France's flagship aircraft carrier is now officially participating in the US-led military operation against the Islamic State (IS).
Speaking Monday aboard the Charles de Gaulle, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced that the warship will remain stationed in the Persian Gulf for eight weeks, joining American supercarrier USS Carl Vinson in conducting airstrikes against IS positions in Iraq.
According to French daily Le Monde, the mission got underway early this morning when several Rafale fighter planes stationed on the Charles de Gaulle were deployed.
The Charles de Gaulle, a 42,000-ton, nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, is currently positioned 125 miles off the northern coast of Bahrain. It has not participated in a military operation since France's 2011 military intervention in Libya.
More than just an aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle is the backbone of Task Force 473, a carrier battle group that includes an entire fleet of military escorts. The group, which set sail from the southern French port of Toulon on January 13, includes 12 Rafale fighter aircraft, nine Super-Étendards strike fighters, a Hawkeye early warning radar aircraft, and four helicopters, as well as a refueling tanker ship and the British HMS Kent anti-submarine frigate.
Task Force 473 will significantly add to the resources already mobilized by France as part of Operation Chammal, the codename for a series of airstrikes on IS targets in Iraq that began in September 2014.
On January 13, less than a week after the terror attacks that left 17 dead in Paris, lawmakers from the French National Assembly and Senate voted almost unanimously to continue Operation Chammal.
Chammal has mobilized 600 troops in the Gulf region in support of the efforts of the US-led coalition against IS. France has also contributed nine Rafale and six Mirage 2000D fighter jets to the mission, as well as a Breguet Atlantic maritime patrol aircraft and a KC-135 Stratotanker refueling aircraft.
The deployment of the Charles de Gaulle will significantly reduce the time it takes for these aircraft — currently based in the United Arab Emirates and Jordan — to reach targets in Iraq.
Vincent Groizeleau, editor-in-chief of the French maritime news site Mer et Marine, told VICE News in January that the new positioning would "halve the flight time" for French fighters, significantly improving the country's air capabilities in Iraq.
France also announced plans in January to dispatch 40 soldiers to train Iraqi forces in Baghdad and Kurdish peshmerga forces stationed in the Kurdish capital of Erbil in northern Iraq.
The French aircraft carrier's stint in the Gulf is just one stop on a five-month mission that will see the warship head to India in April to take part in military exercises. France's defense minister is currently in New Delhi negotiating a multi-billion dollar arms sale that includes 126 Rafale fighters.
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_Image via _Flickr / Pascal Subtil