A French soldier was killed in Iraq on Monday, France’s President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement on Tuesday.
Sgt. Nicolas Mazier, a paratroop commando, was killed while supporting an Iraqi counterterrorism operation; another member of the unit was also wounded. Mazier “fell in combat while carrying out his mission,” the French presidency said.
Macron wrote that Mazier “was fighting for France, for our security. Fallen in Iraq, the whole nation mourns him.” According to Rudaw media in Erbil, Minister of the French Armed Forces Sebastien Lecornu said that Mazier “came under enemy fire” during a counterterrorism mission in Iraq.
Lecornu also put out a statement that when the country is “faced with terrorism, France will not back down.”
Two other French soldiers were killed in Iraq last week.
During a visit last month, Lecornu met with his Iraqi counterpart and said that 80 French personnel would continue to train Iraqi forces that are part of five “desert battalions.” There are around 600 French forces supporting Operation Chammal, the anti-ISIS operation. Anti-ISIS operations generally support forces in Iraq as well as Syria.
Engagement with ISIS has become rare in recent years
In recent years, the coalition has generally reduced its overall force levels. Battles with ISIS are relatively rare and western militaries generally do not send their forces into firefights. France and the US are a bit different in this regard. The US operates in Syria with the Syrian Democratic Forces and also continues to support the Kurdistan region’s Peshmerga in Iraq, as well as Iraqi security forces.
Reports at the Agence France-Presse said that Iraqi counterterrorism operations took place near Kirkuk and noted that French special forces are located at the K-1 base near Kirkuk. This is an important base and has been key to the security of Kirkuk for many years. Iraqi forces moved back into this base after Kurdish forces left in 2017.
ISIS continues to be active in mountains and desert areas between Makhmur and Hawija. It exploits the fact that this area borders the Kurdistan autonomous region and the area controlled by Iraqi forces who are supposed to coordinate with Kurdish Peshmerga, but ISIS is able to exploit this area and strike at forces from caves and wadis. In addition, this is historically an area where insurgents have been able to thrive.
In recent days, Iraqi forces from the 11th Division have raided 24 Kurdish villages, with Kurdistan saying the village of Topzawa was targeted on Monday.
In addition, Iraq’s prime minister directed that a building in Kirkuk be handed over to the Kurdistan Democratic Party and this led to protests by pro-Iranian Shi’ite groups and also members of the Turkmen minority. It’s unclear whether the current frictions near Kirkuk led ISIS to believe it could exploit this area to carry out a raid.
ISIS carried out a massive attack on Kirkuk in October 2016. In recent months Iraq has continued to target ISIS hideouts west of the city, including using Iraqi warplanes to carry out strikes.