Operation Chammal, as the French armed forces name their mission in the Levant, was launched on 19 September 2014 to support U.S. airstrikes against Daesh and other insurgents which had won control of Iraq’s second most populated city, Mosul in June. Originally limited to providing air support in coordination with its allies to Iraqi troops on the ground, Chammal was broadened to include airstrikes over Syria in the wake of the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris.
Immediately after these attacks the French government decided to give Chammal greater clout by backing it with a carrier vessel battle group centred on the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier and the Courbet stealth frigate. The Belgian frigate Leopold 1, with the group since it left the Mediterranean port of Toulon on 18 November 2015, ended its 42 day mission on 3 January. It was replaced by the French frigate Provence.
There are 43 aircraft deployed for Chammal: one E-3F AWACS radar aircraft (which seems to have disappeared off the graphic above but was on the one shown at the press briefing) and two E2C Hawkeyes ensuring command and control; eight modernised Super Etendards, three Mirage 2000Ns, three Mirage 2000Ds, 18 navy Rafales and six air force Rafales give Chammal its combat strength. Intelligence is also gathered by an Atlantique 2 maritime patrol aircraft. Air refuelling is provided by one C135-FR tanker aircraft.
Over the past few weeks “there has been a significant evolution on the ground. Daesh is on the defensive and has not gained any terrain for several weeks,” Colonel Gilles Jaron, spokesman for the French joint staff told journalists on 7 January. He explained that the coalition has completed phase one of its operation against Daesh which entailed stopping the terrorists’ advance on the ground and putting them on the defensive. Phase two is now in action which involves disorganising Daesh and reconquering the terrain it was/is occupying in Iraq. The third phase, “which is likely to be the longest,” according to Jaron, will be to re-establish security in Iraq.
Between the start of the operation on 19 September 2014 and 7 January 2016, there were 2,839 sorties (operational flights) that resulted in 399 strikes and 730 targets destroyed (several targets can be destroyed in a single strike). Jaron said that on 2 January “around” 15 Scalp missiles, made by European missile group MBDA, were used in two raids north-east of Aleppo in Syria “because a weapon of extreme precision was needed which also had the power to destroy a building in which weapons were being produced and stocked and which we had been reliably informed was well protected.”
There is also a training segment to Chammal. In 2015, 2,500 Iraqi soldiers were trained by their French counterparts.
Although rarely mentioned, the coalition forces do take prisoners. These are immediately handed over to the state authorities of the country they were taken in. But Jaron noted that “the very great majority of terrorists are hardline extremists…“