September 30, 2016 - 1:40 AM
PARIS - French warplanes are flying over Iraq after the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier rejoined the U.S.-led fight against Islamic State extremists — and as the coalition prepares to try to take back the key city of Mosul.
France, which has suffered repeated attacks at home from IS-linked extremists, is ramping up its military presence in Iraq ahead of the offensive in Mosul, the largest city held by the extremists. The Iraqi government has been gearing up with support from the United States and other allies for the mission, which could mark a turning point in the fight against IS.
A French defence official said Friday's mission "in no way" constitutes the beginning of the battle for Mosul. The French official, speaking anonymously in line with defence policy, said preparations are still underway with the U.S. and other partners to co-ordinate the Mosul offensive. She would not provide details of Friday's operation for the security of the pilots.
French planes have flown 32 missions over the past week, with Rafale jets destroying four targets with airstrikes and backing up Iraqi ground forces, according to a French military statement.
The Charles de Gaulle returned to the zone this week after undergoing maintenance in France, and is now on its third mission in the region since the French military started targeting IS two years ago in Iraq.
France expanded its airstrikes to IS targets in Syria last year. After an attack on Nice on Bastille Day in July killed 86, French President Francois Hollande ordered an artillery battery sent to Iraq to bolster the operation.
About 150 French forces with 4 Caesar artillery systems are now in the area around Qayara, 48 kilometres (30 miles) south of Mosul, according to the Defence Ministry. They are performing tactical missions for the coalition, and training Iraqi forces, according to military officials, but are not expected to engage in combat. French medical and logistics teams are also in place.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016