French soldiers pictured north of Mosul, northern Iraq, July 2017. Photo: Fadel Senna / AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – France will not pull its forces out northeast Syria, a French minister said Thursday, after US President Donald Trump announced the immediate and complete withdrawal of American troops supporting Kurdish forces in the fight against ISIS.
Several reports indicate Paris and London were not consulted before Trump’s announcement, nor were senior officials in the US administration.
“For now of course we remain in Syria,” French European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau told CNews, according to AFP. “The fight against terrorism is not over.”
“It’s true that the coalition has made significant progress in Syria, but this fight continues, and we will continue it,” she added.
Florence Parly, the French defence minister, tweeted ISIS “has not been wiped of the map, nor have its roots.”
“We must definitively defeat the last pockets of this terrorist organization,” she added.
Contradicting Trump’s claim that ISIS has been defeated in Syria, the British government has also warned the fight is not over.
“The global coalition against Daesh has made huge progress,” the UK government said in a statement late on Wednesday.
“Since military operations began, the coalition and its partners in Syria and Iraq have recaptured the vast majority of Daesh territory and important advances have been made in recent days in the last area of eastern Syria which Daesh has occupied.
“But much remains to be done and we must not lose sight of the threat they pose. Even without territory, Daesh will remain a threat,” it added.
Retweeting Trump’s claim the group has been defeated, Tobias Ellwood, a junior defense minister in the UK government, said: “I strongly disagree. It has morphed into other forms of extremism and the threat is very much alive.”
A small number of French and British special forces are operating in northeast Syria alongside 2,000 American troops.
Both France and Britain have provided the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) with air support in their effort to dislodge the last remnants of ISIS from its holdout in Deir ez-Zor.
The continued presence of French forces could dissuade Turkey from launching a fresh offensive against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) – a Kurdish force that makes up the backbone of the US-backed SDF.
Erdogan warned on Wednesday last week he would deploy troops east of the Euphrates to fight the YPG, which it considers an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group fighting for greater Kurdish political and cultural rights in Turkey.
Ankara launched a similar offensive against the YPG in the northwest Syrian canton of Afrin at the start of 2018.