Obama and Hollande pledge to intensify fight against Islamic State

US and France want greater coalition efforts but downed Russian jet complicates matters

French president Francois Hollande talks with Barack Obama during a meeting at the Oval Office in  the White House. Photograph: Carlos Barria/Reuters

French president Francois Hollande talks with Barack Obama during a meeting at the Oval Office in the White House. Photograph: Carlos Barria/Reuters

 

France and the United States have agreed to step up their fight against Islamic State, pledging to increase co-operation and expand air strikes against the militants in Syria and Iraq in the wake of the Paris attacks.

US president Barack Obama and French president Francois Hollande held a joint press conference at the White House after they met as part of Mr Hollande’s whirlwind diplomatic push to encourage world leaders to build a more co-ordinated coalition to fight Isis.

He met UK prime minister David Cameron on Monday and meets German chancellor Angela Merkel in Paris today and Russian president Vladimir Putin in Moscow tomorrow.

“We have never forgotten how the French people stood with us after 9/11,” said Mr Obama, standing next to Mr Hollande in the White House’s East Room in remarks that were personal and emotional. “Today we stand with you – nous somme tous Francais.”

Both leaders agreed to do more in their efforts and called for greater international co-ordination to take on the jihadist group that carried out the November 13th attacks that left 130 people dead.

Mr Obama left much of the detail around the intensification to Mr Hollande, offering limited additional American military intervention in line with his belief that the fight against Isis is working.

Mr Hollande, who has said that France is “at war” with Isis, elaborated, saying that the two countries had agreed to scale up their air strikes in Syria and Iraq, broaden their scope and enhance intelligence-sharing in an escalation of the fight against Isis.

Both leaders agreed on closing the Turkish border with Syrian to limit the movement of extremist foreign fighters into Europe. Mr Holland said the closure of the border was “a matter of urgency”.

Strategy

Turkey

“This barbaric terrorist group and its murderous ideology pose a serious threat to all of us,” said Mr Obama yesterday. “It cannot be tolerated, it must be destroyed and we must do it together.”

Republicans and even some fellow Democrats have criticised Mr Obama’s tactics of attempting to defeat Isis by striking the group in Iraq and Syria from the air, leading an international coalition, while relying on local and regional troops to fight the militants on the ground. He drew fire for claiming just hours before the Paris attacks that Isis had been “contained” in Iraq and Syria.

Mr Obama has said his critics have proposed no detailed alternative plan other than sending US ground troops into Iraq and Syria. Mr Hollande too has ruled out sending in combat troops to fight Isis on the ground.

The US president’s opponents have criticised him for not being more aggressive in speaking out about Isis, but he has refused to take actions because it might work “politically” or make him “look tough.”

Mr Obama has proposed using US special forces in limited circumstances such as targeting Isis leaders but has ruled out deploying large numbers of combat troops after Paris, fearing the US could get dragged into another open-ended conflict at a huge cost.

Combating terrorism

William Wechsler

Mr Obama has made it clear that the fight against Isis will be take time and is resisting pressure from Republicans and elsewhere to ramp the campaign up further or change strategy following the attacks.

“Obama remains cautious. He is still absolutely opposed to entering a ground war in Syria, and wary of mission creep,” said Richard Gowan, a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Speaking next to Mr Hollande, Mr Obama said he hoped Russia could be a “constructive” partner if they shifted to targeting Islamic State and agreed to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s transition from power. Mr Hollande said this must be done “as soon as possible”.

Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian warplane complicates the French president’s plans for more unified efforts to defeat Isis. “This incident shows how hard it will be for the US and its Nato allies to form a common front with Russia in Syria,” said Mr Gowan.