French fighter jets take off on mission against ISIS stronghold in Mosul, Iraq
The jets took off from the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier on Friday in the eastern Mediterranean for a mission against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), AFP and AP reported. An AFP photographer on the flight deck said he saw as many as eight jets taking off from the carrier.
It was not, however, immediately clear whether the French Rafale jets were deployed to conduct military airstrikes or to carry out surveillance operations.
Despite reports of France planning to launch airstrikes, a French defense official told AP that the mission “in no way” marked the start of an offensive in Mosul, stressing that the ministry would not give further details for security reasons.
The offensive aimed at recapturing Mosul is to begin soon, France's defense minister said after French fighter jets took off from the aircraft carrier.
"The battle for Mosul has not started yet. [The operations today] are the extension of our support for the coalition," Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters at a naval shipyard in northwestern France. "There will soon be the main attack."
Meanwhile, French radio station RTL reported that as many as 24 warplanes will participate in Friday’s operations with sorties every three minutes. Each of the aircraft is supplied with four 250kg (551lb) laser-guided bombs, it said.
Over the past week, French planes carried out as many as 32 missions and destroyed four terrorist targets with airstrikes and ground support from Iraqi forces, AP reported citing French military.
The 38,000-tonne Charles de Gaulle aircraft was sent to the region earlier in September. Powered by two nuclear reactors, it has more than 1,900 crew members. This is the third time the ship has taken part in military operations since February 2015 providing support to the US-led anti-terrorism coalition.
On Thursday, the UN said that at least 700,000 people in Mosul would be in need of assistance once the assault on the city begins.
“Mosul has the potential to be one the largest… disasters of many, many years,” warned Bruno Geddo, the United Nation Refugee Agency’s main representative in Iraq.
Washington earlier said it would send 600 extra troops to Iraq to train local forces to help recapture Mosul.
Iraq’s second largest city Mosul has been under jihadist control since June 2014 when IS seized vast areas in the Middle East. Since that time, Iraqi forces have managed to regain large swaths of territory and are currently preparing to carry out an offensive with the help of air and artillery support aimed at retaking Mosul. US and Iraqi officials said the operation is due to take place in mid-October.
France has also been involved in providing support to the US-led anti-terrorism coalition in Syria. In June, the French Defense Ministry announced it had deployed special forces on the ground in northern Syria to advise rebels and help them fight Islamic State.
“The offensive at Manbij is clearly being backed by a certain number of states including France. It’s the usual support – it’s advisory,” a French Defense Ministry official told AFP referring to operations aimed at recapturing a key strategic town occupied by IS. Manbij is considered a key waypoint between the Turkish border and the jihadist stronghold of Raqqa.