WASHINGTON — The French Air Chief sees no end in sight to his nation's operations in Iraq.
Asked Wednesday specifically if he sees an end to France's actions anytime soon, Gen. Denis Mercier, Chief of Staff with the French air force, succinctly replied "no."
He added he expects operations to continue for some time, likely until the 2017 election to determine the successor to President François Hollande.
"The next president will decide if we have to stay or not, but we know we will stay for a long time, and thanks to that we prevent terrorism from going to other countries," Mercier said at a press briefing hosted by the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute. "This is a presidential decision. So the next end state will be the next presidential decision.
"But I believe we will remain there and keep fighting terrorism there," he added, "because if we do not do that, for sure, in a few months terrorism will be there in Paris."
France is operating ISR and strike operations over Iraq against the Islamic State, better known as ISIS or ISIL. In addition to ISR assets, Mercier said there are six Rafale and six Mirage fighters participating in missions.
Those operations are key to making sure Iraqi ground forces can reclaim territory the militant group has claimed over the last year, Mercier said.
"At the present time the main aim, which is a success, is to be sure that the Iraqi forces on the ground have freedom of action," he explained. "Without air power, it is not possible. So for that, we have to maintain a permanent threat of ISIS, so to be sure that the Iraqi forces will have the freedom of movement."
During his briefing, Mercier – who will shortly depart his post to become the Supreme Allied Commander Transformation at NATO – also discussed lessons learned from France's operations in Mali, including the importance of a diffused command and control structure.
There are four different operational headquarters playing a role in Mali, he explained, all sharing the same assets that are coordinated through a Joint Force Air Component Commander.
"This centralized command with decentralized control, this is something that is the future," he said. "We have already this possibility to do that on the small scale of operations, and we will expand it in the future."
He added that there is as "very close and good" relationship with Gen. Frank Gorenc, the head of US Air Forces in Europe and Africa, the result of good communication about the region between the two nations.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.