ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The French Ministry of Defense (MoD) said on Thursday that the mission for its troops “deployed in the Levant [Syria] has not changed”, a sign of continued French support for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) amid a recently announced US withdrawal.
“Through Opération Chammal, the French army remains engaged, the terms of the engagement taking into account permanently the realities of the field. The priorities are to militarily defeat the last pockets of this terrorist organization and prevent its resurgence as it goes underground,” the French MoD said in a statement.
Opération Chammal is the name of the French military operation currently underway in Iraq and Syria to fight the Islamic State (IS).
Moreover, the statement said an artillery force operating from within Iraq continues its support of the SDF offensive against remaining IS fighters in the Euphrates Valley in Deir al-Zor Province.
“Task Force (TF) Wagram supports Syrian Democratic Forces against Daesh [IS] in the Hajine region. TF Wagram has carried out 34 shooting missions from Iraq,” the MoD said, adding that the Task Force Wagram had carried out a total of 2384 firing missions and that French aircraft based in Jordan and the United Arab Emirates continue anti-IS actions.
“This week, the aircraft of Opération Chammal made 22 air sorties (balance from 19 to 25 December included). The Rafale led 13 strikes this week,” the MoD said.
France has stated their intentions to remain in regions liberated from IS, despite plans announced by US president Donald Trump to withdraw troops. On Dec. 23, President Emmanuel Macron expressed his disappointment with his American counterpart’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria.
“An ally should be dependable,” Macron said at a press conference during his visit to Chad. “I very deeply regret the decision made on Syria.”
Furthermore, on Monday the first photographs emerged showing French troops patrolling the Sajur line which separates Turkish-backed groups and local forces supported by the Kurdish-led SDF in the Manbij area.
Two top political co-leaders of the Syrian Democratic Council Riad Darar, an Arab from Deir al-Zor, and Ilham Ahmed, a Kurd, met last week with advisors to French President Emmanuel Macron. According to sources, the SDC meeting with France went well. However, Kurds wonder if France can continue without US support.
"Maybe they can postpone a Turkish attack. But they cannot ensure that Turkey will never attack Rojava, northern Syria, or any part of Syria,” a Kurdish military source said.
According to a senior lecturer on International Relations at Sussex, Kamran Metin, France in the short run can support forces already in Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) to perform the same function of deterrence that US forces have.
“Though this requires larger military back-up for which other anti-ISIS coalition member states need to be involved,” he said, adding, “The problem is that France is Syria's old colonial power and a more prominent presence and action will be seen with high suspicion by the Syrian regime.”
“The key is France's ability to also engage Russia whose approval is absolutely central to any potential operation by Turkey. Without Russian approval, Turkey won't invade Rojava.”
Editing by John J. Catherine