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France says Islamic State not defeated, troops to remain in Syria

PARIS (Reuters) - France will keep troops in northern Syria for now because Islamic State militants have not been wiped out, contrary to the U.S. view, and has started talks with the United States on the conditions and calendar of its withdrawal, officials said.

FILE PHOTO: French Defence Minister Florence Parly visits Euronaval, the world naval defence exhibition in Le Bourget near Paris, France, October 23, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo

France is a leading member of the U.S.-led coalition fighting militants in Syria and Iraq and has special forces based in the north of the country, deployed alongside Kurdish and Arab forces, and carries out air strikes against the group.

A French presidency source told reporters members of the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a U.S. partner in the area, would be in Paris on Friday to hold talks with officials over the move.

“He (Trump) is cutting corners, risking a serious accident ... the coalition’s spine is the United States,” the source said.

France is especially sensitive to the Islamic State threat after several major deadly attacks on its soil and officials believe the militant group continues to pose a threat. Hundreds of French nationals have joined the group in Syria.

President Emmanuel Macron spoke to President Donald Trump on Tuesday after learning in advance of Trump’s intentions, to try convince him not to pull out, as was the case in April when Macron convinced him to stay engaged in Syria by citing the threat of Iran in the region, the source said.

French diplomats told Reuters on Wednesday that Trump’s decision to withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from the region had taken Paris by surprise. U.S. officials justified the decision by saying Islamic State had been defeated.

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“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,” Defence Minister Florence Parly said on Twitter..

Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau told C-News television that for now French troops would stay.

In a statement, the Foreign Ministry said Paris and its coalition allies had started talks with Washington on the timeframe and conditions for the U.S withdrawal.

“The protection of the populations of northeastern Syria and the stability of this zone must be taken into account by the United States to avoid any new humanitarian drama and any return of the terrorists,” it said.

It said Paris would be careful to ensure the security of all the U.S. partners in the area, including the SDF, who fear an assault from Turkey.

“We’re used to it now with the Trump administration. The devil is in the detail,” a French diplomat said.

Additional reporting by Sophie Louet and Michel Rose; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Alison Williams