US, France agree to step up strikes against Islamic State

French, German ministers propose €10bn fund to pay for tighter security

 French president Francois Hollande and US president Barack Obama shake hands during a joint news conference at the White House, November 24th, 2015 in Washington, DC. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

French president Francois Hollande and US president Barack Obama shake hands during a joint news conference at the White House, November 24th, 2015 in Washington, DC. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

 

French President Francois Hollande said on Tuesday the United States and France have agreed to step up strikes in Syria and Iraq to target Islamic State militants after the November 13th attacks in Paris.

Mr Hollande, appearing at a White House news conference with President Barack Obama, said the two leaders agreed on the importance of closing the Turkish border to limit the movement of extremists into Europe.

Mr Obama emphasised the long friendship between France and the US and pledged to step up efforts to combat terrorism alongside its European partners.

“As Americans, we stand by our friends in good times and in bad, no matter what,” Mr Obama said.

Mr Hollande is trying to rally support this week for a more co-ordinated international campaign to destroy Islamic State. He is due to visit Moscow on Thursday.

‘Total solidarity’

“We are here today to declare that the United States and France stand united in total solidarity to deliver justice to these terrorists and those who sent them and to defend our nations,” Mr Obama said.

Mr Obama called Islamic State a “barbaric terrorist group”, adding that “its murderous ideology poses a serious threat to all of us. It cannot be tolerated. It must be destroyed. And we must do it together.”

Mr Hollande said the US and France agreed to step up strikes in Syria and Iraq against Islamic State. But Mr Hollande said France will not put troops on the ground in Syria to fight Islamic State.

“France will not intervene militarily on the ground,” Mr Hollande said.

Mr Hollande’s meeting with Mr Obama follows the attacks in Paris that killed 130 people at the national sports stadium, a concert venue and bars and restaurants in heart of the French capital. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mr Obama said he and Mr Hollande agreed more needed to be done to combat Islamic State’s efforts.

“US assistance has supported recent French strikes in Syria, and we’re going to keep stepping up that coordination,” he said. “We will continue to do everything in our power to defend our nation.

“We will win and groups like Isil will lose,” Mr Obama said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

Spirit of France

“It’s been noted that the terrorists did not direct their attacks against the French government or military. Rather, they focused their violence on the very spirit of France and, by extension, on all liberal democracies,” Mr Obama said.

“Viva la France,” Mr Obama added.

On the Syrian crisis, Mr Obama said Russian strikes against moderate opposition there only serve to bolster Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

Mr Hollande would not provide a date for Assad’s transition from power but said it must be “as soon as possible”.

Nearly five years of clashes between Assad’s government and rebel forces created a vacuum that has allowed Islamic State to thrive.

The group appears to now be focusing on targets outside its base in Syria and Iraq, also including attacks in Lebanon and Turkey and the downing of a Russian airliner over Egypt.

Mr Obama is now facing increased pressure at home and abroad to ramp up US efforts to destroy the militants. So far, he has mainly focused on getting other countries to offer more counter-intelligence, humanitarian and military assistance.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest earlier said: “The United States is certainly pulling more than our own weight. And we believe that there is more that can be done if countries are willing to contribute additional resources.”

The US campaign has centred largely on launching air strikes, while training and assisting security forces on the ground in Iraq.

Special forces

Efforts to train and equip moderate rebel groups in Syria have struggled, although Mr Obama has authorised the deployment of 50 special operations forces to the country to jump-start the programme.

France has stepped up its air strikes following the Paris attacks, relying in part on US intelligence to hit targets in Raqqa, Islamic State’s stronghold in Syria.

Meanwhile, the French and German ministers for the economy have proposed setting up a €10 billion fund to pay for tighter security, external border controls and care of refugees, French minister Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday.

Speaking in Berlin, Mr Macron said he and his counterpart Sigmar Gabriel had written to French president Francois Hollande and German chancellor Angela Merkel suggesting the creation of the fund, which other European countries could join.

He said a joint response would avert the risk of France and Germany pursuing different agendas and weakening Europe.

“The risk is that our people, our political parties, our governments decide to treat this problem separately or even work against each other,” Mr Macron said, noting France was preoccupied with security after the November 13th attacks in Paris and Germany, with the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees.

Mr Macron said he and Mr Gabriel would present a more detailed text by mid-December that would build on proposals they made in June regarding closer integration of the euro zone.

Press Association/Reuters