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France said that the Islamic State Group has not been obliterated from map contrary to what the U.S. said, hence French troops will remain in Syria.
Unlike the United States, France will keep its troops in northern Syria for now because Islamic State Group militants have not been wiped out and continue to pose a threat to French interests, officials said.
French diplomats told Reuters Wednesday U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw all 2,000 of its troops from the region had taken Paris by surprise. U.S. officials justified the decision by saying the Islamic State Group had been entirely defeated.
France is a leading member of the U.S.-led coalition fighting militants in Syria and Iraq and has around 1,000 troops including special forces based in the north of the country, deployed alongside local Kurdish and Arab forces.
“It shows that we can have different priorities and that we must count on ourselves first,” Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau told C-News television. “For now, of course, we are staying in Syria because the fight against Islamic State is essential.”
"We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Wednesday, suggesting that the country would remain engaged to some degree.
Her remarks came shortly after Trump tweeted, "We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there," using an acronym for the Islamic State group.
French Defense Minister Florence Parly acknowledged on Twitter that the militant group had been weakened and lost some 90 percent of its territory, but said the battle was not over.
“Islamic State has not been wiped from the map nor have its roots. The last pockets of this terrorist organization must be defeated militarily once and for all,” she said.
French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Trump Wednesday, diplomats said. In April, when Trump previously announced a U.S. withdrawal, Macron persuaded the U.S. leader that Washington should stay engaged by citing the threat of Iran in the region.
French officials are scrambling to find out from U.S. agencies exactly what Trump’s announcement means. The United States has been unclear on when the troops will be withdrawn.
“We’re used to it now with the Trump administration. The devil is in the detail,” said one French diplomat.
France has about 1,100 troops operating in Iraq and Syria providing logistics, training and heavy artillery support as well as fighter jets to strike targets. Its presence in Syria also includes dozens of special forces, military advisers and some foreign office personnel.
Under the administration of Barack Obama, the United States formed a coalition of its allies in the region to fight the Islamic State group in both Syria and Iraq, mainly through airstrikes. The campaign has been widely criticized for a mounting death toll of civilians over the years since September 2015. According to human rights groups monitoring the situation in Syria, over 5,000 civilians have been killed by the coalition's airstrikes.