PARIS (Reuters) - The U.S. decision to withdraw from northeastern Syria leaving Turkey to launch an offensive against Kurdish militants in the region could open the door to a revival of Islamic State, France’s armed forces minister said on Monday.
France is one of Washington’s main allies in the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, with its warplanes used to strike militant targets and its special forces on the ground coordinating with local Kurdish and Arab fighters.
The United States began pulling troops back from the northeast Syria border on Monday, in a move U.S. President Donald Trump hailed as a bid to quit “endless wars”. The move appeared to leave allies scrambling to assess the impact.
“We are going to be extremely careful that this announced disengagement from the United States and a possible offensive by Turkey does not create a dangerous maneuver that diverts from the goal we all pursue - the fight against Islamic State - and which is dangerous for the local population,” Florence Parly told reporters in northern France.
“We must be extremely vigilant that a maneuver of this kind can not, contrary to the goal of the coalition, strengthen Daesch (Islamic State) rather than weaken it and eradicate it,” she said.
French officials have said in the past that a U.S. withdrawal would force Paris to also draw back its troops and after a similar an announcement by Trump in January, French President Emmanuel Macron had claimed he had convinced Trump to change his mind.
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 joined the group in Syria and are currently being held in Kurdish-controlled camps. With an impending Turkish attack, the Kurds could be forced to reduce security at those camps.
“Terrorist fighters in detention, including those of foreign nationality, must be tried in the place where they committed their crimes,” France’s foreign ministry spokeswoman told reporters, warning Ankara against a unilateral operation.
“This judgment and their secure detention in north-east Syria are a security imperative to prevent them from reinforcing the ranks of terrorist groups,” she added.
Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Giles Elgood