PRESIDENT Emmanuel Macron says France will keep its forces in Syria and remain ‘militarily engaged’ in the Middle East despite US plans to withdraw from the Arab country.
Addressing military officials at an army base near the city of Toulouse, Macron said ‘the fight in Syria is not over’ and that ‘any rush to withdraw would be a mistake.’ He also criticised US President Donald Trump’s call for an alleged troop withdrawal from the war-torn country.
‘The retreat from Syria announced by our American friends cannot make us deviate from our strategic objective – eradicating Daesh,’ the French president claimed. Macron also hinted at an extended regional agenda beyond fighting Daesh, claiming that while France seeks to revise its ‘global military deployment’, it shall ‘remain committed to participating in the stabilisation’ of the Middle East.
A French delegation headed by former lawmaker Thierry Mariani has visited Syria and condemned his country’s hostile policies toward Damascus. Amid waning US influence in the Middle East, France is seeking to expand its military ambitions in the region.
A 2017 report showed France had doubled arms sales to the Middle East, bolstering its allies, including Saudi Arabia and Israel. Since 2014, France has also engaged in aerial bombing campaigns in Syria and Iraq and has deployed hundreds of troops on the pretext of fighting the Daesh terrorist group.
Some 1,200 French troops remain deployed in the region, seeking to prop up the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US-backed anti-Damascus alliance of mainly Kurdish militants in northern Syria.
Also in December, France pledged backing for the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces.
The war against Daesh has become an excuse for the Western countries to intervene in Syria and deploy troops without an authorisation from Damascus or the UN.
A senior Syrian official said late last year that the US and France were carrying out illegal excavations in ancient sites in northern Syria with the help of Kurdish militants. Much of the digging work was conducted on the Um al-Sarj mountain near Manbij, head of Syria’s Directorate-General for Museums and Antiquities Mahmoud Hammoud said in December.
As recently as last month, Manbij was controlled by Kurdish militants who were heavily armed and supported by US and French troops illegally deployed to northern Syria. A French official says his country has pledged backing for SDF militants amid the planned withdrawal of American troops from Syria.
Paris has also backed Israeli airstrikes against alleged ‘Iranian interests’ in Syria. Last year, France stressed its ‘unwavering commitment’ to Israel’s security’ and condemned ‘any attempt to undermine it’, after Israel launched deadly airstrikes against Syria.
Macron’s comments came after Trump initially called for a ‘swift’ troop withdrawal from the country, drawing criticism from many in Washington and its international allies. Trump has, however, backtracked on his statements, saying that the pullout would be ‘slow and coordinated’ with regional allies.
Visiting Israel earlier this month, US National Security Adviser John Bolton suggested that American troops may remain at a US military base at the Syrian al-Tanf border crossing with Jordan to protect Israel from ‘Iranian expansion.’
Last week, the Pentagon confirmed that American troops would not withdraw from al-Tanf.
- Iraqi pro-government fighters from the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) have stopped a ‘suspicion reconnaissance mission’ by US military forces to collect critical information about the movements and positions of the voluntary forces in the country’s western province of Anbar and on the border with crisis-hit Syria.
Commander of the volunteer forces – better known by the Arabic word Hashd al-Sha’abi – in Western Anbar, Qassim Mosleh, told the Arabic-language al-Sumaria television network last Tuesday that the US action amounts to the violation of the Iraqi sovereignty, and could have seriously endangered Iraqi border troops by exposing their deployments and arms depots to terrorist groups.
Mosleh went on to say that Hashd al-Sha’abi fighters forced American troops to return to their base, and not approach them. Hashd al-Sha’abi fighters played a major role in the liberation of Daesh-held areas to the south, northeast and north of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, ever since the terrorists launched an offensive in the country in June 2014. Iraq has repeatedly condemned allegations of sectarian nature against the voluntary force.
In December 2016, Baghdad warned Riyadh of the ramifications of meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs, after former Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Iraq cannot realise unity with the presence of the Popular Mobilisation Units. Saudi Arabia has repeatedly labelled the PMU, which incorporates volunteer forces from different Iraqi factions and tribes, as a Shia movement and called for the dismantling of the group. The Iraqi parliament on November 26, 2016 approved a law giving full legal status to Hashd al-Sha’abi fighters.
It recognised the PMU as part of the national armed forces, placed the volunteer fighters under the command of the prime minister, and granted them the right to receive salaries and pensions like the regular army and police forces.
Former Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared the end of military operations against the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group in the Arab country on December 9, 2017. Iraqi security forces have killed a high-ranking Daesh commander and captured 17 others during an anti-terror operation near Mosul.
On July 10 that year, he had formally declared victory over Daesh in Mosul, which served as the terrorists’ main urban stronghold in Iraq. In the run-up to Mosul’s liberation, Iraqi army soldiers and volunteer Hashd al-Sha’abi fighters had made sweeping gains against Daesh.
Iraqi forces took control of eastern Mosul in January 2017 after 100 days of fighting, and launched the battle in the west on February 19 last year. Daesh began a terror campaign in Iraq in 2014, overrunning vast swathes in lightning attacks.
- A high-ranking member of the Lebanese Hezbollah resistance movement has accused the Tel Aviv regime of being behind most crises in the Middle East region. ‘The Israeli occupation regime is the biggest problem in our region. It intervenes in the world’s issues… while the United States and Europe help it to normalise relations with some Arab countries, so that the regime is accepted internationally and regionally in particular,’ Hezbollah Deputy Secretary General Sheikh Naim Qassem said in an interview with Arabic-language al-Manar television network.
He added: ‘Israel is the main problem in the region as it is behind many existing crises. This region will continue to suffer from successive and cumulative crises as long as the Israeli occupation regime exists and acts in such an aggressive manner under American supervision.
‘We must always bear in mind that Israel is a great danger; and that Arab and Muslim countries should reach an understanding with each other and work out appropriate means of cooperation. ‘I am warning those countries seeking normalisation of ties with the Israeli enemy that your bids will destroy your nations. Protect the independence of your countries against Israel rather than facilitating such a scheme!’ Qassem pointed out.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has made an unannounced visit to Iraq, involving meetings with high-ranking officials and no statements to media. The senior Hezbollah official then noted that the US has failed miserably in Syria, describing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s tour of the Middle East as an attempt by the White House to raise the morale of its frustrated regional allies.
He then scoffed at the recent visit by US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale to Beirut, stating that the solution to Lebanon’s government formation deadlock is ‘domestic’.
The Lebanese parliament speaker says there are parties that do not want a new cabinet to be formed and the political deadlock resolved. ‘Hale knows very well that he is not in a position to dictate things on Lebanon and its officials. He who does not see daily Israeli violations against Lebanon as an aggression is not eligible to give advice about citizenship and Lebanon’s future,’ Qassem underlined.
‘Hence, he is advised to know that the future of Lebanon is in the hands of its nation, and Lebanon’s interests are not expected to be in line with the failed US-Israeli plan, which has ruined the region,’ he said.