US defense chief visits French, US warships in Persian Gulf

AP News
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Posted: Dec 19, 2015 11:00 AM
US defense chief visits French, US warships in Persian Gulf

ABOARD THE CHARLES DE GAULLE (AP) — U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter met Saturday with naval commanders on U.S. and French warships in the Persian Gulf, saying that there will be more to come in the battle against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

Carter visited the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, which is expected to begin launching airstrikes against IS soon.

He also talked to American troops on the USS Kearsarge, an amphibious assault ship that's been supporting coalition missions in Iraq and Syria.

Carter's visit to the Charles de Gaulle underscores France's increased participation in the fight, in the wake of the Paris attacks last month. IS militants claimed responsibility for the Nov. 13 attacks that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds.

"We are completely aligned with France on the mission of defeating ISIL," said Carter, using another acronym for Islamic State militants. "France's willingness to do more as we do more, both in the air and on the ground, and here at sea ... I was very gratified to see that in action out aboard the Charles de Gaulle."

France's only aircraft carrier was conducting 10-15 missions daily for about 10 days from the Mediterranean Sea before moving into the Persian Gulf on Friday. Cmdr. Lionel Delort, French Navy spokesman on the carrier, said the ship will begin launching airstrikes into Iraq and Syria "in the coming hours or days."

He said the "intense rhythm" of the airstrikes launched when the ship was in the Mediterranean will continue as the ship begins operations in the Gulf. The ship, which is about two-thirds the size of America's aircraft carriers and carries 26 fighter jets, but the aircraft were not flying on Saturday during Carter's visit because the ship had just arrived in the area and was not yet positioned for launching operations.

According to officials, the French are the second highest contributor of airstrikes in the coalition's campaign against IS, with the U.S. providing the vast majority. The officials could not say what percentage the French provide.

The U.S. and French militaries operate routinely together, and Carter was able to meet with a number of U.S. forces who are stationed on the Charles de Gaulle. And while on board he spoke by phone with French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Carter flew from the French ship to the USS Kearsarge, which was about seven nautical miles away. He met with the ship's commander, Navy Capt. Larry Getz and later spoke to sailors and Marines saying the ship is playing an important role in the effort to quickly defeat IS.

The ship visits come at the end of a weeklong trip to the region, including stops in Iraq, Turkey and Afghanistan. The theme of Carter's visit has been the need to accelerate the fight against the Islamic State group, and he has been meeting with foreign leaders and his military commanders all week, exploring new ideas.

Speaking to reporters traveling with him, Carter said he has identified "a number" of additional steps to take, including airstrikes, the use of special operations forces and expanded efforts to train and equip local Syrian and Iraqi forces.

"There's going to be more to come," he said.