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End of Daesh is near, says French minister
February 11, 2019
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AL QAIM: French howitzer-guns deployed in the Euphrates Valley desert just inside Iraq stand ready to pour fury on Daesh militant group diehards in their last holdout across the border in Syria.

“The end is near,” is the message from France’s Defence Minister Florence Parly who visited the Task Force Wagram site in Al Qaim from Baghdad aboard an American V-22 Osprey military aircraft.

“The terrorists are leaderless, without communications, in disarray, on the verge of collapse. So let’s finish off this fight,” the minister tells a group of some 40 French soldiers manning the outpost alongside 100 US troops.

Warplanes flash through the sky, followed seconds later by explosions on the Syrian side that send up a mushroom cloud.

“We’re less than 10km from the frontline here,” points out Colonel Francois-Regis Legrier.

He is the commander of Task Force Wagram, a French artillery group within the US-led military coalition that backs up Iraqi soldiers and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) against the militants.

Dozens of 155-mm shells are lined up ready to be loaded onto three green-and-black Caesar gun-howitzers with a range of 40km.

The SDF, a coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters, announced a final push to retake the militant pocket in and around the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border late Saturday, after a pause of more than a week to allow civilians to flee.

Legrier, whose 68th regiment took part in the 2016 recapture from IS of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, says there are “a few hundred fighters left in Baghouz, not more”.

“Mosul, that was a nine-month battle and 10,000 shells. On this front, it’s been four months and we’re at 3,500 rounds,” he says.

He points to challenges caused by frequent sandstorms and heavy rains.

Weather conditions have often grounded warplanes but artillery has been largely unaffected.

“At the end of last year, the pace was intense, we didn’t get much sleep,” explains Valentin, a 27-year-old lieutenant on his maiden overseas deployment.

The lieutenant and his comrades are being rotated out next week, probably for the last time, as the mission winds down.

“The territorial caliphate, which has not yet been wiped out, is being defeated,” Parly had said in the Iraqi capital last week, referring to the swathes of territory straddling Syria and Iraq seized by a rampant Daesh in 2014.

Agence France-Presse

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