SYDNEY - Australia says it is prepared to send Super Hornet fighter jets to join U.S.-led airstrikes on Islamist extremists in Iraq.
The Australian government says it has yet to be approached to join the airstrikes, but defense officials say their aircraft are "at a high state of readiness."
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says Canberra is willing to support U.S. efforts to "disrupt and defeat" fighters in the Islamic State group, which has cut a terrifying swath through parts of Iraq and Syria.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been building a case for air attacks against the militants. The Sunni extremists, he said, are "as near to pure evil as we are ever likely to see."
He told the national parliament this week that Australia would answer the call from Washington for military support "to avert further disasters."
"Should we be asked, we would want to look at any request in the light of achievable objectives, a clear role for Australian forces, a full risk assessment and an overall humanitarian objective," Abbott said in addressing the parliament. He said he doubted anyone "would wish to stand by and watch the preventable slaughter of innocent people."
Canberra is drafting new counterterrorism laws that would prevent suspected terrorist sympathizers in Australia from traveling to conflict zones in parts of Syria or Iraq.
The Abbott government already has stopped alleged Islamic State recruits leaving the country to fly to the Middle East. Officials estimate as many as 160 Australian citizens have already left to join Sunni militants.
Intelligence agencies say that returning jihadists with terrorist know-how represent the biggest threat to Australia.
There are also fears that the radicalization of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq could revive the anti-Western extremism in Indonesia that led to the attacks in Bali in 2002, which killed 88 Australians. The bombings were blamed on the militant organization, Jemaah Islamiah.