French military advisors have been providing tactical training and support to strengthen the combat capabilities of Iraqi forces as they secure cities from the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) and protect the border.
The Iraqi army's 6th Infantry Division has benefited this year from high-level training provided by the international coalition member, Iraqi Ministry of Defence spokesman Maj. Gen. Tahseen al-Khafaji told Diyaruna.
“The training was tactical and focused on enabling our forces to fight in the most extreme conditions with a high level of morale and confidence," he said.
Participating Iraqi forces gained a range of expertise that included responding to chemical attacks, improvised explosive devices and delivering first aid, he said.
The French army has significant expertise in the use of artillery weapons, he added, so that was a key part of the training, with “exercises on using live ammunition to build capacity of our soldiers to deal firmly with enemy targets".
These military drills were conducted on training grounds that simulate real battlefields, he said, with soldiers learning to use the modern M198 Howitzer artillery piece, which can hit targets that are more than 20 kilometres away.
Iraqi forces also received high level training on identifying and reaching proposed targets with high precision and speed during combat, al-Khafaji said.
Earlier this month, he said, Iraqi forces received training on live ammunition.
A key military partner
France is “an important and key partner in our fight against terrorism”, al-Khafaji said. “They are helping us and have long stood by our side."
"They have and continue to give us their best technical and combat expertise," he added. “Thanks to this training, our forces are better able to fight terrorist elements, secure the cities and protect the border."
“France is a friend and has been generous with its military and intelligence support for Iraq throughout the war on terrorism," al-Khafaji said. "Our partnership is ongoing and developing."
"It is important for us that our co-operation is strong and longstanding," he added, noting that fellow Iraqi military commanders "underscore the importance of strengthening this strategic relationship".
“We aspire to continue these efforts not only with regard to training, but also in exchanging information and monitoring and proactively targeting terrorists," he said.
The French played a pivotal role in Iraq's war against ISIS, said Sheikh Qatari al-Samarmad al-Obeidi, a commander in the Anbar tribal forces.
"We succeeded in liberating the border town of al-Qaim on the Syrian border from terrorist elements thanks to intelligence provided by French air reconnaissance missions," he told Diyaruna.
French training and logistical support has been "a key factor behind the successive wins that the Iraqi forces have achieved in hunting down terrorists in the Anbar desert and securing the border", al-Obeidi noted.
Additionally, he said, France has equipped the 6th Infantry Division's 54th Brigade with four-wheel-drive military vehicles, light and medium weapons and surveillance technology.
French support for SDF
France also has been supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as they move in on ISIS in al-Baghouz near the Syrian border town of Albu Kamal.
“French support for the SDF deep inside Syria has helped these forces make significant progress and take back most of the areas that were occupied by ISIS," said al-Qaim mayor Ahmed al-Dulaimi.
French support for the SDF and Iraqi forces has "made our cities safer", he said, noting that the ISIS threat is diminishing and the border area with Syria is "becoming more stable".
Iraq continues to welcome the French contribution, al-Dulaimi said, stressing "the importance of this role and how it has helped build capacity of our fighters and develop the Iraqi artillery unit".