French Min.: Paris one of Washington’s most active allies in Afghanistan, against IS

WASHINGTON, French Minister of Armed Forces Florence Parly said Monday France has always been “one of the most active allies in the field,” for US especially in Afghanistan and against so-called Islamic State (IS).

“France has been America’s most effective ally,” Parly said at the Washington-based Atlantic Council, pointing to the contribution of armed forces in the war in Afghanistan and the fact that Paris “was among the very first to enlist” in the US-led coalition to defeat IS in Iraq and Syria.

Parly added that the 2013 French-led mission to prevent the overthrow of the Malian government by Islamic militants was an example of a European ally taking the lead in the operation while still enjoying “fantastic US support.” She reaffirmed that while Paris and Washington have certainly disagreed on policy positions, this has never prevented France from “in practice being one of the most active allies in the field.” Parly stressed that France will do its “best, along with the Europeans, to take a larger share of the burden,” off Washington.

However, the French minister also responded to US President Donald Trump concern over Macron’s call for the formation of a European army as meant to “protect Europe from the US.” She said that “building a European autonomy should never be seen as a move against the US,” nor should it “be a reason for the US to be less engaged.” Parly said that bids to strengthen Europe’s military capabilities would help ease Washington’s load, especially as it shifts focus away from Europe and toward more pressing regions in East Asia and the Middle East.

“We need to step up to help without waiting for the US to always foot the bill,” she said.

She noted that Trump’s suggestion that Washington could condition its continued participation in NATO on increased European financial contributions to the Alliance, has heightened anxiety in European countries.

“The alliance should be unconditional, otherwise it is not an alliance,” she maintained.

However, Parly added that European partners must contribute more to NATO, saying that “the Europeans have a hell of a homework in front of them if they want to stand on their own two feet and really share the burden with America.” She said that France “fully support[s] the US insistence on the 2 percent” of GDP defense spending goal for NATO members and maintained that “France wants to be at the forefront of this effort.” Parly linked this problem to the lack of European autonomous capabilities, noting that the US currently provides the NATO with 91 percent of air tankers, 92 percent of its medium- and high-elevation unmanned aerial vehicles, and 100 percent of its strategic bombers and missile defense systems.

“Autonomy should be a variation on friendship,” she said.

She also voiced concern over the US’ complaints about Germany choosing not to buy the American F-35 aircraft.

“I’m concerned that the strengths of NATO’s solidarity might be made conditional on allies buying this or that equipment,” she said.

“NATO’s solidarity clause is called Article 5, not ‘Article F-35,” she asserted.

She also responded to Trump’s portrayal of NATO as a drag on US resources by pointing out that “the Alliance is not a one-way operation. There is a strong pay-back for the US,” she said.

Parly argued that France’s ability to help the US will continue in the future.

“You can count on us,” she said. “We will be there. Not only for today’s wars, but also for those of tomorrow.”

Source: Kuwait News Agency