French forces support Middle East stability

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo and Khalid al-Taie


French soldiers from the Wagram Task Force kneel next to a unit of CAESAR, a French self-propelled 155 mm howitzer, north of Mosul in this file photo from July 13th, 2017, as the French army provides military support for Iraqi forces fighting ISIS. [Fadel Senna/AFP] 

France has been playing a key role in international coalition efforts to stabilise Iraq and Syria as the war against the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) winds down, and in ensuring the safety of regional maritime routes.

From Iraq, French forces have been training the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who are battling ISIS on the ground, said military expert Abdel-Karim Ahmed.

The coalition’s French fighter jets are conducting precision airstrikes against the last ISIS holdout at the Iraqi-Syrian border, in Syria's Deir Ezzor province in support of this mission, he told Diyaruna.

French forces also are providing military support to international coalition forces and the SDF to maintain continuity and readiness in the battle to defeat ISIS in Syria, Ahmed said.


A soldier from the French Foreign Legion oversees training of members of the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service to sweep for and dismantle improvised explosive devices in Baghdad International Airport on March 19th, 2018. [Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP] 


French naval vessels are shown in the waters of the Mediterranean sea during a naval exercise in 2018. [Photo circulated on social media]

In Iraq, "France has made a wide-ranging and distinct contribution by standing with Iraq in fighting ISIS", Ninawa provincial council security committee chairman Mahmoud al-Jabouri told Diyaruna.

"The French training and support mission also is participating today in helping our forces secure the Iraqi-Syrian border with artillery support and airstrikes on ISIS positions," he said.

"France is an active partner with us and a key member country of the international coalition," Iraqi Ministry of Defence spokesman Maj. Gen. Tahseen al-Khafaji told Diyaruna.

France's support helps alleviate the humanitarian impact and consequences of the fighting, al-Khafaji said.

Medical support, training

Between the summer of 2014, when ISIS overran swathes of Iraq, and late 2017, when Iraq declared victory over the group, France shipped hundreds of tonnes of relief items and medical supplies to Iraq.

France also contributed to the effort to train Iraqi surgeons in emergency hospitals, to opening temporary clinics in the liberated areas, and to improving patient transport services by equipping ambulances as part of the French task force Monsabert.

"The main objective for us, now that the war is over, is to develop the capabilities of our forces in all military domains, including the medical field," al-Khafaji said.

Training provided by a team of French military consultants within task force Monsabert has focused on developing the skills of combat medics operating in dangerous environments, he said, with participants learning to administer first aid and emergency medical support to wounded soldiers.

It also has included practical exercises, such as how to quickly and efficiently evacuate the wounded from the battlefield, he added.

Building military capacity

"I witnessed the French support firsthand during the battle to retake the city of Mosul," al-Jabouri said, noting that French organisations helped to treat the wounded and provide relief to civilians fleeing the combat zones.

French medical aid flowed non-stop to hospitals in Iraq's Kurdish region to ensure victims and the wounded received the necessary treatment, he added.

"The French military role is now focused on arming and training our soldiers and helping them acquire the capability to perform the most difficult combat missions, including medical rescue," al-Jabouri said.

France also is heavily involved in civil infrastructure projects in liberated Iraqi cities, al-Jabouri said.

These include a 2.5 million euro ($2.8 million) project to rehabilitate the Mosul Medical College, along with its supporting laboratories and facilities, he said.

France also contributed to the rehabilitation and upgrade of the water network in Ninawa province.

France patrols regional waters

The French Navy meanwhile plays an important and effective role in protecting the territorial waters of the Mediterranean, Gulf, Red Sea and in particular the Bab al-Mandeb strait, said military expert Wael Abdul-Muttalib.

It ensures the safety of these international commercial waters and prevents anyone from threatening them, he told Diyaruna.

Key French naval vessels are regularly present in these waters, he said, including destroyers like the Auvergne air defence frigates -- Chevalier Paul and Cassard -- and amphibious assault ships like the Mistral.

These vessels operate within the framework of the international coalition and Combined Maritime Forces, and perform several specialised functions, Abdul-Muttalib said.

This includes surveillance and monitoring, as well as the prevention of infiltration by hostile actors, he said.

The Cassard frigate has been embedded with US Carrier Strike Group 3 and has helped with the defense of aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis in the Gulf.

"The French Navy has achieved very important results in this regard, and is actively working to prevent maritime piracy and ensure the safety and security of large cargo ships and oil tankers that travel through the region," he said.

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