Joining U.S. forces acting in Iraqi skies, French fighter jets struck Friday against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), destroying a logistics depot, Iraqi and French officials said.
With the strikes, France becomes the first foreign country to publicly add military muscle to a U.S.-led offensive against the group, which has drawn criticism around the world for its barbarity.
A pair of Rafale fighter jets accompanied by support planes struck in northern Iraq on Friday morning, and the target was "entirely destroyed," President Francois Hollande said. Four laser-guided bombs struck the Iraqi military installation that had been overrun by the ISIL fighters, and hit a munitions and fuel depot, a French military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Iraq's military spokesman said dozens of ISIL fighters were killed in four strikes, though the French official said the French armed forces had not completed their damage assessment.
"Other operations will follow in the coming days with the same goal – to weaken this terrorist organization and come to the aid of the Iraqi authorities," Hollande said.
The French action comes a day after U.S. Central Command said its military had conducted 176 airstrikes in Iraq since Aug. 8. On Wednesday, it hit an ISIL training camp southeast of Mosul and an ammunition stockpile southeast of Baghdad. It has also conducted a number of strikes this week in Iraq's Anbar province, near the strategic Haditha Dam.
The first French airstrikes in Iraq have added significance: France, one of America's oldest allies, was among the most vocal critics of the U.S.-led war that toppled Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Last year, France was ready to join forces with the U.S. against President Bashar Assad's forces in Syria, before U.S. President Barack Obama stopped short. French authorities in recent weeks have suggested that the inaction there has fostered the development of ISIL.
Nevertheless, Hollande has stressed that France wouldn't go beyond airstrikes in support of the Iraqi military or Kurdish peshmerga force battling ISIL, and wouldn't attack targets in Syria, where the group has also captured territory.
ISIL claims to have established what it calls a caliphate – a state governed by Islamic law – in parts of Iraq and Syria and has imposed its harsh interpretation of the religion on areas under its control.