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France says ISIS not defeated, troops to remain in Syria

Florence Parly
French Defense Minister Florence Parly

France will keep troops in northern Syria for now because ISIS militants have not been wiped out - contrary to the view of Washington - and continue to pose a threat to French interests, officials said.

France is a leading member of the US-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.

French diplomats told Reuters on Wednesday President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw all 2,000 US troops from the region had taken Paris by surprise. US officials justified the decision by saying ISIS had been entirely defeated.

"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."

France is especially sensitive to the ISIS threat after several major deadly attacks on its soil in recent years. Hundreds of French nationals have joined the group in Syria.

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.

"ISIS 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.

President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Trump on Wednesday, diplomats said. In April, when Trump previously announced a US withdrawal, Macron persuaded the US leader that Washington should stay engaged by citing the threat of Iran in the region.