PARIS (Reuters) - France said on Wednesday that Rafale jets had struck Islamic State targets alongside coalition planes near the northern Iraq city of Kirkuk to help breach the group’s frontlines, and was sending six fighter jets to Jordan to ramp up its strikes.
Two Dassault-built (AVMD.PA) Rafale fighters, both armed with four missiles, targeted trenches used by Islamic State to besiege the oil city at around 0330 GMT (10:30 p.m. ET), the ministry said in a statement.
“This action was carried out simultaneously with our allies to create a breach in the defensive positions held by the terrorists on the frontline between Iraqi forces and Islamic State,” the defense ministry said in a statement.
Islamic State (IS) fighters have seized swathes of territory in lightning offensives in the arid but oil-rich north of the country, and have repeatedly attacked oil installations.
Peshmerga troops took control of Kirkuk following the withdrawal of Iraqi armed forces in the face of the IS advance. Government and Kurdish troops are slowly starting to turn the tide since getting air support from the U.S.-led coalition.
Speaking to parliament Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said despite coalition strikes Iraqi government troops and Kurdish peshmerga forces continued to face serious attacks in Iraq’s Sinjar and Anbar regions, and needed more help.
“French air forces will be strengthened. There were nine Rafale (jets) in the United Arab Emirates and they will be reinforced with six Mirage fighter jets to be placed in Jordan to support our action,” Le Drian said.
Jordanian officials could not immediately comment.
Officials told Reuters on Nov. 13 that putting the jets in the Kingdom would increase the number of missions against IS and help reduce costs at a time when the government is under pressure to cut spending.
Along with the nine Rafale jets, France has a maritime patrol aircraft, an AWACS reconnaissance aircraft and a refueling plane at its base in the UAE as part of its “Chammal” Iraq mission. It also has an anti air-defense frigate in the Gulf.
Reporting by John Irish in Paris and Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Amman; Editing by James Regan and Ralph Boulton