zealand, whose troops are working together to train Iraqis, had already adjusted their mission as progress was made in driving the Islamic State back.

The ns and New Zealanders are training the police as well as soldiers, which Mr Turnbull said was “very important because as areas are liberated from Daesh, it is important that there are the police that can go in and maintain the order that the army has secured by their defeating the terrorists”.

is flying six RAAF planes on bombing runs largely in Iraq though sometimes in Syria. It has just over 300 troops training the Iraqis and about 80 commandos who are advising local counterparts in retaking the major city of Mosul.

Mr Mattis meanwhile caused a stir in Brussels on Wednesday evening by threatening to “moderate” US support for NATO if other members didn’t kick in more money.

He did say, however, that American commitment to the mutual defence pact among NATO members “remains rock solid”.

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