France on Friday morning announced it had taken military action inside Iraq, making it the first country aside from the U.S. in the American-organized “core coalition” to utilize airstrikes against the militants with the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).
A statement released from French president Francois Hollande’s office declared that Rafale fighter jets were deployed in Iraq and “conducted a first strike against a supply depot terrorist organization Daesh,” using Paris’ preferred named for the group. “The goal was reached and destroyed,” the statement continued, pledging more operations in the coming days. “Parliament will be informed next week by Prime Minister conditions of the commitment of our forces alongside the Iraqi armed forces and Peshmerga to weaken Daesh and restore Iraqi sovereignty.” No details were given about the what was contained in the depot.
The attack, as Financial Times noted, marks the first French airstrikes in Iraq in the last fifteen years. Then, France was taking part in a mission to enforce a No-Fly Zone in Northern Iraq with the United States and Britain. The military expansion back into Iraq first began on Monday, a military spokesman said, when French planes first began flying reconnaissance missions over the country.
Speaking before the press on Thursday, Hollande foreshadowed today’s strikes, condemning ISIS’ brutality and pledging to act as soon as targets had been identified. But there was no change of French ground forces being deployed in Iraq, Hollande said, echoing the United States’ oft-repeated policy. He also told reporters that France will “only intervene in Iraq,” ruling out taking on ISIS in Syria.
Paris is also leading the way in trying to change how we talk about ISIS. Rather than using that term, the U.S.’ preferred “ISIL,” or the group’s own favored “the Islamic State,” France has begun reffering to the group as “Daesh.” As the Washington Post explained, the term is “a transliteration of an Arabic word (داعش), an acronym for al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham (which is itself a transliteration of the group’s Arabic name: الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام).” It also happens to be a term that the group hates, threatening to cut out the tongues of people caught using it.
“This is a terrorist group and not a state,” French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said last week, explaining the shift in terms. “I do not recommend using the term Islamic State because it blurs the lines between Islam, Muslims and Islamists. The Arabs call it ‘Daesh’ and I will be calling them the ‘Daesh cutthroats.’ ”
While most in the U.S. would consider a left-wing Socialist like Hollande unlikely to use military force, Hollande has proven himself to be quite the hawk, willing to deploy French forces to a number of combat zones. Last year, France volunteered to join any military campaign the U.S. was prepared to launch to punish Syrian president Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons against civilians. France also was the first country to send troops to the Central African Republic to help restore the peace there. France is also still has more than a thousand troops deployed in Mali as part of an effort to keep the country from sliding back into civil war. But while committed to acting internationally, Hollande is facing a world of trouble at home, with his approval ratings cratering at around 13 percent.