By Maria Babikyan

On September 27 2015, France launched its first attacks against The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria, justified on the grounds of self-defense in the global war on terrorism, protection of territory, and as an action against the pressure of the migrant crisis. France was involved in the United States-led coalition attacks in Iraq but the question of Syria had been off the table for a long time – it was to be brought forward by the General Debate of the United Nations’ 70th General Assembly, a day before France’s first strikes.

The main question that the actors of Syrian crisis are facing today is whether Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad should be involved in the international efforts to eradicate ISIL. Insofar, Russia and Iran are the only countries that support this agenda and this is primarily due to the historically strong partnership between these states and President Al-Assad. The French president François Hollande ruled this possibility out from the first, claiming the Syrian leader to be the primary instigator of the civil war that has caused a growing number of daily casualties.

However, with the rapid expansion of extremist movements, removing President Al-Assad as a state leader became less and less important as an issue, although the French president continued to press the matter of President Al-Assad’s continued leadership role in the country.

In the fight against ISIL, the French launched thorough reconnaissance flights before conducting any strikes. They were also provided with information from the so-called “international coalition” that has joined efforts in defeating ISIS. According to Rami Abdelrahman, the Head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the first French attack reportedly killed at least 30 jihadists in a training camp named the Cubs of the Caliphate, a youth wing in Syria. Six planes were used in the operation, five of which were Rafales, with no civilian casualties reported. France has made every effort to ensure successful operations and this is evident through its use of innovative technology and military strategy – Rafales perform outstandingly in air supremacy conflicts.  

French intervention also seems to be a reaction to what some perceive as the weakness of the coalition, with is uncoordinated and marginally efficient attacks. Although it is well known that the formula ‘air-ground’ attack serves best in conflicts, the coalition has yet to reach a consensus on the possibility of intervening on the ground. On October 7, 2015, President François Hollande held a joint speech with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, warning of a guerre totale in the Middle East if the coalition failed to resolve the Syrian conflict. He called on EU countries to unite and cooperate in the war-torn territories in order to find a political solution. He made his position clear on the regional level of the conflict while warning of consequences concerning all global actors. Hollande did not exclude Iran, Russia, and the Gulf countries from the discussions or from the possibility of a united front; moreover, he reminded all of the urgency of creating a humanitarian, political, and diplomatic plan. The French position on the al-Assad government remains unchanged, namely, on the possibility of an alternative governing structure for a new political future in Syria.

On Thursday night, October 8, 2015, France launched its second wave of attacks southwest of the Syrian city of Raqqa, targeting another training camp of ISIL. Reports suggest six of the targets were French nationals, but this has yet to be confirmed. “We do not ask this or that person for their passport,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told reporters, “we strike anyone preparing attacks against France”. This statement once again confirms that the presence of France in the Syrian conflict is based on grounds of self-defense at a global level, as does France’s recent past of djihadist terrorist attacks on its territory (January 2015).

The Syrian civil war concerns not only its immediate neighbouring countries but has extended into a conflict of hybrid warfare, with imminent threats towards Europe causing a drop in the overall security, paranoid populations, ethnic based conflicts and a wave of right wing policy gradually gaining ground. The coming weeks should let us envisage a stronger, more organized and determined coalition. Considering the mentioned above public statements of the EU leaders and the position of the French government, the actively participating actors in the conflict should unify as strongly as possible in order to eliminate the spreading of this war’s effects, to avoid further violence and restore peace.

Featured image credit: IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation, Flickr CC. License can be found here.