France to deploy aircraft carrier to the Middle East

The Charles de Gaulle received an extensive refit last year

A French Rafale fighter jet Rafale lands on the "Charles de Gaulle" arcraft carrier on February 7, 2019 in the Mediterranean sea.  / AFP / VALERY HACHE
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France will deploy the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier to support French military operations in Middle East, President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday.

The nuclear-powered carrier and its battle group of accompanying warships will be deployed to the region between January and April.

The French military began Operation Chammal, aimed at supporting the Iraqi army in the fight against ISIS, in 2014.

"The aircraft carrier will support Chammal operations (in the Middle East) from January to April 2020 before deploying to the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea," Mr Macron said at a New Year speech to the French military.

"Once more our plane carrier will be the centre for combined operations amongst several European countries," Mr Macron said.

"Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, Greece will participate in the escort of the Charles de Gaulle during this mission," he added.

The deployment comes amid French concerns that the fight against ISIS militants may be weakened as a result of heightened tensions between Iran and the United States.

The Charles de Gaulle was a key part of France’s contribution to the coalition campaign against ISIS and underwent a major overhaul since its last deployment to the Middle East in 2016.

The 18-month refit of France’s only aircraft carrier, which was completed in early 2019, cost $1.5 billion (Dh 5.5 billion) and included upgrades to the ship’s radar and deck landing systems.

Its battle group usually consists of three destroyers, a submarine and a supply ship.

The carrier also supported the Nato campaign in Libya in 2011, and before that took part in operations in Afghanistan in 2001.

Late last year France chose to base the headquarters of a European-led mission to protect shipping in the Gulf at naval facility in Abu Dhabi.

French Defence Minister Florence Parly, who visited the Emirates in late November, said the command centre would “contribute to making maritime navigation in the Gulf as safe as possible”.