Boosted French anti-ISIS raids prepared 'for weeks'

AFP , Tuesday 17 Nov 2015

French police speak with a man during an identity and vehicle check at the Place de la Republique in Paris, France, November 17, 2015, after a series of deadly attacks in the French capital on Friday. (Photo:Reuters)

Long before the Paris militant attacks, the French military was preparing for a stepped up offensive against ISIS, the commander of France's anti-ISIS Operation Chammal said Tuesday.

"Daesh is our enemy, a clearly identified enemy," Rear Admiral Antoine Beaussant told AFP in an interview at a French base in the Gulf, using an alternate name for IS.

"We will continue the fight which began a year ago with determination. Today, we have intensified that fight," said Beaussant.

He commands the French forces engaged in Operation Chammal that began in Iraq in September 2014 before extending to Syria in support of the US-led military campaign against the militant group.

"We have worked for weeks on the targets that our aircraft are hitting today" after "cross-checking our information", he said, implying that escalated raids are based on extensive reconnaissance.

ISIS has said it was behind Friday night's wave of shootings and suicide bombings on bars, restaurants, the Bataclan theatre and the Stade de France that killed 129 people in Paris.

French President Francois Hollande called the attacks "acts of war", and has vowed to hit back at IS "without mercy".

The killings came less than a year after attacks on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a Jewish supermarket in the French capital murdered 17 people.

As a member of the US-led coalition, France has Rafale jets based in the United Arab Emirates and Mirage 2000 warplanes in Jordan.

Both Arab nations are also members of the anti-ISIS coalition.

Beaussant gave away no details about the air strikes which French forces have carried out since Friday.

But in Paris, the defence ministry said on Tuesday its warplanes destroyed a command centre and training centre in the Syrian city of Raqa, the IS stronghold and "capital" of its self-declared "caliphate", in its second series of strikes in 24 hours.

Ten Rafale and Mirage 2000s carried out the raid at 0030 GMT, dropping 16 bombs, the ministry said.

In a command centre at the base, French military officials analyse satellite images of Iraq and Syria to prepare upcoming operations "in coordination with the international coalition", one official told AFP.

"Once compiled, the information is sent to Paris. Then, in coordination with the coalition, targets are defined and the order is given," the official added.

After the United States, which is carrying out the bulk of the anti-ISIS air strikes, France is one of the main contributors to the 32-member coalition effort.

Beaussant said that around 700 French personnel, six Mirage 2000s and six Rafales, as well as an Atlantique 2 maritime patrol aircraft, are "permanently" taking part in Operation Chammal.

Additional units including "tankers, airborne early warning and control aircraft (AWACS) and other surveillance aircraft" are also regular contributors, he said. 

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