France's parliament voted Tuesday to extend the country's involvement in the US-led military campaign against the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria. Lawmakers from the French National Assembly and Senate voted almost unanimously to continue Operation Chammal — a series of airstrikes on IS targets in Iraq that began in September 2014 — following a rousing speech by Prime Minister Manuel Valls.
Speaking Wednesday aboard the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier during his annual New Year's address to the French armed forces, President Francois Hollande said the vessel was poised to travel to the Middle East and "might conduct operations in Iraq." The 42,000-ton, nuclear-powered aircraft carrier set sail yesterday from the southern French of port of Toulon, and will travel through the Suez Canal to the Indian Ocean. It is expected to reach the Persian Gulf by early February. The deployment — dubbed Operation Arromanches — is scheduled to last until at least May.
French lawmakers have displayed a united political front following last week's deadly terror attacks that left 17 people dead. On Tuesday, the parliament's National Assembly spontaneously sang "La Marseillaise," the country's national anthem.
"Defeating the jihadist armies on their own soil cuts off the supply of terrorism on our home soil," said Bruno Le Roux, a leader of France's Socialist party.
In his speech Wednesday aboard the Charles de Gaulle, Hollande condemned the international community's slow reaction to the crisis in Syria. "I continue to regret the fact that the international community did not act in the required time to stop the massacres in Syria, and prevent extremists from gaining even more ground," he said. "France was ready. The orders had been given, the systems were in place. Another route was chosen. We are now seeing what that led to."
Hollande also called for a review of proposed cuts to military personnel over the next few years, and said the country must make "judicious choices" about where and when to intervene militarily.
"France cannot and won't participate in an intervention that isn't sanctioned by the UN," he said. "But wherever we do intervene, where we do act, we have to show great determination."
France uses nine Rafale aircraft and two support planes stationed at the Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates to carry out its airstrikes in Iraq.
France's role in the fight has remained relatively limited compared to the United States, and, according to Bruno Tertrais, a senior research fellow at the Foundation for Strategic Research, "there is no reason to believe that the campaign will be widened or intensified."
"The US is undertaking its own intelligence work, which is crucial to carrying out targeted strikes," Tertrais told VICE News. "Furthermore, the French army has been solicited a lot lately, and on several fronts."
Etienne de Durand, director of the Center for Security Studies at the French Institute of International Relations, agreed, saying France's force of approximately 70,000 troops has already been spread thin around the globe. The French army is currently involved in several military operations in the Middle East and Africa, and 10,000 troops were recently mobilized to protect potential terrorist targets in France.
"The French army has reached the limits of its capacity, and is in danger of exceeding it," de Durand told VICE News. "Our 'pocket army' is no longer compatible with large-scale and long-term interventions."
But Michel Asencio, a former air force general and former French defense ministry advisor, said the next logical step for France would be to send ground troops to Iraq since "air strikes alone aren't a solution."
Asencio told VICE News that French boots on the ground would "win back public confidence" and provide training for Iraqi troops.
Tertrais, however, asserted that "the deployment of ground troops in not a possibility," and said "only intelligence missions can be envisioned."
Stéphane Le Foll, a spokesman for the French government, said the country requires the support of allies in any operation.
"France cannot be alone on those fronts," Le Foll said. "Our country has mobilized, and is currently involved in diplomatic actions, but is calling on the cooperation of the international community."
Follow Pierre Longeray onTwitter @PLongeray
Image via Flickr.