WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Tuesday thanked Australia for its “steadfast” alliance and key contributions in the fight against Islamic State group, as he we welcomed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to the White House for the new leader’s first visit to Washington.
Opening a meeting in the Oval Office, Obama said the leaders planned to discuss the anti-Islamic State operation, as well as broader counterterrorism efforts in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. The president noted Australia is a key contributor to the coalition, with the second-largest force of ground troops in Iraq behind the United States.
“They have been a consistent and extraordinarily effective member of the coalition,” Obama said.
Turnbull is on his first visit to the U.S. since taking office last September.
Last week, as Turnbull prepared for the trip, Australia said it was among 40 countries being pressed by the U.S. to boost their military contributions in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State after the deadly terrorist attack in Paris in November. But Australia told the U.S. that its commitment would remain largely unchanged.
Australia has six jet fighters based in Dubai flying missions against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria. It also has soldiers in non-combat roles in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.
Turnbull said his visit had included productive meetings with Defense Secretary Ash Carter. He said he looked forward to working more closely with U.S. intelligence officials on counterterrorism efforts aimed at curbing the Islamic State’s recruitment and communications online.
Obama and Turnbull first met on sidelines of an economic summit in Manila in November. Obama said after that meeting that they had discussed the fight against extremism, as well as the need to increase international pressure on the Islamic State group.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Turnbull met Monday at the Pentagon. They reviewed recent developments in Iraq and Syria, and security issues in the Asia-Pacific region, according to Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook.
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.