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‘Military Pragmatism’ Pushes France to Fight ISIS in Land Offensive | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Special forces from the Syria Democratic Forces gather in a village in the southern rural area of Manbij, in Aleppo Governorate. Reuters

Paris-The presence of a limited number of French forces alongside the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that are trying to expel ISIS from the strategic Syrian city of Manbij “does not mean a change in France’s policies, rather it reflects military pragmatism,” French diplomatic sources said.

“An opportunity is looming on the horizon to hit ISIS and fully besiege it. It would be unwise not to take it, particularly that the objective is purely military,” the sources told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

The SDF is a U.S.-backed Kurdish and Arab alliance, which is on the northern edge of Manbij, a strategic town held by ISIS that serves as a waypoint between the Turkish border and the jihadists’ stronghold of Raqqa.

The sources said that Paris continues to hold onto its political stances and considers the Syrian opposition forces and the High Negotiation Committee its allies.

But “this does not stop it from providing military support to the Kurds,” they told the newspaper.

On Thursday, Agence France Presse quoted a French defense official as saying that France has deployed special forces in northern Syria to advise the SDF.

“The offensive at Manbij is clearly being backed by a certain number of states including France. It’s the usual support — it’s advisory,” the official said, without giving further details on the deployment.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had indicated last Friday, in remarks to a small state TV channel covering French politics, that French troops were helping operations at Manbij.

“We are providing support through weapons supplies, air presence and advice,” he told the Public Senate channel.

But on Thursday, the Defense Ministry refused to give further details on the deployment of the special forces in northern Syria.

The sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the French support for the SDF comes mainly for two reasons. First, both sides have a common enemy, which is ISIS, and second the objective of these forces is to control strategic areas that would limit the presence of ISIS in Syria and would impact the outcome of the war on the terrorist group.

“Therefore, common interests pushed Paris to provide it (SDF) with military support,” the sources added.