France conducts ‘major’ raids on ISIS in Iraq

Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says fighter jets carried out ‘120 to 130 missions’ since the start of the coalition offensive

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France said Friday its fighter jets were conducting a “major” raid in Iraq as part of the U.S.-led coalition offensive against the Islamic State group, days after members said the strikes were having effect.

“At the moment, a major raid is taking place,” Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told BFMTV, refusing to detail the targets or the number of jets involved.

He said French planes based in the United Arab Emirates and more recently in Jordan had carried out “120 to 130 missions” since the start of the coalition offensive.

These include intelligence gathering missions. Compared to the United States, France has carried out only a handful of strikes on the militants.

The coalition of around 60 mainly Western and Arab states was formed several months after ISIS jihadists swept across northern Iraq, seizing swathes of territory and proclaiming a caliphate in parts of the country and neighboring Syria.

Paris has so far refused to join the United States in its air war against ISIS in Syria, but on Wednesday, President Francois Hollande said France was ready to step up its actions against the militants in Iraq.

The same day, a meeting in Brussels of countries in the coalition concluded that the ISIS group’s advance was finally being stopped thanks to the strikes -- a claim reiterated Friday by Le Drian.

“But this halt does not mean that the war is over,” he warned.

In an interview this week with French weekly Paris Match, however, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad differed, saying the strikes were having no impact.

Le Drian hit out at Assad’s comments.

“It’s vile for someone who has the deaths of 200,000 of his countrymen and women on his conscience to give lessons,” he said.

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