Calling the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan "catastrophic," France said Wednesday it would start supplying arms to the Kurdish forces fighting Sunni extremists from the Islamic State group.
The sudden announcement that arms would begin to flow within hours underlined France's alarm at the urgency of the situation in Iraq, where the Islamic State fighters are threatening the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.
The shipment of French arms, which the government refused to describe, follows the United States' increased role in fighting back the Islamic State extremists.
Senior American officials say US intelligence agencies are directly arming the Kurds, a shift in Washington's policy of only working through the Baghdad government. On Tuesday, 130 US troops arrived in the Kurdish capital of Irbil on what the Pentagon described as a temporary mission to coordinate plans to help trapped Yazidi civilians on Sinjar Mountain.
France says its arms shipment was coordinated with the Iraqi government.
French authorities have pushed other European Union members to do more to aid Christian and other minorities being targeted by the Islamic State group extremists. A high-level EU diplomatic meeting late Tuesday ended with a statement that it would consider the Kurdish request for urgent military support "in close coordination with Iraqi authorities."
Earlier Wednesday, France had pledged to deliver a new 20-ton shipment of humanitarian aid including medicine, tents and water treatment equipment to Irbil later in the day.
The turmoil stems from the rapid advance of the Islamic State group and allied Sunni militants across northern and western Iraq in June. The insurgency seized Iraq's second largest city, Mosul, and routed Iraq's beleaguered armed forces. Thousands of people have been killed and more than 1.5 million have been displaced by the violence.