France plans coalition meeting on ISIS, says group retreating

Reuters , Thursday 14 Jan 2016

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (Photo: Reuters)

Members of the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS will meet in Paris next week to reinforce efforts against the group, France's defense minister said on Thursday, adding that the militants were clearly retreating in Iraq.

France was the first country to join U.S.-led air strikes in Iraq. Since the Paris attacks by ISIS in November, it has stepped up its aerial bombing campaign of the group, including in Syria, contributing about 20 percent of coalition strikes.

"We struck last night in Mosul on a Daesh telecommunications center, a propaganda center. What we can say today is that Daesh is retreating in Iraq," Jean-Yves Le Drian said on BFM TV, referring to the Arabic acronym for the ISIS.

The minister said he would host his U.S., British and German counterparts in Paris next week to refine strategy and discuss tactics.

"We'll see how we can intensify our efforts in Iraq and Syria," he said, adding that ISIS was on the back foot in Iraq and that French jets had struck seven times since Monday.

He said that at some point the Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga forces supported by the coalition would need to launch the battle for Mosul, the largest city held by ISIS in Iraq.

"It's very complicated. We will have to ensure the Iraqi and Kurdish forces are sufficiently battle-hardened to lead this battle," Le Drian said.

French officials have this week been critical of Russian strikes in Syria with Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius saying Moscow had to immediately stop bombing civilians, something that was hindering efforts to hold peace talks later this month.

"If the principle Russian objective is to fight Islamic State, then they must first hit Islamic State. At the moment that is not the case, and there is a very strong tendency for it to strike rebels, the moderate opposition fighting (Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad," he said.

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