French carrier joins fight as US reviews anti-IS effort
A French aircraft carrier launched operations against the Islamic State group on Monday as the new Pentagon chief summoned top generals and diplomats to Kuwait to review the war effort.
Paris: A French aircraft carrier launched operations against the Islamic State group on Monday as the new Pentagon chief summoned top generals and diplomats to Kuwait to review the war effort.
US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter vowed the jihadists would suffer a "lasting defeat" as he convened the extraordinary meeting of more than two dozen senior military officers, ambassadors and intelligence officials at the sprawling US Army base of Camp Arifjan.
Washington forged a coalition of Western and Arab nations to confront IS after the Sunni extremist group seized control of large parts of Syria and Iraq and declared an Islamic "caliphate" last year.
The coalition has since carried out more than 2,000 air strikes against the jihadists and France boosted its participation on Monday with the Charles de Gaulle carrier launching raids from the Gulf.
"This threat, jihadist terrorism, wants to reach our citizens, our interests, our values. France`s response will be total firmness," Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on board, seven weeks after extremist attacks killed 17 people in Paris.
Four Rafale fighter jets took off in the morning from the French carrier about 200 kilometres (120 miles) north of Bahrain in the direction of Iraq.
Carrying 12 Rafale and nine Super Etendard fighters, the carrier will spend eight weeks in the Gulf working alongside the USS Carl Vinson, significantly increasing France`s regional air capabilities.France, along with Australia, is a main contributor to the 32-member coalition effort aside from the United States, which is carrying out the bulk of strikes.
France and other Western nations are conducting operations over Iraq and several Arab nations are taking part in strikes over Syria.
Coalition aircraft launched 18 strikes against IS targets in Syria and seven in Iraq in the 24 hours to 0600 GMT on Monday, the Pentagon said.
The air campaign aims to support fighters on the ground in Iraq and Syria, including rebels and Kurdish forces, battling IS and to hit infrastructure such as oil facilities seized by the jihadists.
"Air support... for our Iraqi and Kurdish allies has helped curb the territorial expansion of (IS) and stabilise the front lines. This was our first objective and it has been attained," Le Drian said.
While excluding the deployment of ground combat troops, coalition states have also sent training units to work with Iraqi forces.
In Kuwait only days after taking office, Carter told US troops at Camp Arifjan that the coalition was "pressing" IS "very ably from Kuwait and elsewhere"."And we will deliver lasting defeat, make no doubt," he said.
"ISIL is not just a threat to Iraq and Syria. It`s a larger threat to the region," said Carter, using an alternative acronym for the group.
US Lieutenant General James Terry, who oversees the anti-IS campaign, said some 800 Iraqi forces backed by US warplanes were fighting to retake Al-Baghdadi from IS.
The Western Iraqi town is near the Iraqi army`s Al-Asad base, where 300 US troops are stationed to train local forces.
"The capabilities that we`re seeing in the Iraqi security forces are growing," Terry told reporters.
IS influence has spread as it cements its hold on territory in Syria and Iraq, with jihadist groups in several countries pledging allegiance.
The Libyan branch claimed responsibility for suicide bombings last week that officials said killed 40, as well as the beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians, mostly Egyptian.
The Kuwait meeting was not intended to produce a new strategy but to allow Carter to better understand the IS challenge and efforts aimed at defeating it, a senior US defence official said.
The coalition campaign has dealt significant damage to the jihadists, with a monitoring group saying Monday that 1,465 IS members had been killed in the first five months of air strikes in Syria.
Another 73 fighters from Al-Qaeda`s Syrian affiliate Al-Nusra Front had been killed, as had 62 civilians, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
US military officials have said they want Iraqi forces to launch an offensive to retake the strategic northern city of Mosul from IS in April or May.