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France will ‘continue’ anti-ISIS operations in Syria despite US pullout

SDF warns US troops leaving Syria will give ISIS 'momentum to recover and conduct a terrorist campaign'

France will maintain its participation in the coalition fighting Islamic State forces in Syria, a government minister said Thursday, December 20 after President Donald Trump surprised Washington’s allies by ordering U.S. troops home.

“For now of course we remain in Syria,” France’s European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau said on CNews television, adding “the fight against terrorism is not over.”

“It’s true that the coalition has made significant progress in Syria, but this fight continues, and we will continue it,” she said.

On Wednesday, Trump ordered American forces withdraw from Syria, saying the Coalition had defeated ISIS. A White House statement claimed the U.S. had “defeated the territorial caliphate.”

The Syrian Democratic said in a Thursday statement that the U.S. pullout would “have a negative impact on the counterterrorism campaign.”

The SDF, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters which has spearheaded the ground battle against ISIS, warned a pullout would allow the militants to regroup and launch a counterattack.

“It will give terrorism and its supporters political momentum, space and military opportunity to be revived,” the statement said.

The French foreign ministry said it and the Coalition allies were in talks with the U.S. “on the timing and conditions of the implementation of the U.S. decision to withdraw.”

“In the coming weeks, France will be careful to ensure the security of all the U.S. partners, including the Syrian Democratic Forces. The protection of the populations of the northeastern Syria and the stability of this zone must be taken into account by the United States to avoid any new humanitarian drama and any return of the terrorists,” the ministry said in a statement.

Similarly, the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence said that the U.K. “will continue to work with members of the coalition” to deny ISIS territory and “ensure its enduring defeat, working alongside our critical regional partners in Syria and beyond.”

“Much remains to be done and we must not lose sight of the threat Daesh will pose, even without territory,” the MoD added.

ISIS weakened but not eliminated

Earlier on Thursday, France’s Minster for the Armed Forces Florence Parly said ISIS was severely weakened but not eliminated.

“We must definitively defeat the last pockets of this terrorist organization,” Parly tweeted.

A longstanding member of the Global Coalition Against ISIS, France, along with the United States and the United Kingdom, took part in the April 14 missile strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons-related facilities.

The French Armed Forces are involved in Iraq and Syria with Operation Chammal. Air missions in Syria are conducted from bases in Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

“Operation Chammal can also be reinforced by a special forces detachment. The organization is regularly adjusted depending on the circumstances,” a spokesperson for the French Armed Forces previously told The Defense Post.

In late March, there were a number of unconfirmed reports of French troops in Tal Abyad, a town bordering Turkey that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on March 19 threatened to include in an expanded Turkish military operation in northern Syria.

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis later confirmed that French special forces had “reinforced” U.S. troops in Syria.

French officials would not confirm a special forces presence in Manbij, but SDF spokesperson Kino Gabriel said at the time that French forces were integral to the operation against ISIS, Jazeera Storm.

French President Emmanuel Macron previously claimed he convinced Trump to keep troops inside the country longer and send additional forces to Manbij.

US to leave Syria-Turkey border observation posts in effort to buy withdrawal time

This story was updated on December 20, 2018 at 1445 GMT to add the foreign ministry statement.

With reporting from AFP

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