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France to send military hardware in support of Kurdish rebels

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

France said it would begin rushing military hardware to Kurdish rebels in Iraq on Wednesday, the latest in mounting European support for an increasingly militarized and multinational campaign against al Qaeda-inspired extremists in northern Iraq.

The French move came as the European Union's foreign policy office announced that EU foreign ministers will likely convene a meeting later this week to create a more cohesive approach among Western powers in the fight against the Islamic State group.

So far, the Obama administration and others have framed the mission as mainly humanitarian and have appeared eager — despite bombing of Islamic State targets by U.S. fighter jets and drones during recent days — to put pro-Western, Kurdish militias on the front lines of any direct combat with the extremists.

French President Francois Hollande's office suggested Wendesday that Paris agrees with the approach being pursed by Washington. The office said France will begin moving military hardware to the Kurds specifically because of requests for the weaponry by Kurdish regional leaders.

Since Iraq's national security forces dissolved in northern Iraq amid a surge by the Islamic State group in late June, the Kurdish leaders have vowed to work on behalf of the Iraqi government toward containing the extremists — for now.

Mr. Hollande's office said France had communicated with Iraq's central government in Baghdad before making the move to ship weapons to the Kurds.

"In order to respond to the urgent need expressed by the Kurdistan regional authorities, the president has decided, in agreement with Baghdad, to deliver arms in the coming hours," Mr. Hollande's office said in a statement, according to Agence France-Presse.

A similiar statement came Tuesday from leaders in Great Britain. And the Pentagon is said to now be ramping up the number of U.S. advisers on the ground in Kurdistan.

The U.S. officials say the goal of the increased American presence is not to directly fight the Islamic State group, but to help map out the evacuation of thousands Iraqis from the minority Yazidi ethnic and religous sect who remain trapped by the extremists on Sinjar Mountain.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Tuesday that 130 additional advisers — U.S. Marines and special operations forces — are being deployed to join other American officials already on the ground in Kurdistan.

White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Wednesday the troops "are not going to be combat personnel."

"This would be a humanitarian effort," Mr. Rhodes said. "We haven't made decisions yet about how to carry out that mission."

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