France will withdraw its troops from Iraq, where they participated in training missions, the French General Staff announced on Wednesday (March 25th), " especially " of the Covid-19 epidemic, which thus hampered one of its external operations. He specifies in a press release:
"In coordination with the Iraqi government, the coalition (international anti-Islamic State (IS) organization led by Washington) has decided to adjust its system in Iraq and to temporarily suspend its training activities for the Iraqi security forces, particularly in view of the health crisis. "
Bordering on Iran, where the virus has already killed nearly 1,700 people, Iraq imposed nationwide very stringent measures against the new coronavirus on Sunday, reporting twenty deaths and 233 confirmed cases of the disease.
Staff repatriated until further notice
So, "France has decided to repatriate the personnel of Operation Chammal until further notice (French part of the international operation Inherent Resolve) deployed to Iraq ", nearly 200 soldiers, so far engaged in the training of the Iraqi army or working in the coalition headquarters in Baghdad.
From Thursday, date of start of repatriation, "There are no more" Chammal "troops in Iraq", commented to Agence France-Presse (AFP) the spokesman of the French general staff, Colonel Frédéric Barbry, adding that this withdrawal was "A priori temporary".
The US military, which represents the vast majority of foreign forces deployed to Iraq, announced last weekend a temporary reduction in the coalition’s airfoil.
"To prevent the spread of Covid-19, the Iraqi army suspended all training. Consequently, the coalition will temporarily return to their countries in the coming days some of its specialized training elements ”, the US Central Army Command (Centcom), which covers Iraq and Syria, said on Friday. The British and the Czechs have already announced a partial or total withdrawal of their forces from Iraq.
"In the future, we expect the coalition to support Iraqi forces from fewer bases, with fewer people", warned Centcom, while saying that the coalition remained "Committed for the long term" in the fight against IS, while Iraq is also at the heart of the rivalry between Washington and Tehran, which has important relays and levers in the country.
After the assassination in Baghdad of a senior Iranian military official and his Iraqi lieutenant by Washington, the Iraqi parliament had voted in favor of the departure of foreign troops from Iraq, including 5,200 American soldiers. This withdrawal sounds like a blow to Paris, which has been insisting for several months on the importance of not letting IS reconstitute – sponsor of a series of attacks on French soil since the end of 2015 – in neighboring Syria and in Iraq.
"Daesh (ISA Arabic acronym) remained strong in Syria, especially in areas allegedly controlled by the regime (…) As for Iraq, it is troubled by its internal situation and by the upheavals of international rivalries. Daesh continues to reorganize and harass government forces there ", warned the French Minister of Armies Florence Parly in mid-February.
"France will remain resolutely committed to its coalition partners to ensure the lasting defeat of Daesh", promises the French general staff on Wednesday, evoking the maintenance of its soldiers in the headquarters of the international coalition in Kuwait and Qatar, the French maritime deployments in the Syria channel and the continuation of its support missions from its regional bases in Jordan and Qatar.
If the coronavirus pandemic comes to hamper the operations of the French army in the Middle East, "The missions continue" in the Sahel, where 5,100 soldiers are currently deployed in the anti-jihadist operation "Barkhane", assures the French general staff.
The coronavirus has started to appear in Sahelian countries. Mali at war announced on Wednesday its first two confirmed cases of coronavirus, on two of its nationals who returned from France in mid-March. Niger had announced its first case a week ago. Neighboring Burkina Faso is the most affected country in West Africa with four dead and 75 people infected, according to a latest official report released on Sunday.
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