WASHINGTON — A French maritime strike force has positioned itself off the coast of Syria to lend new support to the ongoing battle against ISIS, U.S. Central Command said Friday.
The arrival of the aircraft carrier-led force comes as ground elements of the anti-ISIS coalition continue a slow, careful effort to rout ISIS elements from their dwindling land redoubt in the eastern town of Baghouz.
“French Atlantique 2 and Rafale aircraft support the mission to defeat (ISIS) in the MERV, Syria, March 2019,” Central Command wrote, in part, in one tweet. The MERV stands for the Middle Euphrates River Valley.
The strike force is led by the aircraft carrier Charles-de-Gaulle and includes at least one attack submarine, Central Command said.
The show of allied support is critical to U.S. efforts to have some level of international military assistance to the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) and others who remain in eastern Syria after the bulk of U.S. forces depart following the ground defeat of ISIS, Pentagon officials have said.
France has about 1,000 troops in eastern Syria. The other major allied contributor is the United Kingdom, which has not made public the size of its troop deployment.
Both nations joined the U.S. and participated in air strikes against Syria chemical weapons facilities last spring.
There are between 2,000 and 3,000 U.S. troops in Syria. President Donald Trump has ordered their withdrawal once ISIS is defeated on the ground; the Pentagon says that 400 will remain behind.
The State Department has said airstrikes by Russia and Damascus are aimed at opponents of the Assad regime; Russia said the strikes are aimed against terrorists, according to news reports.