One year ago, we saw the first US-led air strikes against the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIL) — in August 2014. They targeted jihadist positions in Iraq that most directly threatened American personnel and related interests.
The French military Opération Chammal is also active in Iraq; France is one of the 13 countries participating in these strikes, within the framework of an Arab-Western coalition of 20 countries.
Americans, Australians, Britons, Canadians, Danes, Dutch and Jordanians are all flying raids against ISIL in Iraq, but the French are not taking part in strikes in Syria.
The US says that over the past year there have been more than 6,500 sorties, almost two thirds of them in Iraqi territory, more than one third in Syrian territory.
Yet the limited effectiveness of the Arab-Western coalition air power was demonstrated in May this year when ISIL seized the Iraqi city of Ramadi, and then the historic Roman oasis of Palmyra in Syria.
France has resolutely abstained from intervening militarily in Syria since the civil war began there, feeling that to do so would work in President Assad’s favour — and the French want him gone.
President François Hollande said in 2012: “Assad must leave, there has to be a transitional government to avoid chaos, that is in everyone’s interest. To those supporting the Assad regime saying only it can prevent chaos, I say they will end up with both the most hated regime and chaos.”
It was as if Hollande had forecast Syria’s future. Yet on its own soil as well, France had security grounds for fighting to defeat ISIL. Nine months ago, the terrorist attacks in Paris proved that, with the Charlie Hebdo killings and then at a Jewish supermarket, and other attacks since, notably the attempt on the Thalys train this August, although that had a happy ending.
The French Republic considers that ISIL is behind most of the terrorist activity taking place in France and elsewhere in Europe.