Russia and France are poised to step up their aerial campaign against ISIS’ Syrian stronghold of Raqqa, as French aircraft bombarded targets in the area Monday in the first sorties from the newly deployed Charles de Gaulle carrier. Paris and Moscow have intensified airstrikes on ISIS targets after the group claimed responsibility for attacks in Paris, which left 130 people dead, and the downing of the Russian jetliner carrying 224 people in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
Over the past week, Russia pounded ISIS’ de facto Syrian capital Raqqa with long-range bombers and sea-launched missiles from ships in its Caspian Sea fleet.
The French Defense Ministry Monday said “two air force Mirage 2000s were engaged in the mission.”
“Simultaneously four Rafale Marines from the aircraft carrier joined them over Syria,” the ministry added.
The ministry said that the jets targeted a site in Raqqa.
The French aircraft carrier has been in involved in missions in Iraq in recent days but this was the first such attack on Syria since it was deployed in the eastern Mediterranean Sea this month.
The Syria air raids happened at 08:30 GMT and “destroyed an active site occupied by terrorist fighters in Raqqa,” the ministry said.
The attacks destroyed all their targets including a command center, vehicle dumps and maintenance facilities, it said.
The 26 jet fighters on the Charles de Gaulle triple France’s capacity to carry out strikes in the region.
France already has six Mirage and six Rafale jets stationed in the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
Earlier Monday, France launched airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq.
“We carried out strikes in Ramadi and Mosul in support of ground forces that were pushing against troops of [ISIS],” said army chief of staff Gen. Pierre de Villiers, aboard the carrier.
French President Francois Hollande said earlier in Paris: “We will intensify our strikes, choosing targets that will do the most damage possible to this army of terrorists.”
A military source said their missions would overfly Turkey or Jordan to avoid Syrian anti-aircraft defenses.
To avoid crossing paths with Russian planes, France is coordinating with Moscow via the US coalition headquarters in Qatar.
British Prime Minister David Cameron Monday offered France the use of an airbase in Cyprus for its strikes on ISIS in Syria and air-to-air refueling services. Hollande is due to visit Washington Tuesday where he hopes to overcome President Barack Obama’s reluctance to get sucked further into the Syria conflict.
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