Paris (CNSNews.com) – French President Emmanuel Macron is sending the country’s aircraft carrier and Navy flagship back to the Middle East, to underline France’s commitment to the ongoing campaign to defeat ISIS and ensure it does not reemerge as a threat.
In a speech to senior armed forces personnel in the southwestern city of Orleans, Macron also reaffirmed that French troops will remain in Iraq, although as from this week they will be regrouped into a single task force focused on both anti-ISIS operations and training the Iraqis, a change from the previous two separate ones.
Macron said that France was staying in the Middle East, unlike some countries that are pulling back from the region.
Even though ISIS no longer controls territory, he said, “its menace remains, in another lurking and more insidious form.”
In early January, Germany and Canada withdrew some forces from Iraq, amid escalated tension between the United States and Iran.
Two hundred French troops in Baghdad as part of “Operation Chammal” – France’s contribution to the fight against ISIS – temporarily suspended training of Iraqi forces in the aftermath of the January 3 U.S. airstrike that killed Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani. That training has now resumed.
“From the beginning of the fight against ISIS, France has been present in the area with consistency and stayed determined,” Macron said in his speech. “All those who fight the terrorist threat in this region know who is there, and who stays.”
Macron expressed concern that the fight against ISIS – a group that claimed responsibility for terror attacks that killed more than 230 people in France in 2015 and 2016 – could be compromised by the tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
He said the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle will return to the region for the next four months, in support of Operation Chammal.
Macron did not provide details of the mission the ship and crew will undertake, although he said the ship would be escorted by vessels from European allies, naming Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and Greece.
After the speech the armed forces ministry said the carrier would be deployed in the eastern Mediterranean, and that the operation had been planned for some time.
It is the fifth time that the carrier will deploy in the region since Operation Chammal began in September 2014. Previous deployments have been in both the eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf. Aircraft from the ship were involved in airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq and, later, Syria as well.
After Macron’s speech, Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said in a radio interview that European Union countries were deployed in the Gulf and Strait of Hormuz to secure maritime traffic in the region – a particular concern due to Iranian threats last year.
By doing this, she said, they also want to demonstrate their attachment to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The U.S. in 2018 pulled out of the agreement, but E.U. parties to the JCPOA have been trying to keep it alive, believing it to be key to preventing the Iranian regime from developing a nuclear weapons capability.