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France will remain 'militarily engaged' in Middle East through 2019

Guillaume Horcajuelo/Pool via Reuters | President Emmanuel Macron addresses French troops at the Toulouse-Francazal army base.

France will remain "militarily engaged" in the Middle East through 2019, President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday, noting that the deaths of US soldiers and civilians in Syria a day earlier showed the fight against extremism was not yet over.

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"The retreat from Syria announced by our American friends cannot make us deviate from our strategic objective – eradicating Daesh," Macron said in a speech at an army base near Toulouse, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

"We are staying invested to participate in the stabilisation of the region," Macron said, adding: "Any rush to withdraw would be a mistake."

Macron also expressed condolences for "our four American friends killed on Syrian soil" in a bomb blast claimed by the Islamic State group on Wednesday.

Macron has criticised US President Donald Trump for announcing in December that he would begin withdrawing the approximately 2,000 US troops now in Syria.

Macron said he "deeply regretted the decision", adding that "an ally must be reliable".

'Cycle of violence'

Former US intelligence officer Michael Pregent, now an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute, told FRANCE 24 that the Islamic State group remains a threat in the region despite Washington's repeated insistence that the group has been destroyed.

"The international coalition along with the United States has to recognise that ISIS isn't defeated," Pregent said, referring to the Islamic State group.

He noted that al Qaeda was beaten back in Iraq after the creation of a Sunni Arab force to counter the Sunni extremists of al Qaeda, something that came to be known as the "Sunni Awakening".

"We haven't done that in Syria," Pregent said, predicting that the "cycle of violence" would continue until the West gets its policy right.

It is not too late to build a broad Sunni counterforce in Syria, he said, but for now the members of the coalition lack the "political resolve".

Former US intelligence officer Michael Pregent of the Hudson Institute
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