“Our aim is to annihilate, eradicate the Islamic State,” French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Sunday 22nd November, but to achieve this will “most certainly involve boots on the ground” although these may not necessarily be French but could be the Kurds and the Free Syrian army.
He said the two principal targets of French air raids were Mosul in north-central Iraq, because that is the city considered their “capital” by Islamic State (IS) terrorists, and Al Raqqah, some 370 kms (230 miles) to the west in Syria as that is where IS trains all its foreign fighters.
Speaking on the Europe 1 French radio station, Le Drian said that even if these two towns were the principal targets, “we must also strike globally.” Questioned as to possible collateral damage to civilians during these air raids, Le Drian said “we have strict rules of engagement and are very attentive to the issues of collateral damage.”
Turning to coordination with other countries, the minister said that “everybody needs everybody.” He explained that even if French forces were working in coordination with their Russian colleagues, a joint headquarters was out of the question for the moment. He explained that the Russian position over Syria had shifted for two principal reasons: the certainty that it was an IS terrorist act that had brought down a Russian A321 airliner on 31st October killing all 224 people aboard, most of whom were Russian; and the realisation that amongst the foreign fighters training in Al Raqqah were many Russian-speakers.
Le Drian said that following a bilateral agreement with the United States there had been “an acceleration in the transparency of our military intelligence” and that the two countries were now “working totally jointly.”
He added that a British (HMS Defender) and a Belgian frigate (Léopold 1er) were part of the aeronautical group centred on France’s Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier that left the Mediterranean port of Toulon on 18th November for Mission Arromanches 2 and should have arrived on site today, 23rd November, in the eastern Mediterranean.
Following a meeting of European defence ministers in Brussels on 17th November, other European nations had pledged to help France by sending troops to relieve French troops on African theatres, notably in Mali and the Central African Republic, Le Drian said.