Islamic State: France joins US air campaign in Iraq, hitting logistics depot

French President Francois Hollande said Rafale jets destroyed an Islamic State logistics depot in northeastern Iraq. France is the first nation to join the US-led air campaign against IS.

Christophe Ena/AP
French President Francois Hollande arrives for a press conference at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. Joining US forces acting in Iraqi skies, France conducted its first airstrikes Friday against the militant Islamic State group, destroying a logistics depot that it controlled, Iraqi and French officials said.

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France conducted its first airstrike against the Islamic State militant group in Iraq Friday, destroying a logistics depot, French President Francois Hollande announced. Although some countries have contributed humanitarian aid or military equipment to the Iraqi army in its battle against the advancing jihadists, France is the first nation to join the US-led air campaign against IS.

"As one of our oldest and closest allies, France is a strong partner in our efforts against terrorism, and we are pleased that French and American service members will once again work together on behalf of our shared security and our shared values," President Obama said Thursday after President Hollande announced he would join in targeted airstrikes in Iraq. US jets and drones have carried out 176 airstrikes in Iraq since Aug. 8, according to US Central Command.

France said Rafale jets were used in the strike against the IS base in northeastern Iraq, and a statement from Hollande's office vowed that "other operations will follow in the coming days." 

In an address to his nation Thursday, Hollande explained his decision by noting that IS had been able to thrive, in part, due to “international inertia,” reports The New York Times.

[The Islamic State] “massacres anyone who resists it; hunts minorities, notably Christians; commits atrocities against civilians; decapitates journalists; crucifies opponents; kidnaps women,” he said. “That is the movement we are up against.”

“France is meeting its responsibilities” by attacking IS, Hollande said Friday.

Holland warned, however, that French boots on the ground in Iraq – and extending the intervention into Syria – were not an option. IS has gained territory in Syria as well, and this week Congress voted to authorize the Pentagon to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State there.

However, there were misgivings on whether US training and weapons in Syria would necessarily mean success against IS. The Christian Science Monitor reports:

The United States trained the Iraqi Army, yet “they folded in the face of ISIS,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia on Wednesday. “Why do we think training the rebels would turn out any differently?”

He went on to question the allegiance of Syrian rebels. “The opposition fighters we will train care more about overthrowing Assad’s regime than they do about defeating ISIS,” he said – a point echoed by Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee, who nonetheless voted for the legislation.

Other concerns include arms getting into the wrong hands, and an international coalition that is not fully formed. The administration says it will vet the rebels, but their plan is “wishful thinking, not realistic planning,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R) of California.

Though momentum appears to be slowly growing for the US-led fight against the Islamic State, a group known for its brutality and the videotaped beheadings of two international journalists and an aid worker, the group’s most recent propaganda video focused on appealing to war-weary citizens in the West.

On Thursday, the Islamic State released a video of British journalist John Cantlie telling the “truth” about the West’s intentions in fighting the militant group. The Christian Science Monitor’s Howard LaFranchi reports:

“After two disastrous and hugely unpopular wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Mr. Cantlie says, Western media and leaders are once again “drag[ging] the public back to the abyss of another war.”

Cantlie was taken hostage in Syria in November 2012 as he rode in a car with Mr. Foley….

IS knows how to manipulate modern media methods.

“They are very adept at information warfare, at digital warfare, where they are laying a kind of predicate for what they do on the battlefield in the digital space,” [Richard Stengel, the US undersecretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs] said. “They’re very sophisticated.”

The latest IS video offers additional evidence of that sophistication.

Cantlie, who lists the British publications he’s worked for, answers directly the assumed suspicion of viewers that he is speaking under duress. “Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: ‘He’s only doing this because he’s a prisoner. He’s got a gun at his head, and he’s being forced to do this.’ Right? Well, it’s true. I am a prisoner, that I cannot deny,” says Cantlie, who appears wearing a prisoner’s orange jumpsuit.

But he goes on to say, “Having been abandoned by my own government and my fate now lies in the hands of the Islamic State, I have nothing to lose. Maybe I will live and maybe I will die,” he adds, “but I want to take this opportunity to convey some facts that you can verify.”

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