France to supply artillery to Iraqi army

President Hollande said France will supply weapons to Iraq to support its fight against the ISIS but ruled out any troop deployment

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France will supply weapons to Iraq to support its fight against the ISIS, President Francois Hollande said Friday, but ruled out any troop deployment in the country.

“This morning at the defence council, I took the decision as part of the anti-Daesh coalition to make weapons available to Iraqi forces,” Hollande said, using another name for ISIS.

“They will be there next month,” he said following the meeting with a handful of ministers and the heads of the security forces.

An aide to the president said the weaponry would include artillery batteries and that France would also send military advisors to train Iraqi forces in using them.

Hollande said he would also be sending the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier to the region “at the end of September”.

The carrier “will allow us to intensify strikes against terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq using our Rafale jets,” he said.

Hollande insisted that the move did not change the nature of France’s military involvement in the region.

“We support our allies in Iraq and Syria but we are not deploying ground troops,” he stressed.

“We have advice to give and training to carry out, but it is not our soldiers fighting on the ground in Syria and Iraq.”

Taking action amid criticism

The announcement came as the French president tried to show his government is taking action amid criticism that there weren’t enough police protecting Nice’s Bastille Day celebration when a truck attack last week killed 84 people.

Hollande also outlined plans for expanded military deployment within France this summer, and defended his interior minister’s handling of the Nice police presence. Frustration is mushrooming that French authorities were unable to prevent the July 14 attack despite being in a state of emergency after a string of previous violence.

Hollande said he decided at an emergency security meeting Friday to send artillery equipment to Iraq next month as part of increased military help to fight ISIS. France has been conducting airstrikes against IS and providing military training, but Hollande reiterated Friday that France would not send ground troops.

Stressing the international nature of the fight against ISIS, Hollande said, “Even if was France that was attacked July 14, it’s the world that was targeted.”

He pledged that investigators would find the truth about “the circumstances and the causes of this tragedy, and the eventual networks of the terrorist.”

The Paris prosecutor says attacker Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel had accomplices and appears to have been plotting his attack for months, citing text messages, more than 1,000 phone calls and video of the attack scene on the phone of one of five suspects handed preliminary terrorism charges Thursday in the case. Bouhlel was killed by police.

Amid questions about the police presence July 14, authorities in Nice are protesting against a request from French anti-terror police to delete surveillance camera images of the attack. The cameras could show where and how police were deployed.

The city received a letter this week from the SDAT anti-terrorism agency, obtained by The Associated Press, saying images of the July 14 attack should be destroyed.

An official with the national police said the request was motivated by concern that the images could leak and be used for jihadi propaganda. The official was not authorized to be publicly named.

A lawyer for the city submitted a protest letter Friday saying Nice officials would not comply for legal, administrative and technical reasons. But the lawyer also notes that the images are scheduled to be automatically deleted anyway on Sunday, according to Nice City Hall practice of deleting CCTV images after 10 days. Investigators will keep copies of the images.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve acknowledged Thursday that only lightly armed local police were guarding the entrance to a pedestrian zone on the Nice beachfront when Bouhlel sped past a barricade and ran over people. Cazeneuve had previously said national police were guarding the closed-off boulevard.

Hollande promised results of an internal police investigation next week.

Nice City Hall has put up the names of all 84 people killed in the attack on two black banners. The victims were of 18 nationalities, Hollande said. More than 300 people were wounded, and Hollande said Friday that 12 are “fighting for their lives.”

(With AFP and AP)