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French military effort against ISIS ‘should focus on Lebanon’

© AFP - Lebanese forces near Arsal on the Syrian border last week

Text by Tony TODD

Latest update : 2014-08-11

France would be better placed supporting efforts against Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS or ISIL) militants in Lebanon rather than on the Kurdish front, specialists told FRANCE 24 on Monday.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Monday wrote to EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton urging the 28-member bloc to “mobilise” to help Iraq's Kurds fight ISIS, which is also known as the Islamic State.

Fabius had just returned from a trip to Iraq where he met Massoud Barzani, head of the autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.

Barzani, Fabius said, had stressed "the urgent need for weapons and ammunition that would allow them to confront and beat the terrorist group Islamic State".

Earlier, politicians from across the French political spectrum welcomed Paris’s commitment to send aid and weapons to Iraqi Kurdistan’s embattled Peshmerga forces.

But on Monday, experts warned  that France’s contribution would have to be limited due to its extensive military commitments in Africa.

“France can’t do much [for the Kurds] compared with what the Americans can do,” Eric Denécé, of the French Centre for Intelligence Research (CF2R) think-tank, told FRANCE 24. “We are already heavily committed in Africa, where the bulk of our military equipment is needed.

“But it is a significant political and diplomatic gesture [to encourage the EU to support the Kurds],” he said.

French arms for Lebanon in the pipeline

Retired French General Dominique Trinquand, former head of France’s military mission to the UN and now a communications consultant with the Marck Group military suppliers, was more optimistic about what France could achieve.

Trinquard agreed that it was vital the Kurds were given help in the form of weapons and ammunition in their fight against the ISIS.

“The Kurds are the only group putting up serious resistance to the Islamists in Iraq,” he told FRANCE 24, adding that the Americans were “much better placed than France” to supply them.

France could achieve more, he said, by supporting Lebanon, which has mounted a rugged defence against ISIS incursions from neighbouring Syria, despite outdated military equipment and ammunition shortages.

“The Islamist menace is not limited to northern Iraq and Kurdistan,” Trinquand said. “The international community needs to look at the whole situation, which encompasses Iraq, Syria and now Lebanon.

“France is already engaged in a multi-billion dollar [Saudi-sponsored] arms deal with Lebanon,” he said. “We could achieve much in the fight against ISIS by speeding this process up.”

He pointed out that France maintains close ties with the Lebanese army, even training its officers, and there was “less chance of weapons falling into the hands of the jihadists”.

US airstrikes against ISIS

France and Britain have both pledged support for a US-led humanitarian operation to help Iraqi civilians – many of them from the Yazidi minority – who are fleeing the murderous advance of the ISIS militants who are brutally carving out a self-styled caliphate across a wide swath of Syria and northern Iraq.

While all three Western countries are providing emergency aid for the besieged civilians, the United States has also been conducting air strikes on ISIS positions.

On Monday, the US State Department said it had started supplying weapons to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces.

Date created : 2014-08-11

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