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French aircraft carrier steps up IS bombing campaign

The Charles De Gaulle launches jets against the Islamic State group, as French president promises more action against 'terrorist army'
A Rafale launches from the Charles De Gaulle on November 23 (AFP)

France has intensified its bombing campaign against IS in Syria and Iraq, with the Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier launching its first sorties since arriving in the eastern Mediterranean.

Rafale jets loaded with bombs were catapulted from the carrier's flight deck Monday morning, the AFP news agency reported.

"We carried out strikes in Ramadi and Mosul in support of ground forces that were pushing against Daesh troops," General Pierre de Villiers said aboard the carrier.

The Charles De Gaulle was sent to the eastern Mediterranean after the IS attacks on Paris 10 days ago, which killed 130 people.

The carrier has 26 jets, more than doubling France's strike capacity in the US-led mission against IS.  France already has six Mirage and six Rafale jets stationed in the UAE and Jordan. 

A military source said the carrier-based missions would overfly Turkey or Jordan to avoid Syrian anti-aircraft defences.

France is coordinating with Moscow to avoid crossing paths with Russian planes. French and Russian naval commanders began exchanging information at the end of last week.

French President Francois Hollande said on Monday: “We will intensify our strikes, we will choose the targets that yield the best possible damage against the terrorist army.”

Cyprus airbase offer

Meanwhile, the UK has offered France the use of RAF Akrotiri airbase in Cyprus, 300km from Syrian territory, in its campaign against IS.

The announcement came after Prime Minister David Cameron met Hollande in Paris on Monday morning.

The British Ministry of Defence however clarified that the base would not be used to launch strikes. Rather, it would act as a refuellng and emergency runway if required.

Cameron told a news conference that he would push this week to persuade the UK’s parliament to authorise him to join a beefed-up French bombing campaign targeting IS.

“Later this week I will set out in parliament our comprehensive strategy for tackling ISIL,” Cameron said, using an alternative acronym for the group.

“I firmly support the action that President Hollande has taken to strike ISIL in Syria and it is my firm conviction that Britain should do so too.”

Cameron said that, ahead of a vote in the UK parliament on involvement in air strikes, he had pledged to boost co-operation with France, which on 13 November suffered its worst attack since World War II.

France starts army recruitment drive

France meanwhile has begun a drive to recruit more army reservists, in a direct response to the attack on Paris. In its recruitment flyer, the French government said the military reserve was "underused".

"Following the attacks of 13 November and January, the international and domestic situation requires strengthening," it said.

It said that there were "unprecedented" demands on the armed forces due to the national security alert system Vigipirate, plus Sentinel, an operation launched after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January which uses 10,000 troops to protect 682 sensitive sites.

The government hopes to recruit 40,000 new reservists by 2019, who would serve on a part-time basis for at least three years.

Positions would be filled in the operational reserve, which backs up the professional army in combat, as well as civil defence and cyber-security.

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