By Agence France-Presse
France may have no choice but to pull its troops out of the coalition fighting Islamic State (IS) militants in northern Syria, after President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces, sources told AFP on Monday.
Paris has contributed around 1,000 soldiers to the anti-IS coalition in Syria and Iraq, which military sources say includes a couple of hundred special force members in Syria’s north.
The government has never officially confirmed their presence, but President Emmanuel Macron tacitly acknowledged soldiers were operating in the region after a meeting with his defense chiefs late Sunday.
“Measures will be taken in the coming hours to ensure the security of French military personnel and civilians present in the zone,” the presidency said in a statement.
It also said steps had been taken to boost national security.
France’s armed forces spokesman refused to elaborate on the announcement, citing security concerns.
“We’ve never hidden the fact that countries with small contingents would not be able to stay if the United States pulled out,” a French diplomatic source told AFP.
Britain is also ready to withdraw special forces operating in northern Syria in the event of a US exit, The Times newspaper reported last week.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Sunday that 1,000 soldiers — almost the entire US force in Syria — would be pulled from the country’s north amid Turkey’s assault on Syrian Kurdish forces.
Ankara launched the offensive after Trump effectively gave a green light for the operation by announcing that US forces, who had acted as a buffer between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds, would leave.
Trump has been accused of betraying the Kurdish-led militia that spearheaded the fight against Islamic State, which was dislodged from its final Syrian holdout last March.
Laying out the difficulties for French troops to stay on in the absence of US forces, a government source said: “The Americans deployed a very significant portion of the critical capabilities, in terms of intelligence, targeting, air refueling.”
– Islamic State still a threat –
Without US help, for example, France would not be able to rescue a pilot if a plane was shot down over Syria, the source added.
Paris has condemned the US troop pullout, saying IS remains a threat and must be kept from carrying out or inspiring attacks in Europe.
A foreign ministry spokeswoman declined to comment on whether France would move to take back French IS fighters detained in Syria, amid fears they could escape Kurdish-held prisons and camps.
Kurdish authorities said Sunday that 800 IS family members being held in a camp at Ain Issa had fled due to Turkish bombing.
But some relatives back in France told AFP that the Kurdish guards had forced the women and children to leave the camp.