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French reinforcements in northern Syria. The Élysée lip service denies but offers its mediation

Credit: FDS – 2016

(B2) Will the French become more involved diplomatically and militarily in northern Syria?

On the first aspect, diplomatic, it is clear. Receiving a delegation of the FDS, the Arab-Kurdish forces (or Syrian democratic forces), made up of eight people, at the Élysée on Thursday (March 29), French President Emmanuel Macron was particularly clear. On the second part, it's more mysterious. The Kurds say 'yes', the French are more elliptical.

Support for the SDS

Emmanuel Macron has, in fact, ensured the “ FDS support from France In order to " stabilise[ing] the security zone in northeast Syria ". Support with a purpose prevent any resurgence of Daesh ”, and fits into two frameworks, that “ inclusive and balanced governance ", and " awaiting a political solution to the Syrian conflict ". A phrase that one might think was just intended for good looks but which takes on another meaning when we examine what the Kurds say about it.

French soldiers in Minbej

At the end of the meeting, one of the Kurdish representatives, Asiya Abdellah, was more precise. She thus announced that France was going to send soldiers to Minbej, the next city that President Erdogan threatens to attack in northern Syria and where American forces are also present. “ There will be the sending of new French troops to Minbej. Cooperation will be strengthened “, she said during a press conference, according to AFP. A statement confirmed by the representative of Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) in France. “ As part of securing the reconstruction of northern Syria, there will be a strengthening of the French military system and other countries in Minbej, for the defense of Minbej “Said Khaled Issa who was part of the delegation received at the Elysée.

The Élysée denies…

« France does not plan a new military operation on the ground in northern Syria outside of the international anti-Daesh coalition (acronym for IS in Arabic) », Said the Elysée, according to AFP. Because the fight is not over. “ We must continue this fight together”. Because there is always risks of resurgence of Daesh ».

… A little

(Comment) It can be noted that this denial is not complete. Certainly there are no new “military operations”, except those carried out within the framework of the coalition. Which makes sense. France is not going to engage in a 'lone' operation in favor of the FDS, that is to say against the Turkish forces. But there is no denial of a presence on site or of sending possible reinforcements.

Special forces already present in Syria

French special forces are, in fact, already stationed in Syria. They participate discreetly, like other special forces (British, American, etc.), as part of the international coalition led by the United States, in particular in order to guide air operations against the positions of the forces of the Islamic State or Al Qaeda, to train the FDS or to serve as liaison officers. But France remains ultra discreet about this presence and the volume deployed. “ There is never any communication about special forces movements » regularly repeats the spokesperson for the army general staff, when asked about a specific fact. Neither denial nor confirmation… with some exceptions.

France offers its mediation between Syrian Kurds and Turks

France thus insists that a “ dialogue can be established between the FDS and Turkey with the assistance of France and the international community ", according to communicated official issued after the meeting. France " will continue to do everything possible, together with the countries primarily concerned, to move towards an inclusive political transition in Syria, the only way to bring peace to Syria and ensure the security of the region He insists.

The fight against terrorism is not over in Syria

The French leader also wanted to make a " tribute to the sacrifices and the decisive role of the FDS in the fight against Daesh ". A tribute supported since lying black on white in the Elysian communication. He also wanted reaffirm[ing] the priority of this fight while the terrorist threat persists ". NB: a spade without telling both the Turks who are pounding the FDS but also the Americans who are withdrawing from Syria.

An evolution of diplomatic language

(Comment) We can notice that the French language has, slightly, evolved since the arrival of Emmanuel Macron to the presidency. There is thus not a single mention of the Bashar el Assad regime, nor of its exclusion from the negotiations. The word “with interested countries” makes it possible to avoid the whole blame game, common with François Hollande (notably by his minister Laurent Fabius). France thus returns to a realistic position if it wants to remain at the center of the game.

A Europe, shining by its absence

We can welcome the clear French desire to get involved as a mediator in the conflict, without having any preconceptions. This desire to get into the game is commendable. But we could have wished, or hoped, for a European initiative. Supporting Staffan di Mistura, the UN special envoy for Syria, is good. But this is more of a minimum service (Read: Syria. To appease hell on earth, the ceasefire must be "achievable" (De Mistura). Just like the decision to send humanitarian aid or impose sanctions (read: EU Sanctions on Syria: Barely a Cautery on a Bloody Conflict). Appealing to the Astana signatories is quite revealing of this impotence (read: Seven years of war in Syria? Europeans appeal to Astana guarantors to end conflict).

Europe can get into the game, but does it want to?

The Europeans would, however, have the means to get into the game, other than by admonishing the Bashar regime. Failure to do so amounts to signing an abdication of our diplomatic policy in our neighborhood. And leave both Moscow, Ankara and Tehran on one side; Riyadh and Washington, on the other, play into the hands of the future Syria. Europeans are only called to the rescue to pay for the damage: welcoming refugees or supporting their maintenance at a distance (Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan) or financing humanitarian aid and reconstruction.

 

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).