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French troops pull out of Iraq, as military mobilised to fight Covid-19 at home

Preparations at the military field hospital in Mulhouse, 24 March 2020. The French army will be involved in supporting medical staff to address the spread of the coronavirus.
Preparations at the military field hospital in Mulhouse, 24 March 2020. The French army will be involved in supporting medical staff to address the spread of the coronavirus. © Sebastien Bozon/Pool via Reuters/File Photo

France has launched a military operation to support public services strained by the Covid-19 coronavirus epidemic. President Emmanuel Macron announced the launch of operation ‘Resilience’ as France decided to withdraw its contingent of troops from Iraq.

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The military operation in France will focus on "aiding and supporting the population, as well as helping public services face the epidemic in mainland France and overseas", Macron said on Wednesday, on a visit to a field hospital set up by the military in Mulhouse, in the east of France, the region hardest-hit by the coronavirus epidemic so far.

France plans to deploy helicopter carriers in its overseas territories, and has transported the sick on military planes and an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean.

Resilience is separate from the anti-terrorism Sentinelle operation, which has about 7,000 troops throughout France.

France out of Iraq

While the military focuses at home, abroad, troops are pulling back abroad, to minimise their exposure in Iraq, which on Sunday imposed strict measures to contain the virus.

The army chief of staff announced in a statement Wednesday that France will “provisionally suspend training activities in Iraq”.

France has about 200 military personnel in Iraq, mostly trainers to local armed forces, based at the headquarters of coalition forces in Baghdad helping the Iraqi military fight the remnants of the Islamic State armed group  

The Iraqi army said last week that it was suspending training operations, and that the coalition forces would be temporarily withdrawing their support staff in coming days.

The chief of staff said that while the troops in Iraq would be repatriated, France will continue fighting the Islamic State, with troops stationed at coalition headquarters in Kuweit and Qatar, French maritime operations will continue in waters around Syria, and air support will continue from bases in Jordan and Qatar, said the chief of staff.

The 15,000 French troops stationed in the Sahel, as part of the anti-jihadist Barkhane operation, will remaining place, even as the first cases of the virus have appeared in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.

Further cuts to services in France

France had recorded almost 26,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection as of Wednesday, with 1,300 deaths in hospital.

The country is already under a nationwide lockdown, with police enforcing a ban on non-essential movement, and schools and restaurants closed.

Officials in Paris said Wednesday that metro and train services will be reduced to a minimum, just enough to allow health workers and other employees to get to work.

Paris airports operator ADP said it would temporarily shut Orly airport, the main domestic hub, to commercial flights because of the "significant and sudden" drop-off in passenger traffic because of coronavirus travel restrictions.

 

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